I never thought of myself as a great evangelist. I always thought that I needed to be a certain type of person; charming, smart, bold. I had maybe one of those qualities or less. Instead I tried hard to improve my conversation skills and cared less about who I was actually talking to.
As long as I don’t look stupid, that‘s successful evangelism for me.
Two approaches I took to evangelism reflected my belief.
Sometimes I come in hot, like a paratrooper. I drop into the conversation, throw a gospel grenade, and strategically retreat to the communicated rendezvous point. The safety zone.
At other times I’m more like a punching bag. Consistently taking hits in the conversation without offering any challenge of my own. I just sit there saying things like “interesting,” “great point,” and “I never thought of that before.”
Both of my evangelism habits show that I don’t really care about people.
If I did care, I wouldn’t drop in and out of people’s lives like a paratrooper. I would actually want to journey with people to understand their opinions and perspectives before I shared my own. I would see how to better share the gospel to their context.
If I cared, I wouldn’t be a punching bag either. I would grieve that the people I’m talking to are believing lies. I would want to share the truth of the gospel instead of caring about their reaction to me.
So why don’t I care about people? Here is what God is revealing about my excuses and their underlying attitudes:
I can’t imagine if every time I went sharing I would have to follow up with every person, actually get to know them, answer their same questions week after week, and journey with them for months, possibly years? That sounds exhausting. What if, at the end of it all, they still reject Christ. Wouldn’t that be a big waste of time?
I don’t want to care about people because I know that it will be too much of an investment of my time. I am reluctant to take initiative and free up my schedule, only to have potentially tedious conversations with no promise of fruit in the end.
What if I tell people the truth of the gospel and they reject me? I know enough about the Bible to know it’s not all sunshine and daisies. It presents a real challenge to people who hold other worldviews that perceive the message as offensive and uncomfortable.
I’m all about having deep conversations that make me think, but the thought of challenging others’ beliefs makes me squirm in my seat. I don’t want to give people more opportunities to reject me, so I’d rather keep conversations light and amiable.
Caring about people not only takes time, but it can get messy too. People are messy. They come with baggage from broken relationships and sometimes terrible experiences.
In my mind caring for people would be like voluntarily getting in the way of the Boston molasses flood (yes, it’s a historical event). I might get stuck in a great sticky river of suffering and emotions from which there is no escape.
You may have noticed a recurring theme through all of my excuses. They’re all about me. I don’t have enough time. I am scared. I don’t want to get messy. What’s really preventing me from caring about people?
My selfishness. I constantly put myself and my needs before other people. I care more about what happens to me than what will happen to others if they do not hear and embrace the good news of Jesus.
Even our culture agrees that selfishness is a problem. Think about it. We tend to shame the most successful, who we perceive to be selfish. We disdain them because they have so much money and power, but seem to use it only for their own gain.
We view selfishness in our culture as a behaviour that needs to be kept in check or modified. Sometimes this cultural disdain for selfishness motivates people to be selfless in order to be socially accepted. Ironically, this motivation for engaging in selfless behaviours is still ultimately selfishly motivated. Modifying selfish behaviour can be a helpful start, but it doesn’t heal the heart of the issue.
Jesus offers me a solution that doesn’t simply justify me because of my apparent selfless actions on the surface. The Bible confirms that my selfishness is a problem that goes much deeper than mere behaviour modification can remedy. My selfishness is more like a spiritual cancer that threatens to invade and kill the core of my identity.
My selfish behaviour comes from a belief buried deep within myself. What is that belief? Foundationally I believe that I have more value than other people. This is the underlying belief that prevents me from caring about people.
But everything about Jesus goes against my selfish belief that I am more valuable than others. He took the time to come to earth and cared perfectly for people for 33 years, while I can’t take 10 minutes to find out more about somebody. He was killed by the very human beings he created and still forgave them, while I’m scared that my friend may like me slightly less. He came down and immersed himself into our messy world to save me while I’m afraid of the tiniest inconvenience to my schedule.
This damning comparison could easily lead me to despair of my selfishness, but for one thing: Jesus took time for me, faced my rejection, and got messy for me! It is so counterintuitive that I can hardly grasp it. Despite my blatant selfishness Jesus still chose to lose his life for me. He cared for me so much that he took all of my sin and its consequence and absorbed it into himself on the cross. He then transferred all the benefits of his perfect life onto undeserving me.
I have value, not because of what I have done, but because of who Jesus is and what he has done for me. The more I am secure in what Jesus has done for me, the more I am free to live selflessly. I can only truly care for other people when I experience first that Jesus cares for me. The life of Jesus reminds me that I can no longer think of myself as more valuable than anyone else.
Even while knowing this intellectually, why is it such a challenge for me to care for others? I often forget and don’t experience Christ’s caring patience towards me. The degree to which I experience his care for me, the more it frees me to invest my time and effort into authentic interactions with those around me. Thankfully God knows my weaknesses and has filled me with the Holy Spirit. c He remind me who I am in Christ and invites me to partner with him in caring for others.
I will never get to a point of perfect selflessness in this lifetime, but I have hope that as I understand who I am because of Christ’s sacrifice, that I will start to value and care for others.