Evangelism is about new creation, lives transformed in the love of the Resurrected One.
Evangelism has traditionally been visualized like the image below:
People on the left side of the cross don’t believe in Jesus. The goal of evangelism is to move people closer to inviting Jesus into their hearts. After a person becomes a Christian, the work on the right side of the cross is “discipleship”. This visualization explains our problem – evangelism is seen as a sales pitch, and after the cross we aren’t sure what the point of growing closer to Jesus is! “Yes, working on my walk with Christ is fine, but if I don’t, at least I know I am going to heaven.” Another problem is that this image pretends that after the cross the issues on the “left side” should be absent from the life of a Christian. I can tell you from my own life that this is not true! People can accept Christ’s forgiveness but then work for years to truly forgive themselves, or others. This image also falsely conveys that our growth is linear.
A better way to visualize evangelism and discipleship is the image on the right. Jesus tried to get people to live out three ongoing and lifelong areas of growth with Him – to love God with all you are (Discipleship; Mark 12:30), love others as you love yourself and as He has loved you (Fellowship; Mark 12:31; John 13:34), and to join God’s work in calling creation back to the Creator (Mission; Matt 28:19-20). Christ continually called people – inside and outside of His group of followers – to make decisions in these three areas and be closer to God.
God is working to grow all people in all three areas – loving Him, loving others as themselves, and loving the hurting world. The goal is not to get to church but to be close to the Creator and living out His love in these three areas (and going to church is part of getting closer to God, though it is often hard to commit to living in community). The Holy Spirit is working outside and inside the church to draw people closer to Christ. We can celebrate, encourage, and help people see God’s work in their lives – inside and outside the church. There are clear decisions to make – represented by circles in the image – to follow, serve, lead, and have a legacy with Christ.
The journey is messy not linear (see image on left) – we will struggle with issues and decisions. We will struggle to live out God’s love in these three areas at work, home, and in relationships. We will even hit a Wall of faith in each of these three areas – where we struggle with the Lord and His will for our lives, or where we don’t sense His love, goodness, and presence. This is part of the journey of faith – and all adults have to make it through the Wall to have a mature relationship with God. Jesus is with us in our struggles and selfishness – even as He challenges us to overcome with His strength. We are all together on this journey with Jesus.
Pain is a door for conversation about God. Evangelism starts with listening for the struggles. We can share our own struggles, and our stories of overcoming with Jesus. These stories help connect us with people and show authenticity. We can encourage others for how they have grown. We can listen to and validate people’s questions about justice – and share how we are working for justice with Jesus in the world. We can help people see where God is challenging them to grow and overcome.
Evangelism is not a sales pitch to get people to church or to pray a prayer. Evangelism and discipleship are about new creation, lives transformed in the love of the Resurrected One. We need to define and measure evangelism, discipleship, and ministry based on how lives are being transformed and recreated. We need to have strategies and tools that will allow us to join the work God is doing in people’s lives. My hope is that this new image for evangelism will serve part of that purpose.