I recently spent two weeks at Soul Survivor. One of the jobs I get to do at Soul each year is to do the evangelistic talk. I speak and give people the chance to commit their lives to following Jesus. I get to “close the Jesus deal”, if I may put it so crassly. It’s pretty fun. Generally, there are a few people who stand up, or put their hand up, come down the front, or whatever the chosen response is for that day. It is always exciting when people respond. It’s always a privilege to see people come to know Jesus and to be the one who gets to invite them to do it.
I remember in the days before I preached I would look at people who did those talks, and I would think “Wow! They’re amazing! What powerful evangelists! I wish I was like that.” I’m no Billy Graham, but having now been on the other side of things I realise that what is impressive is not the person who stands up the front and gives the talk, it’s the people who have done all the good work beforehand.
I cannot think of a time when I’ve been speaking and someone has responded cold turkey with no relationships with people in the room, or at church for the first time. I’m sure that happens, but I don’t know of it happening in any of my contexts. As far as I know, the people who respond have come along with friends, and many of them have been going to church or youth group with their friends and family for weeks, months, even years. God has been working on them, slowly but surely.
The people who respond before committing themselves have been hanging out with Jesus’ people for a while. They have been hearing about what Jesus has done for them, and what it means to follow him. They’ve seen what it looks like to follow Jesus by watching their friends. They’ve been loved and cared for by these same people. They’ve often been identifying more and more with the Christian community.
And then they hear me explain what Jesus has done for them and ask them to make a decision. My job is the shortest, least intensive part. Their friends and family have taken them on the long journey, they’ve prayed for them and with them, loved them, chatted with them, reasoned with them, and shown them Jesus. They’ve done all the hard work. I just get to walk them across the line. Or close the deal. Or reap the harvest. Or whatever other metaphor you would like to use.
When I’m done, their friends and family, youth pastors and leaders, step in again and keep walking with them, loving them, praying for them, and helping them follow Jesus. I pop in and out. It’s the community who are the real gospel workers.
When Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, I suspect that he might be talking about this kind of work; the work of sharing your life, day in, day out, commending Jesus in words and actions. It’s definitely less glamorous than getting to be the person on the stage, but it’s the thing gets people to the point of decision. Of course, we don’t love people only so they might become Christians, we love people because that’s what Jesus commands us to do. To love, no matter what. But not loving people is definitely not going to show them the goodness of Jesus, our love shows Jesus, our lack of love hides him. As we love our friends, family, and even our enemies, we get to partner with the Holy Spirit, showing Jesus to the world.
If your friend makes a decision for Jesus, it’s not the person up the front you should be impressed with, it’s Jesus first-and-foremost, and it’s you and your community for commending Jesus in your words and actions. Thank God, give yourself a pat on the back, and then get on with continuing to love your friend as they make their new steps in their new life with Jesus.