Evangelical Christians, of whom I am one, are those who believe it’s our duty, or, better said, our privilege, to evangelize — to share our faith with other people.
Sad to say, we often drive those other people crazy. Non-evangelical Christians and non-Christians alike tend to view us as obnoxious, condescending and judgmental.
I’m often struck by the disconnect between what we think we’re saying and what others hear.
We might be less irritating if we explained more clearly why we share our faith.
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And that’s my point here — to clarify why evangelicals rattle on so about the Lord.
Most of us do it from a genuine desire to help.
Maybe I can describe what I mean by using a non-evangelizing example.
Earlier this year, a deacon in our church suggested an excellent idea for celebrating Easter. She knew of another church that had done this, and she wanted us to try it.
The idea was this. We could collect money within our congregation. We’d buy $25 gift cards to dollar stores and supermarkets. We’d bag up the cards with other little goodies such as chocolate eggs.
Then, on the Saturday before Easter, we’d walk through these stores’ parking lots and hand out the gift bags to people who looked as if they could use help.
It would be our tiny way of saying thanks to Lord for his Easter gift to us, the resurrection of his son.
So that’s what we did. We ended up collecting enough money to buy 110 gift cards. We bagged them up. On the appointed Saturday, a dozen of us set out in teams of two to give the bags away.
We had a lovely time.
What interested me most were the recipients’ reactions.
As we approached people, we didn’t make speeches. We didn’t preach. We didn’t even explain why we were giving away stuff.
I don’t know exactly what the others said, but I said, “Hi, would you like a free $25 gift card for this store? There’s also some candy in the bag.”
If the person accepted, I’d say, “Have a great Easter. God bless.”
Some recipients were thrilled. Others looked wary; they snatched their gift and scurried off as if they expected me to try to sign them up for cancer insurance.
One guy was hostile. “I don’t want that,” he said.
“No obligation, no tricks,” I assured him. “I’m offering you a free gift card, just because.”
“I said I don’t want it.”
He stalked away in a huff.
Which was his right. But I couldn’t figure out why anybody wouldn’t want a $25 freebie. I mean, why not?
This Easter adventure, even though we weren’t really evangelizing, might be a humble metaphor for why evangelicals do evangelize.
In our theology, the message of Jesus to humanity is great news: No matter who you are, no matter what kind of family you came from, no matter how many addictions you’re battling, no matter what you’ve done wrong, God Almighty loves you.
Just as you are. Right here, right now. You are accepted. Come one, come all.
We think of this message as the most valuable gift ever.
A lot of us evangelicals have seamy histories. We were drunks. Or adulterers. Or way worse that that. We’d given up on life and hope and peace. Heck, all of us still battle a few demons. We know what’s it like to struggle.
But fortunately, somebody shared good news with us: God loves you, regardless.
Mainly, it turned us around. At least it helped us a lot. We discovered that what we’d needed all along, without realizing it, was God’s grace.
I’ve got a buddy who was a drug addict. He was eaten up with rage from a horrible upbringing. He was a brawler. In and out of jail. Half crazy.
Then he heard this news. It transformed him. It’s kept him changed for years. He’s clean, sober, happily married and about as peaceable a fellow as you’d ever find.
He witnesses to pretty much everybody who’ll stand still.
One day he shrugged and said to me, “Why would anybody not want Jesus?”
Having received a grand cosmic do-over, my buddy is always trying to pass it on. He sees people who are suffering as he suffered, and he longs to help them.
He received a gift bag from God, and now he’s handing out gift bags on the Lord’s behalf: God loves you. God forgives you. God will help you.
I realize — trust me — that some evangelicals are overbearing. Their zeal outruns their common sense. And, sad to admit, some evangelicals are indeed judgmental and mean and exclusionary and not much help to the Lord or anyone else.
But the majority intend no harm. Just the opposite. We intend only good.
We know going in that not everybody will accept our message, and that’s OK. As Jesus put it, if you’re already well, you don’t need a physician. Some people have their own religion and aren’t looking for a new one. Some people don’t want any religion at all. More power to them. Live and let live.
Contrary to the stereotypes, we aren’t trying to force anything on anybody.
In our minds, we’re just holding out this unbelievably great gift bag and saying, “I received one of these and it saved my life and my sanity. This one’s yours if you need it.”
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.