This is a guest post by Julie Wilson, a provisional deacon in the United Methodist church serving at the General Board of Church and Society and Mount Harmony/Lower Marlboro UMC. You can follow her on twitter @UMdeaconJulie
“Repent sinners or ye shall face the mighty wrath of God!” Seriously? Does that approach actually work? I mean, I know it does for some people, but not in my book.
If we want people to come to know and love (and yes, even repent and obey) God, we need to show them the full nature of God. We need to introduce them to God the loving, nurturing parent; God the sacrificial lamb; and God the life-giving spirit. God is not a one dimensional tyrant. God is a multi-faceted all powerful being who, in spite of having all the power in the universe, exercises restraint so that we, God’s creatures, may exercise a bit of our own power through our own free will.
This is where it gets tricky. Because we have free will, we often choose to do things that hurt us, our family, our friends, our environment, or even total strangers. We choose to act in ways that hurt God’s heart. And here is where people start coming up with their own twisted, movie versions of God.
For some, they think God should swoop in and wipe out all that’s wrong with the world. They don’t realize that if God did that, none of us would even be here anymore – we’re all part of the problem!
For others, God would somehow only wipe out our “evil” side, while somehow retaining our “good” side – take out Satan in some super Good vs. Evil battle and, in Hollywood fashion, when Satan is defeated suddenly the Earth will return to lush, sinless Eden.
Then there are those that decide that God simply doesn’t care and has left us to figure things out on our own; or worse, to slowly destroy the world. And, of course, there are those that doubt the very existence of God.
What’s a good Christian to do? The “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:18-19 tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. But it’s not very good at telling us HOW to make these disciples. Simply pouring water on someone’s head or dunking them in a river does not make them a disciple, it just gets them wet. For a baptism to truly be a life changing experience for someone, God has to not only be mentioned, but be invited… not just by the one baptizing, but by the one being baptized.
But before you can get to the point that someone is willing to be baptized, he or she must be willing to invite God into their life, to help them change, to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (John 9:23). Romans 10:9-10 tells us that “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”
So how do we help people to believe? It’s not by threatening them with hellfire and brimstone. It’s not by talking of judgment and wrath. While those are aspects of God’s nature, they are not the very core of God. The very core of God’s nature is LOVE. To share God with others is to love them as they are. Not to tell them it’s ok to be sinners, but to love them in spite of their sin. To show someone how much God loves them, we must show them show them amazing grace, unwavering love and radical hospitality. We must be like Jesus in our own actions.
The best evangelism is what I refer to as “gentle evangelism” (vs. the “in your face” variety that certain denominations are notorious for). Gentle evangelism is when you first offer someone friendship, love, kindness. You offer them works of mercy, grace, and peace. Then, after their basic needs are met, after they have learned to trust you, then and only then do you mention why you do what you do – you are following the will of the one who sent you, the will of the one who created you, the example of the one who died for you so that you might have eternal life.
Many people’s hearts are hardened, kind of like an old container of play dough that was left opened too long and is now dry and crusty. They do not want to hear anything about God because their view of God is so warped by pop culture. But, if a dry, crusty skeptic meets a Christian that doesn’t fit their preconceived notion of a “holy roller” or “hypocritical Bible-thumper”, their heart may be softened. Once their heart is softened through gentle evangelism, like adding water to old play dough, the great potter can begin the work of creating a masterpiece. The work of an evangelist is to add just the right amount of water at just the right time. Too much will disintegrate the play dough, leaving colorful water to spread and make a mess. To little will cause the crusty play dough to continue to break into tiny pieces, each piece making it more and more difficult to reassemble the dough into something pliable.
Now, God can work with play dough in any condition… it just takes a while longer if it’s too wet or too dry. The best job an evangelist (and by evangelist I mean any Christian that is willing to share the love of God with others) can do is to slowly add water, drop by drop. With each kind word or bit of Good News we share with someone, we slowly soften the play dough, giving God a chance to start rolling it around and forming it into something new.
So, if you want to evangelize – don’t be afraid to get a little dirty and a little wet. And, never lose your sense of humor – sometimes working with play dough can get very interesting!