Missions Insights 3

Missions Insights 3: Relationships Are Essential

This is the third installment in our series, “Missions Insights.”  As you know, this series stems from a recent mission trip our church took to Mexico.  We were, in my opinion, quite successful in our efforts, and saw many people saved.  However, as the week went on, I realized the innate limitations of one-time, cold-call evangelism.  In this post I would like to explore some of the limitations present in this kind of evangelism, as well as talk about ways we can do evangelism better, primarily, through pre-existing relationships, and through intentional relationship building for the purpose of Evangelism.

Let me be clear, I do not write this to tell you not to do cold-call evangelism, I simply realize that certain limitations exist when doing that type of evangelism, and that it should not be the only, or even the primary source of our church’s evangelism.  I’d like to explore some of those limitations, but first, I should define “cold-call evangelism.”  Cold-call evangelism is sharing the gospel with someone with whom you do not have a relationship.  The most popular example of this kind of evangelism would be going door to door in a neighborhood.  As a church, we do not, right now, practice this kind of evangelism for several reasons.

First, American culture in the 21st century does not lend itself to this kind of ministry.  We all value our privacy, perhaps over any other anything else, and we view these kinds of intrusions as rude.  Just this morning I heard the doorbell ring, and looking out the door and seeing it was a delivery man, I didn’t answer.  He could leave it at the door and I wouldn’t have to go downstairs.  I let phone calls from numbers not in my contact list to go to voicemail.  If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.  If not, then I saved myself from having a banal conversation.  My point is that I view these kinds of intrusions as rude and inconvenient.  How much more then, when a total stranger knocks on my door.

Secondly, at least here in Northeast Ohio, the only people who regularly go door to door are Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political surveyists.  I have absolutely no desire to be lumped in with any of these groups.  While mowing my grass last year, I saw a pair of Mormons go to every door in my neighborhood, and even though I had just seen my neighbors out in the yard, when the LDS knocked, my neighbors pretended not to be home.

Third, and this is most important, we live in a society inundated by data, information, and opinions.  As I write this I’m sitting in the food court of a local mall.  I literally cannot count the number of signs all around me.  I’m listening to music on my headphones, but can still hear the muzak being piped into the mall, and there are at least 5 tables set up in the area around me selling various goods.  I am inundated with information and there’s no way I can process it all.  Furthermore, there’s no way I can believe it all.  I know this is a mall, but is it really that different than what most of us face on a daily basis.  Because of search engines like Google, we literally have any information we want at our fingertips.  Why then, would someone take my word for it, a total stranger, when I share the gospel?  It only gets worse when their first impression is that I’m rude, because I’ve interrupted them, and they’re afraid I might be a cultist.  It just doesn’t make sense for our community.  If you it works where you live, then by all means do it.  It was profoundly successful for us in Mexico.  I plan on doing the exact same thing on next year’s trip.  My dear friend and mentor in the ministry has done it at his church in Mississippi for years and has been quite successful, but for our purposes, it isn’t a tenable option.

Now, before someone responds with, “I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing things,” let me say that I do believe there’s a better option.  I believe that personal relationships are absolutely essential to evangelism.  Because of all the reasons I’ve just given and more, people are unwilling to hear from strangers.  We have to be able to earn the right to share the gospel with people.  I know that we have the right, and the command from God to witness, and I don’t downplay that.  But in order to successfully share the gospel, we are going to need to be intentional about building relationships that will allow us to share the gospel with our friends, family members, and neighbors.  We have to begin looking for areas in people’s lives that would offer us the opportunity to share the gospel.  My wife is excellent at this.  Just this last week a coworker called her with questions about the Bible, and the reason they called is that Brandy has been intentional about talking about her faith.  She shares her faith regularly.  We must learn to practice intentional, relational evangelism.  If we don’t, we are not going to lead people to Christ in our culture.  As much as my ego would like to think that my ministry in the pulpit is shaping people’s lives, and it is to some extent, the truth of the matter is, most people are more influenced by their friends and family than they are by their pastor’s sermons.  This means that my responsibility on Sundays is to prepare the church to do the work of the ministry.  (Eph. 4:11-13)

Now to be sure, this kind of ministry comes with its own problems, the greatest of which is that it means you, the church body, are going to have to overcome your own fears, failures, and experiences in order to share your faith.  You are going to need to be better equipped with the Word in order to answer people’s questions and share the gospel.  This is not for the faint of heart.  It takes faith.  But when we are obedient to do it, it reaps far greater, longer-lasting fruit than any other type of evangelism.  So let me encourage you, as your pastor, pray for divine appointments today with your friends and neighbors, that God would give you the gumption to share your faith, and that your friend would have a heart willing to listen.