11/5/15 Sarim, Paulo, and Israel all in their late 20’s
A pastor recently told me about his experiences with street evangelism. He brightened up at the thought of how he had boldly and unashamedly shared the Gospel with complete strangers, of how cutting edge and on fire he had felt, and of how he would never forget the experience. The problem was, that was over 30 years ago! What happened? Is street outreach only reserved for Christian ministry students in their idealistic Bible college days? Is going out to share the Gospel with the lost just a stepping stone to becoming a polished preacher who waits for the lost to come to them?
That’s not what Jesus demonstrated with the Samaritan woman at the well, or what Paul demonstrated as in Athens he reasoned “in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there”. (Acts 17) Sarim, a Muslim from Pakistan, and Paulo, an atheist from Brazil, didn’t need us to wait for them to darken the door of our church as we shared the Gospel with them yesterday on the sidewalk. Israel, whom we just spoke with today, didn’t need us to wait to share the Gospel with him until after we had spent months building a relationship. Although Israel said he believes in reincarnation, he still wanted to talk with us about our faith even though multiple buses were passing him by at his bus stop!
The pastor I had spoken with was wondering how to build a culture of outreach and discipleship in our churches, where we will multiply like the churches of the first century. But culture is a tricky thing to teach. If our leaders don’t regularly practice evangelism, yet preach about its importance, then they are actually teaching a culture of cognitive dissidence or at least apathy. They may urge that “today is the day of salvation” like it says in 2 Corinthians 6, but their advice to wait with sharing the Gospel until we have spent months building a relationship sends the message that it is far from urgent. They may wonder why we don’t replicate their example of evangelism which occurs in a church service or program that takes hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars to produce.
What I believe is needed to change the culture of apathy in our churches, outside of direct persecution, are pastors and other church leaders who will practice evangelism regularly, who will take us with them as they do, and who will champion others who do so also. The church was made to be on mission. Not just a select few, but all of us.