In a recent, provocative piece, Carl Medearis urged Christians to “stop evangelizing.” In making his point, Medearis asks:
What if evangelicals today, instead of focusing on “evangelizing” and “converting” people, were to begin to think of Jesus not as starting a new religion, but as the central figure of a movement that transcends religious distinctions and identities?
Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?
When I used to think of myself as a missionary, I was obsessed with converting Muslims (or anybody for that matter) to what I thought of as “Christianity.” I had a set of doctrinal litmus tests that the potential convert had to pass before I would consider them “in” or one of “us.”
Funny thing is, Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.
Just because I believe that evangelicals should stop evangelizing doesn’t mean that they should to stop speaking of Jesus.
I think I understand his point. Medearis. In clarifying, he adds:
I’m no longer obsessed with converting people to Christianity, I’ve found that talking about Jesus is much easier and far more compelling.
Many Christians are discouraged by the constant pressure to “evangelize.” For many, this means that you must tell someone the full “Gospel message” as soon as possible, even if it is not in the context of real relationship. In this model, discipleship is separated from evangelism. Evangelism is simply the specific point in conversation where we pressure someone to “make a decision for Jesus.” While I do believe that conversion requires professed faith in Jesus and repentance, I, with Medearis am uncomfortable with what this does to actual relationships with people. Relationships simply become an avenue through which we can evangelize, and if someone doesn’t “accept Jesus into their heart,” then the probability of continued relationship is usually slim.
But, as Medearis points out, we have actually been called to “make disciples.” Discipleship actually begins at the point of relationship, not conversion. As we share life with those who don’t yet believe, they are challenged by the way we live, and if we’re naturally talking about Jesus in life, then there is no need for an awkward “bridge to the Gospel.” Evangelism is part of discipleship but it cannot be separated from discipleship.
What might change if we emphasized a life of discipleship rather than “evangelism.” Is this an accurate or even worthwhile distinction?