A famous pastor tells of being bedside as a pastor he admired was breathing his last breaths on this earth. The dying pastor was said to have repeated, "One more for Jesus. One more for Jesus." He died with these words on his lips. Clearly, this was a man who was driven to help people become believers, and the famous pastor who wrote up this account deeply admires the man and the evangelistic spirit.
I do too. I don't always burn with such fervor. In some ways, I wish I did. I wonder why I am not always as focused and ambitious and hungry when it comes to evangelism. Sometimes I am, but not always, and maybe not often enough. One thing I do know. I don't want to become so evangelistically ambitious that I don't see people.
What I mean is this. People outside the church aren't to be categorized as "lost." When they come into the church, they shouldn't be moved to another category: "prospects."
And if, after coming into church, they happen to receive Jesus and become born again, and my witness was a part of it, I don't get to store that conversion as a credit on my evangelical scorecard. We're not talking about "the lost," "prospects," or any other categorization we might come up with. We're talking about people.
Jesus loved people before they every made a decision to follow him or not. In fact, in the case of the rich man who wanted salvation, Jesus knew he would walk away from the chance to be a disciple. Knowing this man's failure was coming, Jesus "looked at him and loved him" (Mark 10:21). The love was not tied in any way to the response to the gospel. Jesus loved the man no matter how he responded.
That's genuine love. Sometimes, I get the sense that some Christians relish the idea of the lost going to Hell, so they will get what's coming to them. I truly believe someone is lost without Jesus. Much of the time, I tune God out and rely on myself, and in those moments, I am lost. "Lost" describes me, or anyone, more than it categorizes. Evangelism should not be the goal of saving the lost; that is a result of evangelism, but the goal should be loving people because Jesus loved us.
So how do we love? We spend time with people - lots of time. This is either repeated exposure, or long, intense exchanges. And along with that, this includes casual times where the talk is gardening or the Oscars or cars or some other surface level topic. We love by presence and by time.
We also love by listening. People need to be heard. At the evangelism conference we attended last month, we heard a twenty-something person sharing on a video. She was dressed in all black, including fingernail polish and lipstick. She expressed deep wounds in her soul. And she begged for people to her hear. In that regard, the need to be heard, she was in the same boat as the plumber or the pencil-pushing accountant or the hip-hop dancer or anyone else. We all need to be heard. Evangelistic listening involves hearing the other, honoring them whether we agree with them or not, and responding with compassion and in a judgment-free way.
Genuine love - spending time, listening evangelistically - this paves the way for conversations about God and knowing God and what it means to go to heaven and what it means to know God as we live this life. Those conversations mean so much more than just getting "them" saved when the conversations are done in relationships where there is genuine love. How does the well-known scripture go? "For God so loved the world." We are called to love the world.
Of course we want the chance to help people know Jesus. But how we go about it is as important as what we accomplish. The method matters. So, yes, we go and share the gospel of salvation that is given to all who come to Jesus. We tell that story, the story of the cross. We tell it to people who know that we love them because before we ever started telling, we were there, listening, giving genuine love