On August 1, I released my latest book, Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It). I prayed two simple prayers as I was writing it. First, God, help Christians who are not sharing their faith with their non-Christian friends and family to get shaken out of their complacency. Second, Please God, don’t let them become pushy, obnoxious, freaky Christians in the process.
Without question, one of the biggest mistakes Christians make when they realize Hell is real is to immediately come on too strong evangelistically. You can understand how it happens. If one day you’re married to a great non-Christian woman, and the next day you realize she is an object of God’s wrath, you would pull out the heavy artillery. It’s a natural response.
You drag her to church. You read up on evangelistic techniques. You turn on the Christian radio station when you’re both in the car (even though most of the music on it is just horrible). It doesn’t matter, because you’re desperate. Because of your love for her, you’re suddenly willing to do whatever it takes to lead your wife across the line of faith, like, yesterday.
My advice? Stop it.
If you truly love your wife, or anyone who doesn’t believe in Christ right now, take a deep breath, pause, collect your thoughts, and chill. This undoubtedly will be one of the most important things you will ever do to lead someone to faith. Trust me.
Chilling out means taking stock of your situation and making sure you don’t come across like a Jesus freak to those you are trying to reach. Doing so can turn someone off to Christianity for a long time, maybe even forever.
Zeal, Not Pushiness
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:11, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” That verse appears to be saying the exact opposite of what I just encouraged you to do.
In his commentary on Romans, New Testament scholar Douglas Moo provides a much more literal translation of this verse from the Greek: “In zeal, do not be lazy. Be set on fire by the spirit; Serve the Lord.”
Paul is saying “Let God’s Spirit burn inside you. Stay consumed. Keep your fervor high. Never lose your passion to reach those outside the family of God.”
The reality is that verse is saying exactly what it appears to be saying. However, the problem is if you come on too strong, as I’ve done in the past when I’ve shared my faith, you’re not keeping your fervor alive; you’re just becoming obnoxious.
Zeal does not mean you act pushy. Some of the most evangelistically passionate people I know are incredibly patient. As Proverbs 19:2 points out, “Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way!”
“The Beetle Is the Way”
Let’s say, for instance, you go out and buy a new Volkswagen Beetle, and over time you become convinced no one will truly be happy without one. So you start telling every person you meet that he or she should own a Beetle.
You start forwarding e-mails about Beetles to your non-Beetle-owning friends. You start leaving little VW Beetle flyers around for people to read. You constantly say, “I love Beetles,” or post quotes from the Beetle owner’s manual as your Facebook status.
Whenever you talk with your friends, you always manage to slip the phrase “Praise Beetles” into the conversation. You may even buy a Beetle bumper sticker to put on the back of your Beetle, or a Beetle T-shirt to influence your non-Beetle-owning friends. You make it a point to listen only to Beetle-centric radio stations while driving, and watch Beetle-focused programs on television.
You start belittling people for not going to weekly Beetle meetings, and when something goes wrong in a non-Beetle-owner’s life, you say things like, “That’s because you don’t own a Beetle.”
Over time you get to the point where you are afraid to be around people who don’t own Beetles because you might become corrupted, tempted by other cars. Eventually, as you might guess, you become so obnoxious that non-Beetle owners can’t stand being around you.
What’s the problem? Is your problem Volkswagen Beetles? Of course not.
But that’s what many Christians do when they start taking Hell seriously; they get weird for some reason. They start talking in a weird Christianese language they learn from TV evangelists or people on the radio. They start wearing stupid Christian T-shirts. They cut themselves off from the larger culture and grow narrow minded. They do things that have everything to do with blinded social segregation and nothing to do with genuine Christian holiness.
They just become strange.
That’s why I think the key for anyone who wants to live out a life full of evangelistic urgency is to simply chill out. Don’t allow yourself to become a caricature of the prototypical pushy and obnoxious Christian.
Trust the Process
Chilling out means to trust the process of evangelism.
Effective personal evangelism is not an all-or-nothing, one-time, one-person, take-it-or-leave-it proposition; it’s a process that involves lots of people working together over time to bring someone to faith in Christ.
Most Christians I know don’t get this.
The other day I went to breakfast with another pastor I don’t know very well. He was hoping for some good ideas that would help his church reach out to his community. When we ordered our meal, he told the waitress, to my utter shock, that he wanted to talk to her about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I wanted to duct tape the menu over his mouth and shut him up.
Have you ever done this? Or have you ever been around Christians who have done this type of thing at the wrong place and the wrong time?
There’s a church in our area that sends teams of people out on Monday nights to visit first-time guests (without an appointment) who visited on Sunday. They basically show up on the church visitors’ doorsteps and try to lead these people to Christ on the spot. One of my staff members, an experienced pastor, visited this particular church while he was on vacation a few years back, just to see what their services were like. The next night five men showed up on his doorstep.
“Sir, we were wondering if we could come in and talk to you about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
“Um, I’m one of the pastors at Christ’s Church of the Valley.”
“That’s great,” one of the men said. “But do you know if you’re going to go to Heaven after you die?”
“Like I said, I’m a pastor right down the street.”
“Yes, but . . .” another person jumped in. “Do you know for sure you’re going to Heaven?”
If it wasn’t so embarrassingly sad, it would be funny.
Most Christians come on too strong after they start believing in Hell because they don’t realize evangelism is a process. Evangelism was never meant to be an all-or-nothing proposition; it’s a team activity.
We learn this from 1 Corinthians 3:5-7: “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
Paul is saying that the Christians in the church in Corinth couldn’t point to just one person and say, “That person alone led me to Christ.” Paul shared his faith. Another pastor named Apollos continued to teach the way of Jesus to those seeking to understand. Others had conversations that helped propel each person along in his or her journey. God grew that seed of faith in the hearts of seekers. But no one person brought anyone to faith alone.
You are responsible for sharing your faith with your nonbelieving friends in your sphere of influence. But that doesn’t mean you’re responsible for converting them all by yourself, from start to finish. You may be the first person to talk to someone about Christ, or you may be the one who actually leads him or her across the line of faith, but in between there’s usually a long string of faithful Christians who helped along the way.
Please don’t ever forget that.
Brian Jones is the author of the newly released Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It), David C. Cook. His popular books Getting Rid of the Gorilla and Second Guessing God are available at www.standardpub.com. You can find out more about his ministry and writing at www.BrianJones.com.