By Loren Gjesdal
“Let me tell you about the features of this little gem….what would it take to get you in this beauty today?”
The traditional car-buying process is almost no one’s idea of a good time. The stereotype is of slick salesmen using high pressure tactics that emphasize benefits, minimizing costs, while pushing for an immediate decision.
Some evangelistic techniques have been criticized as little better than selling Jesus like a used car, with the interaction just about as enjoyable for all involved. Is there a better way to think about evangelism other than getting someone to “sign on the dotted line?”
There are two passages of scripture that might helps us think of taking a different approach, one that is more relational, more comfortable for all involved, and quite possibly resulting in something closer to the Great Commission—to make disciples.
The first compares evangelism and discipleship to team gardening:
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth (1 Cor 3:5-7).
There are at least three members of the gardening team listed in these verses, each with different roles. One planting a seed of faith and another watering or nurturing that faith, all the while reminding us that God is the effectual cause of any real-life change. This should be a comforting, relaxing picture. We are part of a divinely led team, where we may each play a different part at different times, in accomplishing the mission.
With one person we may make the introduction, planting a seed, that causes a heart to begin to open to the gospel. On another occasion we may encourage deeper consideration of the need for a Savior or to weigh the cost of the commitment to a new Lord. As God is the one orchestrating the work, we are responsible to fulfill the role of the moment, but not necessarily to accomplish the entire work in one encounter. We trust God to supply each part necessary to accomplish the result.
The second scripture helps put the harvest into perspective and context:
For in this case the saying is true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor (John 4:37-38).
The disciples had been absent for the entire interaction between Jesus and the woman at the well. They did not play any role in her testimony to the citizens of Samaria that a prophet had appeared at the well who somehow knew all the details of her life. Yet the disciples who had returned from buying food were now going to participate in introducing all those coming out of the city to Jesus.
When the harvest is ready, the fruit falls; no tugging is necessary. No high-pressure sales tactics are required. Why? Because God has orchestrated the preparation of the soil, the planting of the seed, its watering, and ultimately, the opening of a heart and mind to believe the good news.
Yet our focus seems to almost exclusively be on developing programs or techniques to lead someone to make a decision, say the sinner’s prayer, to sign on the dotted line. To accomplish this goal we extol all the benefits of knowing Jesus, emphasize the urgency of making a decision, but precious little time and effort in gardening. We sometimes behave as if the success or failure of the whole enterprise rested on the skill of our 15-minute gospel presentation.
The focus on an immediate decision may be necessary in some circumstances, but in most cases high pressure sales tactics work against the over-arching purpose—to make disciples.
We are all familiar with the text of the great commission, but read it again and note the relationship and time commitment required to obtain the objective:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
By pressuring for a decision, we can damage the relationship. We can obtain a premature no or yes, either one of which can close off the heart from learning the fullness of the gospel. The great commission is to make disciples, not converts, which is inherently relational, and so our evangelistic methods should be in keeping with our goal.
BE PART OF A TEAM!
Let’s learn to have a conversation about Jesus, to build a friendship, to establish a relationship. Let’s get comfortable with being part of a team, sometimes planting and sometimes watering while trusting God to bring about the harvest in His good time. When we do get the privilege of participating in the harvest, let’s humbly remember that God is the gardener who prepared the heart to be ready to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Let’s remember that we are not selling Jesus like some used car, as if our compensation depended on closing the deal. We are introducing a friend to our Savior that they may become one of the family, joining us on the journey of becoming ever more like Jesus.