Ways to love

May 18th, 2015

I sat around a table with my small group last night. As we ate dinner I asked, “What comes to your mind when you hear the word evangelism?” For the most part every­one smiled but silently continued to eat. One group member finally spoke up and said, “It’s loving people.” I agree. Loving people is evangelism. It is also hospitality.

Since no else spoke up, I shared that when I grew up, “evangelism explosion” was the primary form of evangelism in my United Methodist church. We were bold to share the good news of Jesus Christ by knocking on doors. We would canvas neighborhoods with our evangelism explosion tools. After introducing ourselves and what church we were from, we proceeded with asking the question “If you were to die tonight, would go to heaven?” Amazingly, people would answer the question. We would go through the gospel message step by step. I remember people asking Jesus into their heart as their personal Lord and savior, right there on their front porch.

In our culture today, most people do not open their doors to strangers. Much has changed, and our assumptions, definitions, and practices must change, too. What does it mean for us as Christians to love people today?

Christians are called to share the hope we have — to share the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins so that we can have a relationship with God and have eternal life. If we are to love people, we must be willing to be in relationship with them. Loving people causes a constant
tension, because loving a person necessarily forces me out of my comfort zone. Loving others diverts my attention to them; my focus shifts away from myself. When I actively, consciously, intentionally love others, I go beyond my own sphere into theirs. That may take me to someone’s doorstep, but more likely it will take me into a neighborhood laundromat, playground, or coffee shop. And instead of reciting an outline of the gospel message, I will strike up a conversation about whatever the other person is doing or thinking or struggling with at the moment. I’ll look for ways to help, to be a friend, to do the loving thing, moment by moment, in relationship. This is my definition of assertive evangelism today.

Hospitality is welcoming the stranger, inviting them in, designing activities and experiences that will resonate with them, and sharing the gospel message by word and deed at every step along the way. True hospitality requires that we actively, consciously, and intentionally welcome others, thinking first about what our church will feel like for them, rather than for us. This is a radical challenge. “Others” are strangers, unfamiliar, and we sometimes fear the unfamiliar. We can become very comfortable inside the walls of the church. If we are to extend hospitality, we must embrace being uncomfortable.

Assertive evangelism and welcoming hospitality may be in tension at times, when we are deciding where to use resources and what efforts to emphasize in our congregations. But they are both ways to love others, and both are important as we answer our call to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

I think sometimes we get so caught up with the methods and logistics — whether we think in terms of assertive evangelism or radical hospitality — that we forget the “others” entirely. We forget that there are people who work alongside us, live next door, or serve us at our favorite restaurant who are longing for someone to tell them that Jesus loves them, to show them Jesus cares, to enter relationship with them, to welcome them.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is as relevant today as it was when Jesus walked on earth with his disciples. We live in a world full of lonely people, a world full of people waiting for the church to be actively, consciously, intentionally relevant, courageous, and full of grace.

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