That title might sound like a bit of an oxymoron to some. 🙂 After all…doesn’t all evangelism have an agenda?
Maybe. But lemme splain. 🙂
Have you ever had a friend that got involved in multi-level marketing (MLM), like Amway for example, and after awhile every time you talked to that person, you felt like they saw you as a marketing prospect? If not controlled, it can affect the very fabric of the relationship, because you feel like that friend has an ulterior motive–an agenda for being friends with you. And if that person really gets sold on their product and scheme, if you don’t bite after awhile, you stop hearing from that person. You aren’t seen as a productive prospect anymore.
This isn’t a post against Amway, by the way; my mom still loves their products. 🙂 But MLM marketing is a good analogy for how I’ve come to see our current methods of evangelism in the church. We’re supposed to befriend people in the world and try to bring them to Christ. We see these “friends” as propsective Christians, and we’re going to use the avenue of friendship to convince them of the reality of the gospel, get them to come to our church, or what-have-you. It’s an agenda-based relationship, and just like you can spot an MLM friend a mile away, people can spot Christians the same way. Most people aren’t idiots; they know when they’re being targeted, and they notice when we disengage because they didn’t jump through the hoops within a certain amount of time.
Some might say to themselves that it’s actually a noble thing to evangelize this way, because of course, we want everyone to encounter Christ. This relationship with God is too good to keep, and people need to be rescued from hell, right? Aren’t we doing these people a disservice by not engaging them in this way?
There’s a phrase used to describe this way of thinking, and most of the time it does not mean something positive: The ends justifies the means. As long as people come to Christ, who cares how we got them to come? But I don’t think that’s quite right. If you have ever felt that ulterior motive from a supposed friend–how did it make you feel? I know how it makes me feel when someone befriends me with an agenda: it makes me feel like that person’s love for me is conditional. And that’s exactly what an agenda like that is–a condition for friendship. Does that sound like an accurate reflection of God’s unconditional love? What message are we really sending when we do this with the gospel?
I’ve said this before, but I’ve never been comfortable with this tactic, and I spent a long time feeling guilty because I was loathe to practice it. I never felt like it did justice to the sacredness of my faith to reduce it to a sales pitch. I think it’s even part of the reason I retreated for a long time into the church bubble, surrounding myself with Christians who didn’t need converting. But in the deconstruction of my faith, and now a rebuilding, I see this whole thing through a different lens, and it is freeing me to live my faith before others without the added baggage. Here are some of the things I’ve come to recognize:
- Jesus is the Savior, and we are not. If Jesus died for all of us, it stands to reason that He is still actively engaged in people’s lives, even when they do not realize it. We cannot save anyone; all we can do is participate in the process, as we are privileged to do so. This takes the burden off our shoulders to make something happen, and frees us to get on board whatever God is doing.
- As Jesus Himself said, the Father rains on the just and the unjust. He does not trade His compassion and love as a commodity to be withheld when someone doesn’t jump through His hoops. Of course He wants all men and women to be redeemed and restored to Him, but His love is unconditional. He will extend grace to people whether they come to Him or not.
- Jesus didn’t just commission us with the gospel; He modeled it for us, so we would do it the way He did it. Not once in the gospels, for example, did Jesus say, “I’ll heal you if you do thus-and-so.” However, many times in the gospels it says Jesus healed because He was “moved with compassion.”
Taking these things into account, I think as a Christ-follower I can best reflect Jesus to others by living in that same kind of compassion, with the only agenda being love. When I befriend a non-believer, I think I should do so because I genuinely want to be their friend, and would continue being their friend regardless of whether or not they ever show an interest in Christ. This is what I mean by agenda-free evangelism. In our culture, most people have already heard our spiel, anyhow. What they need is to see the good news lived out in front of them, without the sales pitch attached. And certainly without an agenda to “target” them for conversion.
In my forming relationships in a new place, I have friends now in several circles, people I genuinely care about, both believers and non-believers. I am not ashamed of being a believer in front of them, but neither do I feel compelled to trumpet that fact. The only thing I feel compelled to do is show love to them, in any way I can. In this way, Christ’s love is always offered and available, but never forced. I’m not saying by any means I have this down; I’m only saying that I am trying to live out this conviction that every person is a person for whom Christ died, and thus, everyone is a candidate for His love, regardless of how they respond to that love.
Love without condition. The good news without a hidden agenda.