The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way” —
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
— Mark 1:1-4 NIV
Evangelism. The word strikes fear into the heart of many a believer. Pictures are conjured up of people preaching on the street corner, reading through a tract with someone in a mall, learning a long script, rejection. But what if that’s not what evangelism really is? What if it’s something different altogether? What if it doesn’t fit neatly into a tract? Or into a six-week program at church? The thought is both freeing and terrifying all at the same time.
According to Mark’s gospel, the role of the evangelist is a narrow one: “prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.” There’s nothing there about spiritual laws or steps to peace. There’s nothing about conversion or conviction of sin. Just “make straight paths.” So how does one accomplish that?
Clearing the Path
First, let’s determine the purpose of the journey. The Lord is supposed to walk along a path which has been prepared and made straight by the evangelist. Where is He going? He’s desiring to have a face-to-face encounter with each sinner (II Peter 3:9). The role of the evangelist isn’t to convict a sinner of his sins or convert a pagan to Christianity. The role of the evangelist is simply to smooth the way for a face-to-face encounter with Jesus. It is to move the boulders out of the path. The evangelist doesn’t even have to crush the boulders—just push them aside.
So what does that mean? What are some obstacles which could interfere with a spiritual encounter? Physical obstacles like hunger or homelessness. Emotional obstacles like being hurt by the church or by others in the past. Theological obstacles like a misunderstanding of the Trinity or getting caught up in the details of Calvinism vs. Arminianism.
The key to it all, however, is understanding that if the non-believer is put on the defensive, then the biggest obstacles in the way of him having a face-to-face encounter with Jesus are his own fists.
Lowering Their Fists
How does one get a non-believer to lower his fists? Each person is unique, as are their experiences. There is no formula that will work for everyone except for this: in order to know people's needs and see the boulders that are blocking their path, we have to have a relationship with them. Having a relationship with the person—showing them love for who they are—is the best way to get them to lower their fists. Preaching from a street corner may give information that the Holy Spirit can use on a non-believer’s journey, but ultimately, relationship is necessary.
Does this mean we should sacrifice biblical truth for relationship? Certainly not! But biblical truth can be presented in a non-confrontational way once relationship has been established. Should we hide our spiritual side then until relationship is established? Certainly not! A believer’s life should always boldly reflect Jesus—but treating a person like a “project” is a quick way to get their fists raised up in self-defense.
Bear in mind too that only the Holy Spirit can convict of sin or renew the mind, so rejection of the Gospel is not a rejection of the evangelist. It’s not personal. It’s between the non-believer and the Holy Spirit. This removes the burden of responsibility from the evangelist, allowing him to focus on the obstacles in the non-believer’s path instead of on his own feelings of rejection.
When you encounter non-believers, focus on getting to know them. Let them get to know you. Find out what is happening in their lives that is preventing their face-to-face encounter with Jesus. If they are hungry, feed them. If they are hurting, comfort them. If they are confused, help them to understand. Remove obstacles—including fists raised in defense—so that they can see Jesus.