The streets are empty. Neighbors peer carefully between drawn curtains wanting to see but not to be seen. Muffled whispers pass on to others the scene in the street. Out of the quiet footsteps are heard. Down the street strides the confident gospel slinger, the Bible firmly in his clutches. Unseen bystanders utter quiet gasps. Curtains drop back into place. Silence envelopes the neighborhood as all wait, hidden behind closed doors, for the unwelcome guest to walk on by.
Like a bad cowboy movie from the 1950s, many Christians today employ an evangelistic technique from the same decade. Ride into town, find as many "prospects" as possible as quickly as possible, unload your gospel ammo, and move on to the next quiet burg.
The problem isn't door-to-door evangelism. While its heyday has passed in most communities, it can still be effective in some cases. The issue is the gunslinger mentality that many bring to the task, the idea that the lost are targets to be acquired, the gospel a weapon to be used, and the number of converts to be notched in one's spiritual gun belt.
The results from such evangelistic shootouts are invariably bad. The lost feel victimized. The gospel is minimized. The evangelist is maximized, walking away to celebrate another personal victory.
The gun belt gospel misses the mark in so many ways:
The lost are not targets of opportunity. They are not prospects. An encounter with them is not an argument to be won. The lost are among the highest in God's creation. They bear God's image. They face God's wrath. Our concern must not be our evangelistic legacy but their eternal souls. If you go into an evangelistic encounter with anything but a sense of grief for their condition and a sense of gratitude for God's kindness for yours, you're coming in spiritually unarmed.
Converts are not the goal. Disciples are. We want to see the lost come to Christ in a saving relationship but the coming is only half the battle. Jesus tells us that we are to make disciples, teaching them, arming them for the Christian life so that they may one day join the fray and make disciples as well. Any method of evangelism that ends with the "Believer's Prayer" or a quick dunk in the baptismal pool but fails to produce disciples fails to be evangelism.
Evangelism is not about the evangelist. Evangelism isn't about the potential convert. Evangelism is about the glory of God, spreading his renown, and adding to the chorus of those who will praise him forever. Spiritual pride drawn from the number of evangelistic encounters we've had or the number of converts God has blessed us with seeing is the worst kind of spiritual pride. If you're sharing your faith as a way to earn God's favor or man's recognition, hang up your gun belt. Get on your knees and ask God to forgive you. It's time you die to self and live to Christ.
Evangelism is one of the great blessings of the Christian faith. We get to share in God's work, to see it up close and personal, to be a choice instrument in the hands of the Almighty. God doesn't have to work this way but he has chosen to do so.
Let us also remember, however, that evangelism is expected of Christ's followers. After all, Matthew 28:19-20 is not the Great Suggestion but the Great Commission.
Therefore, let's holster our pride. Let us rejoice in his goodness and participate in his kindness. Let's go out and reclaim in the name of the Lord the territory held captive by the enemy. Let's do it for God's glory not another notch in our belts.