What we thought was just an excuse may actually be more valid than we thought. Do you bring people to you for the Gospel or do you have to go out to find them?
Over the years of doing active evangelism I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard this, "I have people approach me all the time asking about spiritual matters. I never have to go out of my way to share my faith. All I have to do is answer their questions and everything works out fine." If I did, I'd probably be able to fill my gas tank. Of course, my response on the outside is, "Uh huh, ok..." with a smile and nod; when in fact on the inside my mind's eye is rolling. I'm not alone in this. I mean, let's face it, to an active evangelist Christian such a statement sounds like nothing more than an excuse to not share your faith at all. I have even been flat-out contradicted in front of an entire church about this whole thing. During a Q & A after a sermon I gave about evangelism, this lady stepped up to the microphone and told everybody how you don't need to do anything that I just spent 45min talking about. So, yeah, forgive me if I get a little testy from time to time about this issue considering people have no problem embarrassing me in front of hundreds of people. However, recently I made a fascinating discovery. Before I reveal my findings, any intent to say, "I told you so," or smug looks that convey the nonverbal equivalent will not be tolerated because this discovery is completely different than you think. Plus, it doesn't actually change a thing as far as how we need to be sharing our faith.
Here it is: Some Christians are able to attract people to themselves for the Gospel and others have to actively go out of their way to reach people.
Mind-blowing right? This is something that has bugged me over the years and has finally been unlocked. It all started when I attended a Wednesday night Bible study at a church for the very first time. I told them what I do and they were very nice to me, but one of them began telling me about how she constantly has people coming to her about spiritual matters. As she was talking, I didn't detect the normal tone of, "You don't have to talk about Jesus to people, you just let people come to you..." This time instead it was a sincere testimony with an understanding that this doesn't occur to everyone. She also had the basic understanding of the Biblical principles of evangelism, so no mind's eye rolling this time. So obviously there must be such a thing as Christians who are able to attract people to them for Gospel conversations. After that night I spent a lot of time in prayer and studying the Scripture and I discovered that there were plenty of people in the Bible who were able to attract people without having to go out of their way.
John the Baptist is an excellent example of someone who could attract people to himself without him having to travel much. He was an "attract-er." He stayed out in the wilderness by the Jordan river pretty much his entire ministry, yet the children of Israel and even some Gentiles traveled hundreds of miles into an area far from civilization. This required lots of planning and sacrifice to make the trip. People would have to be gone for months, which means they might have even had to walk away from any businesses they had. Another example is Phillip in the book of Acts. He was just walking along when he saw the Ethiopian eunuch reading the Scripture. He just started a simple conversation with the man and he became born again right there! Some contemporary examples would be people like Billy Graham or Greg Laurie, who though they would actively share their faith with anyone and everyone everywhere they go, draw crowds of thousands to hear them preach the Gospel.
I'm not like that in any way. I'm the one who has to go out of my way to share the Gospel with people. Despite my obvious spirituality, people don't come to me with spiritual matters. They just don't, period. It has nothing to do with being "unloving" (quite the opposite in fact since I'm willing to tell the truth) nor does it have anything to do with my spiritual example. I firmly believe and have always believed that it's necessary to bring the Gospel to the world instead of trying to bring the world to church. I regularly have to go out of my way to share the Gospel and even plan events for that sole purpose. I have to hand out Gospel tracts to start conversations. I have to hold up a sign to get people's attention. You get the point right? You may believe it's just me, perhaps I'm just doing it wrong. Well, I'm not alone.
The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of someone who really had to go out of his way to get the Gospel to the world. He was a "go-getter" This man traveled the corners of the known world and made his way to even the emperor Caesar himself! Here's the thing, whenever he entered a place, he had to go to the Synagogues, the market places and wherever he was able to speak. Not a soul came to him for spiritual conversations, he really had to work every step of the way. I could also share examples of literally any missionary who has ever lived, since they were clearly going out of their way to get the Gospel out to the world.
The problem arises when each evangelism camp begins to act like the way things work for them is the only way. We both begin to fire accusations at the other side and it becomes this "us vs. them" mentality.
Those who attract people to themselves with spiritual matters believe nobody has to go out of their way and if people aren't flocking to them, they must be doing things wrong. They start talking about how Jesus attracted people because He was just so kind and loving and if nobody comes your way it's because you're being unloving. They accuse Christians like me of "driving people away from Christ" and things like that. We get treated like a liability in situations that deal with the outside world. For example, I was attempting to partner with an unnamed church when one day the pastor called me to let me know they're having a big community outreach, and he wanted to make sure I wasn't going to hand out any Gospel tracts if I were to attend. I honestly don't care what anyone says about what might have been going on behind the scene in this matter, the fact is this guy went out of his way to make sure I didn't get involved. There was no explanation in the message as to why, nor any assurance that it's not personal, nor was there any promise of future opportunities where I could work. This church has a policy of letting people come to them, and clearly they believed my involvement would have screwed things up for them.
There's no hiding the hurt feelings in this matter, but I believe it's necessary to talk about this because of the damage it can do. As you can see, go-getters feel isolated and alienated in matters of evangelism because attract-ers make them feel like they're doing more harm to the Gospel than good. However, attract-ers can get hurt in all of this as well. As far as they're concerned, they're doing everything they can to share the Gospel. Yet when a go-getter shows up and starts carrying on about how important it is to go forth and preach the Gospel to the world, the attract-ers begin to feel inferior because they're not going out of their way to share their faith.
So hopefully you can see now that we can really hurt each other in this matter. What does it accomplish? More importantly, what do we do about it. Let me give you a secular example of what I'm talking about here that may be able to illustrate how we should approach this.
In boxing, there are boxers known as "pressure-fighters" who have a tendency to fight close to their opponent and will continually chase them throughout the fight. Mike Tyson and Joe Frazier were excellent examples of this style. These would be the equivalent to the go-getters in evangelism. They had their place in boxing history as some of the greatest of all time. Even if you disliked their style, you couldn't argue they were good at it.
On the other side of things in boxing, you have boxers known as "outside-fighters" who made their opponents chase them throughout the fight. Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard are the most famous examples of this style. They were very hard to catch and kept everyone coming to them.
You want to know what both styles have in common? THEY BOTH HAD TO THROW PUNCHES TO WIN THE FIGHT! This is the answer to the issue we have in the war between the evangelism camps. The simplest way to go about it: Do what YOU were commissioned to do as far as how you are called to share the Gospel. As a church, don't make either side the official policy because it will limit what you can accomplish for the Gospel. If people seem to come to you regularly about spiritual matters, be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is within you. (1 Peter 3:15) If people approaching you seems scarce, then plan outings and be very purposeful in sharing the Gospel with whomever you can. If you're not sure, keep a journal of everyone you encounter each day. Pray for every single one, meditate on their fate should they die in their sins and ask the Lord to examine your heart on how you should go about this. Pray for the Lord to put people in your path whether you're blazing an evangelism trail or just a regular day and get moving with it.