I remember some time ago, my wife and I were watching a documentary that featured some pretty unusual ideas about evangelism. A so-called evangelist was interviewed and boldly proclaimed that she could get anyone to come to Christ “like that.” Her attitude was smug and self-serving—she seemed far more concerned about getting notches on her belt than properly proclaiming the gospel.
I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but sadly it’s anything but. I remember sitting in a worship gathering and being told quite emphatically that if we, the congregation members, weren’t each leading five people to Christ every year, we were failing in our duties as a Christian. The mindset was all about numbers, and honestly, made it even harder for me to actually share my faith with anyone.
What if I did it wrong? What if people didn’t respond? What if what if what if…
Looking back, I realize that the issue surrounding much of this mindset stems from having the wrong motivation. It’s not bad to want to see lots of people come to Christ through your personal ministry, but if we’re fixated on counting exactly how many, we’ll be disappointed. Evangelism becomes about me, and not about others. And this is why I so appreciate what J.I. Packer says in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:
It must never be forgotten that the enterprise required of us in evangelism is the enterprise of love: an enterprise that springs from a genuine interest in those whom we seek to win, and a genuine care for their well-being, and expresses itself in a genuine respect for them and a genuine friendliness toward them. One sometimes meets a scalp-hunting zeal in evangelism, both in the pulpit and on the personal level, which is both discreditable and alarming. It is discreditable, because it reflects, not love and care nor the desire to be of help, but arrogance and conceit and pleasure in having power over the lives of others. It is alarming, because it finds expression in a ferocious psychological pummeling of the poor victim, which may do great damage to sensitive and impressionable souls. But if love prompts and rules our evangelistic work, we shall approach other people in a different spirit. If we truly care for them, and if our hearts truly love and fear God, then we shall seek to present Christ to them in a way that is both honoring to God and respectful to them. We shall not try to violate their personalities, or exploit their weaknesses, or ride roughshod over their feelings. What we shall be trying to do, rather, is to show them the reality of our friendship and concern by sharing with them our most valuable possession. And this spirit of friendship and concern will shine through all that we say to them, whether in the pulpit or in private, however drastic and shattering the truths that we tell them may be.
The enterprise of evangelism is the enterprise of love. Our motivation isn’t numbers or acclaim from within our own circles, but to express our love for Jesus by telling the lost about Jesus. We speak in a way that is honoring to Jesus, is respectful to our hearers, and we leave the results in God’s hands.