In college I took a class where I had to read a research study on all the things people who weren’t Christians thought about Christians. In this required reading the method of research was explained, and then the author started listing out the themes that were most often used to describe Christians by those outside of the faith. There were many themes that were discussed in class and in the book, but I remember being most shocked by the fact that non-Christians feel like the mere targets of their Christian counterparts. The chapter in the book was titled “Get Saved!” and it was all about the way many non-Christians feel about Christian evangelism.
Most of those who were quoted in the chapter described that their interactions with Christians left them feeling like objects that Christians wanted to collect rather than being seen as people with lives, families, stories, etc. They often described that they never felt cared about during their interactions with Christians.
Something about people describing their experience being evangelized to really affected me. I grew up in and out of the Church for most of my young life, and I remember having similar feelings toward those probably good-hearted evangelists who came up to me, asked me the deepest questions about my life while not even knowing my name, told me I needed to make a decision to follow Jesus, and after I declined or begrudgingly said that I’d think about it walked away as if I were one more notch on their belt.
Now let me preface by saying that I do think there are instances when it is appropriate in a conversation with a complete stranger to share with them the beauty we find in following Jesus. But, that being said, I have come to the conclusion that we get so much wrong about the way we share Jesus with others, and I think this is mostly because we don’t have a good understanding of how our relationship with Jesus affects our own lives. You are told to share your faith a good amount depending on what church tradition you are in, but it seems like there are almost never any good examples of what this looks like.
Recently, though, as I’ve gotten older and moved to a new part of the country and have made friends with people in all different walks of life and different faiths, I have come to believe that the best way to think about evangelism can be summed up in the following way:
As Christians, we should be coming back to Jesus so often that we can bring others with us.
What I mean is that often we think of sharing the gospel as sharing this formula for the forgiveness of sins or trying to convince someone of some intellectual argument that they in their lives haven’t experienced or articulated. This is how we often think of sharing our faith, and it’s how we usually are taught to share it.
But this is exactly what makes those people from the studies feel like nothing more than targets. It makes people feel like they are being sold a bad vacuum cleaner or something. The way we fix this is by making Jesus personal again, by sharing our experiences with Him, and we can’t do that if we aren’t having any experiences with Him.
1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope you have.” We can’t share our hope unless we have it, unless we are coming back to Jesus and seeing Him in our lives in the everyday. If we do, then giving a reason for our hope is simply sharing about ourselves; it’s letting the other person know about us and our lives, struggles, desires, and fears. It is entering into a dialogue where we get to learn about someone else and be learned about. By the way, something else we learned in that class was the “persuasive power of listening”—that people feel most loved when they are listened to.
My hope is that we as Christians get better at desiring to know more about others, listening well, and entering into enjoyable, loving dialogue. And I hope that as we build relationships and share about our lives, that those lives have Jesus in them.
Trevor grew up in a small desert town in Southern California and graduated from Vanguard University in 2013. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 2014 where he currently lives with his beautiful wife, Ashlee, and enjoys of reading, writing, city-life, hiking, and investing in close friendships. Trevor is passionate about bringing the Church to the world and crossing the great divide between Christians and non-Christians that usually leaves both sides scratching their heads. He currently works at a small, Portland-based Christian university named Multnomah University as a Social Media and PR Specialist. He has spent some time in a couple different seminaries but is now getting his master's of English at Portland State University.