Loving people towards Jesus
10 years of fruitless evangelism
I’ve learnt a lot about how to do “evangelism” in the 20-odd years since I became a Christian in my mid-20’s. In my first decade of being a Christian, I learnt how NOT to do evangelism. My interactions were littered with awkward, car-crash moments of trying to shoehorn the gospel into conversations, of preaching when people weren’t listening and of letting friends know they needed to change their lifestyle or their behaviour because it didn’t match up to God’s standards. You can guess the result: a decade of blood, sweat and tears and of seeing no-one become a Christian (apart from 1 one friend who then walked away under the heavy weight of my directives of how he needed to stop sinning).I remember praying a prayer full of disappointment about 10 years into my Christian life saying, “God, I CAN’T DO THIS! I can’t save anyone!” To which I sensed a gentle and clear response along these lines, “I’m glad you’ve worked that out son. Could you do it my way now please?” I was caught short. I was SURE I had been doing God’s work, God’s way! Unlike most Christians, I knew I was trying to save people. I was hard working, I was passionate, I was zealous. And yet I was fruitless. So, what was God’s way, and how did it differ from what I was trying to do? Here are some lessons I learnt and changes I’ve made in the last decade as a result of that question. I’ve seen the difference that changes make in reaching out to people who don’t know Jesus.
People don’t want to be preached at
When someone comes to church, they know and accept that there will be a time of preaching. When they walk through the shopping centre, go to the pub or come to your house for dinner, they find impromptu preaching rude, intrusive and offensive. I’ve genuinely learnt this lesson from different “after dinner preaches” I had previously delivered!
The above is a contextual observation of mine in post-Christian Britain. It was different at different times in history and is different in different nations right now. In Acts 2, the context for Peter preaching was a crowd of “God-fearing Jews”. In our post-Christian context in the UK, the narrative suggests Christians are judgemental and bigoted. And so, it follows that “soapbox preachers” will clear a crowd rather than gather one. Most people aren’t sitting there thinking, “I wonder which god is the true God?” They’re thinking, “There’s probably no god, and, if there is one, he’s probably not relevant to me…!” So, our starting point is different - we’re looking at people who are sceptical or seemingly opposed to our faith. That doesn’t mean they will continue with that stance, but it does mean our approach needs to be different.
It all begins with love
When asked what the greatest commandment in the Old Testament was, Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Matthew 22 vs 37-39). According to Jesus, how we reach people who seem far from God doesn’t begin with a 3-point sermon, it begins with love.“Care before you share” is such a helpful principle - show the love of God to people before you share the message of God. And as we do that, as we love people, we can be confident that God will be at work through every act of kindness and compassion, gently removing barriers and preconceptions about Christians and the God we follow.
It’s worth remembering that this approach isn’t new. This was Jesus’ heart for all sorts of people He met as He walked in Israel. He was labelled “A friend of tax collectors and sinners” by the Pharisees (Matthew 9 vs 10-13). It was meant as an insult, but you can imagine Jesus replying, “Yes, that’s me. I’ve come for the likes of these people who you have rejected.” Jesus showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery before helping shape her life in a new way (John 8 vs 1-11). He healed the 10 lepers whilst knowing that only 1 would come back to follow Him (Luke 17 vs 11-19). He offered to have dinner with Zacchaeus before saving him (Luke 19 vs 1-10). And After this meal, Jesus told us that His mission, was “to seek and save the lost.” Whilst Jesus was tender with hurting people, He was strong in His criticism of the Pharisees, who He said were hypocrites who were “shutting the kingdom of God in people’s faces” through their rule-making and harsh treatment of “sinners” (Matthew 23 v 13). It is so important to Jesus that we treat people who seem far from God with the grace that He does. Jesus isn’t repelled by sinful people. He’s drawn to us.
As we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with Jesus’ love and offer it to people who haven’t yet experienced it, we can be confident God will be softening hearts and gently drawing them towards Him. Just read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 vs 14&16, “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Jesus, the true light of the world, is promising to fill us with His light and life, so that, as we love others, they will be drawn towards Him. If you picture your life as a star shining in a dark night, think about how brightly a sky full of stars shines. That’s where the impact of “relational momentum” comes from - the movement towards Jesus caused by introducing people to other Christians. For me, finding social situations where my Christian and not-yet-Christian friends can get to know each other is such a key moment in seeing people start to become open to Jesus.
My friend Matt, a previous “happy atheist” who we saw become a Christian, told his friends in our Life Group, “You have all played your part in helping me want to become a Christian.” His and others’ first question isn’t, “Is Christianity true?”, but “Would I want to be like them?” So, a group of Christians being normal, showing we care and having Jesus shape our lives shines a stunning light on a sceptical world.
Love people towards Jesus
Somewhere deep down I used to feel it was my role to convert people. I was a salesman by day and an attempted Christian salesman by night. Realising that “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Psalm 3 v 8, Psalm 62 v 1, and many more verses), was a defining and liberating moment of seeing that God has NEVER asked me to save anyone. That role belongs to Him alone and that’s how He has planned it. But crucially, God does have a role for me to play. I want my love for others to have a direction - towards Jesus. I’ve noticed that at times we as Christians can fall into one of two camps: we can either be distant, indifferent or judgemental towards people who don’t know Jesus (or preachy as I was); or we can love others, but with no plan or ambition to point them towards Jesus. This can be down to witnessing seeing evangelism gone wrong, or people like me preaching over dessert!, Or it can be down to thinking that the qualifying bar for evangelism is so high - needing to be an expert or an extrovert, a theologian or a preacher or that person who says, “Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?” to the bewildered girl on the supermarket checkout.
