Feeding the poor?
Knocking on doors and sharing the Gospel?
I’m amazed how polar Christians become when discussing evangelism methodology. Half the group is passionate about sharing the Gospel with words; the other half has boarded the very popular social justice train.
Which is the correct method to point people towards Jesus? With words… or actions?
In my Real Conversations workshop at the National Youth Workers Convention this year I’m asking this question, posting each extreme point of view on opposing walls and asked people to stand in the room where they “stood” on the issue. When I did this in San Diego, people stood all over the room.
One youth worker objected. “The question is misleading!”
I smiled. Sure, we tend to favor one or the other. But the answer isn’t an either/or, it’s a both/and. The fact is, Jesus did both. He fed people, he healed people, and most of the time, he talked very candidly with people about eternity.
The question is… what does that actually look like today?
Rather than try to share four principles or a handful of tools you can use to share Christ in word and deed, I’ll just share a story that I couldn’t help but include in my book, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. This story paints a clear picture of how words and action collide.
My brother Thom and his wife Amy used to volunteer for Youth for Christ in Sacramento, where they ran a weekly Campus Life Club in their house. Often with Campus Life Clubs, the first group of students you contact steers the direction of what type of students the group will attract. In my brother’s case, he had a heart to minister to students who were outcasts and marginalized at the school
It was there Thom met Enrique, a student searching for answers to big questions. Thom and Amy are not only gifted in compassion and hospitality, but they are intellectuals. They often found themselves in deep conversations with students about issues such as politics, world religion, and the meaning of life. So Enrique would talk with Thom until the late hours about his beliefs, passions, and struggles. He shared about how he had been experimenting with same-sex encounters.
As Thom built a relationship with Enrique, he often used these discussions to share about his relationship with Christ. Enrique was interested in Jesus but hesitant to put his trust in him because of the reputations of Christians.
Enrique had an uncle who was “out” regarding his gay lifestyle, living with his partner in San Francisco. His uncle never had good experiences with Christians. Enrique was very close to him and valued his opinion. Unfortunately, that opinion was always, “Stay away from Christians. They are a hateful, intolerant group.” “You’re gonna have to start listening to Christian music now, you know? Wow! I feel sorry for you!”
In the middle of the school year, Thom and Amy had a party for all their Campus Life students and their families. This uncle showed up at the party with his partner. Thom struggled internally when he saw him, because he was so frustrated with what this guy had become in Enrique’s life. But he suppressed his frustration and welcomed them into his house.
Thom spent most the evening with the uncle and his partner, talking and playing pool. Thom had lived in San Francisco for a year in college, so they discussed the city and all the best restaurants. He actually found it quite easy to talk with them. The evening passed, and everyone had a great time.
A few months later Enrique went on a Campus Life trip and heard the gospel presented again. Enrique approached Thom and said, “Okay, I know the lifestyle I’ve been experimenting with is wrong. I need forgiveness. I need Jesus.” Tom talked through the gospel with Enrique one-on-one, making sure that he understood each point: God’s love, our sin, Jesus paying for our sin, and what it truly means to put our trust in him, giving Jesus license to transform us. Enrique listened carefully, processing all of what Thom shared. Finally, Thom asked him again, “Are you ready to put your trust in Jesus?” Enrique nodded that he was ready and prayed, asking for forgiveness of his sins and putting his faith in Christ.
As Thom discipled Enrique, he encouraged him, “I think it would be good for you to tell your friends about this commitment you made. What do you think?” Thom and Enrique spent quite a while talking about who he might tell and what that might look like. It was then Thom mentioned, “IHow about telling your uncle?” Thom was sure this encounter would be difficult, especially because Enrique had made a decision not to engage in homosexual activity.
A week later Thom and Enrique met again. Thom was eager to hear about Enrique’s experiences. “How did it go?” Enrique began sharing with Thom about every encounter with his friends. Thom listened patiently, but eventually cut to the chase. “How did it go with your uncle?” Thom was leaning forward in his chair in anticipation.
“Oh, it went great,” Enrique said matter-of-factly.
Thom was shocked. “It went great? You mean—he was okay with it?”
“Yeah,” Enrique responded. “He was happy for me.”
Thom was thoroughly confused. His face must have revealed as much, because Enrique began to explain.
“A few months ago my uncle’s partner was hospitalized. He has been HIV positive for years, but now he has been diagnosed with full blown AIDS.
“My uncle has been visiting his partner every night at the hospital. He’s the only visitor. All of his partner’s family have abandoned him; my uncle seems to be his only true friend. So each night he would go and sit by the bedside.
“Apparently, one night when my uncle showed up there was a nice old lady sitting by the bedside wiping his partner’s face with a cool washcloth. He had no idea who this lady was. She wasn’t wearing a nurse’s outfit so he asked her. She said she was part of a local church group volunteering at the hospital each week taking care of AIDS patients. She asked if he minded—my uncle was astonished.
“This lady began visiting my uncle’s partner regularly, caring for him and talking with him about Jesus. Eventually his partner became a Christian.”
Enrique smiled. “When I told my uncle I became a Christian, he told me, ‘Good. Because those people have an amazing capacity to love like no other.’”
I never heard what eventually happened with Enrique’s uncle. But Thom walked away from that experience even more convinced about the power of the love of Christ reflected in the life of his true followers. That kind of love, balanced with a willingness to share about the source of that love, can truly change lives.