Summary: Doing acts of kindness as a form of evangelism. Servant evangelism based upon Steve Sjogren’s work.
According to Jesus the greatest commandments are to “love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus referred to neighbor he wasn’t just speaking of the person who lived next door, but to every person, whether they are like us or different, whether they are friend or foe, essentially Jesus was referring to all people. The funny thing is just about everyone in the world agrees to the second of these commandments, they just word it a little differently, “treat others as you would want to be treated.” In fact, I was at Northern Michigan Hospital this past week and noticed their mission statement is “to provide healthcare as we expect for our own family.” Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Yet ironically as commonly as “love your neighbor as yourself” principle is accepted it is practiced so infrequently.
While people understand the principle, they do not practice it. Why? Because we are by nature self-centered, and it is our self-centeredness which gets us into trouble because we think primary about ourselves, getting things my way whether they are good for us or not. There are times when we become unselfish such as in major tragedies like 9/11 or hurricane Katrina when people feel the need to help others, but more often than not people think primarily about #1, me. It takes a work of God to transform our hearts away from ourselves and onto God and others. In fact, that is one of the reasons Jesus came, to identify with us, and die for us so that our old self-centered sinful nature could be carved away and by the power of God’s Spirit, help us love God and others. For Christians to love God and neighbor isn’t just a commandment we must follow it is a way of life. It’s who we are in Christ.
If we as Christians are characterized by our love for others, and yet how often do we go out of our way to help others get to know the life changing presence of God through Jesus Christ? If we as Christians truly love our neighbors as God loves them, shouldn’t we desire that they experience the love of God in Jesus Christ? Because in my opinion, the most loving thing we can do for those who don’t know Jesus, and whose lifestyles are far from honoring God, is to help connect them to God. And yet I’ll be the first to admit this is rarely a priority in my life. I think I love my neighbor as myself, and yet when I am honest with myself I realize I have made very little intentional effort to reach the lost, hurting people around me who don’t have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Sure we may be good at loving each other, those in the community of faith, which is a good thing, but how good are we at demonstrating our love to those outside the walls of the church. We have a word for this, we call it evangelism, but I don’t like the E-word and I am not going to use it today because it carries too much negative baggage.
When I used to think of evangelism, I remember being in college and seeing this scary looking guy standing up on a podium in the center of campus, spouting off hellfire and brimstone to the curious students as they went by. He made sure we understood God’s judgment for our sin unless we turned to God. What kind of a response do you think he received? Later, I thought evangelism was going door to door like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or handing out gospel tracts (the little pieces of paper which explained the four spiritual laws), or getting people to a Billy Graham crusade. Don’t get me wrong I think God has used these methods to bring many people Christ. While these methods are direct, they do not necessary communicate the love of God. Nor are they natural for most people. I know God wants to take us out of our comfort zone but for someone who is shy like me I don’t like high pressure sales tactics. What if we could share Christ with our community in a way that is Biblical, natural, and loving? Evangelism for ordinary people.
The Case for Kindness
Recently I have been reading a book called Conspiracy of Kindness by a church planter in Cincinnati, Ohio. When he became a Christian he was taught how to use high pressure tactics like the ones I just mentioned (he calls them shark tactics) to get people to faith in Christ. After planting a few churches this way he came to Cincinnati to plant another new church, and so he began with the traditional methods of evangelism, and it wasn’t long before he realized they didn’t work. He found people were more turned off to Jesus by his behavior than turned toward him. He finally asked himself, "would Jesus operate in this way?" Jesus shared the truth with unbelievers, but he always did it in a loving grace filled manner. People were drawn to Jesus because he taught the truth, and because of his love he was a blessing to those around him. He healed, he cast out demons.