So, if my role is not to try to save people, perhaps it’s to help bring people to the Saviour who saves. “Come and see!” seems to be such a simple, yet powerful witness to Jesus. Among others in the gospels, the Samaritan woman at the well said this to her whole community and many followed her to come, meet and receive Jesus for themselves (John 4 vs 29-42). It doesn’t take an expert, just an invitation.
Our role is also not to judge people, not to clean them up before bringing them to Jesus. Contrast the Pharisees approach with that of Jesus. The Pharisees created so many rules that people had to fulfil before they could become acceptable to God. Jesus touched lepers, healed a woman who’d been bleeding for 12 years after touching his cloak, allowed a prostitute to pour perfume on His feet and wiped them with her hair. Jesus is comfortable meeting people just as they are, whatever their background or lifestyle. And people knew it. They could feel his acceptance, could feel his kindness towards them. Our role is to love people and over time to help bring them into Jesus’ presence. As we do so, we can be confident Jesus is passionate to meet them and to draw them closer to Himself. For me, building authentic relationships with people, to be in their lives, to love and to not judge, is the foundation, but it’s not the end goal. My ambition for others isn’t that they would know the beautiful fruits of a friendship with Dub. That would be a weird ambition, wouldn’t it?! No, my ambition is that people would know Jesus, the One who IS love, the One who came to seek and save them, the One who laid His life down for them. Jesus is my ambition for people. Therefore, I want to find ways of bringing people into His presence. Trust can’t be rushed. We’re not trying to drag people kicking and screaming to Jesus. The more preconceptions or issues someone may feel towards Christianity, the slower the journey towards Jesus may be. But as trust is built and invites are made, and as your friend comes to understand how loving and gracious Jesus is, they will become open to hearing His truths about what “life to the full” looks like. In short, as we love others towards Jesus, we’ll see Him do amazing things.
So how do we do it?
At this point you’ll probably need to assess your own situation to find the relevant places you can invite people to. Is it to your midweek church group? Is it to church on a Sunday morning? Is it to an Alpha Course? I love to invite people to Life Group socials and to church-wide socials, which can then lead into an invitation to a Sunday service or an Alpha invitation. This can be a way for people to go on a journey from friendship with me to coming to hear about Jesus.What is the beauty of loving people towards Jesus? It’s relational. You don’t need to be an ‘expert’ evangelist or an extroverted personality. It’s something we all can do, as we reach out to the people God has placed around us. Step-by-step, we can draw them towards Jesus, the one who loves them and has come to save them. I believe Olive’s lovely story (below) is such an encouragement to us, as we think about people in our lives who may feel broken or fear being judged by society or the church. As we reach out in gentleness and love, together with an intentionality to bring people to Jesus, we will see Him do amazing things in bringing healing and transformation.
Being a mum without any close family and friends and facing the never-ending challenges of life, I ended up a lonely, angry and sad person. All my adult life, I have always blamed everything on myself - the friendships that fell apart, the loneliness that I faced, my lack of trust. I had no concept of what was right or wrong. It was a messy place in my head. In 2019 Dub and Tanya invited us to a Fun Day, but I didn't want to go. I thought “What if people are standing there with Bibles in their hands asking me questions I don't know the answers to and judging me, wanting something in return?” We went along and guess what? There was no holding Bibles in the air, no difficult questions and no judgments. The generosity and the friendliness of people was unbelievable. I then went to the fireworks night. I also had a great time and thought to myself, “I’ll go to the opening of the church to show my appreciation.” It was one of the best things I have done in my life! Yes. The people are friendly and the coffee is good. They also feed you and look after your kids, but that's not the only thing for me. It's the way it all makes me feel. They’re my family, better than family. Welcome Church is my safe place. They put a layer of protection around me. I made friendships that are deeper and last longer than any that I've ever had before. I've lived for 42 years and moved to the UK 25 years ago and I finally belong somewhere. After my marriage broke up, I thought, “Oh here we go. I have to start looking elsewhere. I may be judged and not be accepted”, but Hanneke and the Single Mums team proved me wrong. My children love their church. I bring my friends who equally love this church and want to come back. You feel the presence of God and His son Jesus there. It's a magnet that pulls you in. If there was a Google search for what should I do in life, it would be welcome church, it is welcome church. I now know the real meaning of the body of Christ. Now I belong. I just wished I had come sooner.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Summer 2023 edition of Ascend
Dub makes the following comments on the article he's written above:
"While I’ve learnt a lot about outreach in 21st Century post-Christian Britain, my personal experience of reaching people within the LGBT+ community is definitely limited. What I lay out in this article are some principles that God has taught me over the years of how to love people towards Jesus, particularly those who may feel far from God or unwelcome in churches. It’s likely that, through bad experiences of churches that may have got things wrong or through public perceptions about judgemental Christians, which are regularly unfair and untrue, many people within the LGBT+ community may feel very wary or closed off to followers of Jesus.
The focus of this article is from an individual perspective - how you personally, as well as other Christians in your church, can love others and point them towards Jesus. A lot of what I cover in this article is expanded in my book, "Loving people towards Jesus": www.lovingpeopletowardsjesus.com"