For a long time people thought of “evangelism” as bringing Jesus with them to people who needed Jesus. It was almost as if we have Jesus in our back pocket and our goal was to bring him out in conversation with people. The goal was to bring Jesus into conversations, relationships, or places where he currently wasn’t. We were “storming the gates the hell”, “bringing salvation to the heathens”, or “taking the world for Jesus”. Perhaps you’ve heard or even used a phrase like that.
If you notice something though, the focus of every one of those statements is on our activity and not Jesus’. We bring Jesus, we make converts, and we storm the gates of hell all in the name of “evangelism”. I call this type of evangelism “pocket Jesus evangelism” because it’s based on us carrying Jesus with us and sharing him however and wherever we can.
And while the idea of sharing Jesus with others is beautiful and absolutely necessary, the idea that we bring Jesus to places he isn’t leads to ugly evangelism. Perhaps you have seen or even experienced this yourself where well-meaning people seem more intent on forcing Jesus than sharing Jesus. Where conversations seem forced, unnatural, aggressive, and somehow off repel people from Jesus rather than draw them in. The reason this type of evangelism can so easily become ugly is because it’s built on a shaky foundation and faulty theology.
The faulty bit of theology is pretty clear when you think about it: you don’t bring Jesus anywhere, because he’s already everywhere.
Here is the point, as Christians Jesus absolutely does reside within us, but Jesus is not limited to us. To limit the world changing, life transforming, and Kingdom expanding work of the Father, Son, and Spirit to the work of Christians and the church is not only bad theology but just plain wrong. God is the primary actor in changing the world, we simply get to partner with him in what he is already doing. The world is being changed by the Father’s initiative, the Son’s sacrifice, and the power of the Spirit and we get to join in what God is doing.
The point is this, we, as Christians, do not take Jesus to a God-absent world. God is already active in the world and we get to join him in what he is doing. The very first act of Jesus Christ was to move into the neighborhood, and he’s been doing it ever since (John 1). If Jesus moved into an obscure, poverty riddled, Jewish family in the first century I’m pretty sure he’s already active on your street.
So then does evangelism still matter? Absolutely! The only difference is the focus shifts. Rather than forcing Jesus into conversations I watch for how he is active in conversations and follow his lead. Rather than trying to push Jesus into a relationship I see how he is guiding that relationship and listen to his direction.
The point is that no longer am I trying to “convert” anyone. What I am doing is joining in the work of Jesus who is already active in seeking and saving the whole world. I’m trusting that the Father, Son, and Spirit are the ones who save and “convert” people, I just want to do my part.
So my question is where do you see Jesus active in your friendships? Is someone open to forgiveness more than usual? Is Jesus directing you to spend more time with someone who seems to be growing? Who can you show love to, that is receptive or needing of grace?
The point is simple: I’m no longer taking Jesus with me asking him to join me in what I’m doing; I’m looking for what he is already doing and seeking to partner with him there.