A while ago I was reading a book (The Divine Conspiracy I believe) which talked about God being in charge and in control of your life. It caused me to think, “How often do we take charge of something which is God’s responsibility?” This starts in our own lives. How often do we try and fix ourselves and try to conform ourselves to Christ? In reality, Christ directs us to follow him and he will transform us. This is difficult to explain because it is a subtle even if important difference. Our responsibility is to love him, follow him, and love those around us. Everything else is his responsibility.
I learned long ago that the first thing to understand in evangelizing is that it is God who works in people’s lives. We don’t save anyone; only Christ does that. He may use us or he may not. Many Christians have a desire to share their faith with others or at least feel an obligation to do so. Desiring this is good, however I think it can subtly shift in a problematic way. The evangelist (person desiring to share Christ) can take the burden of those unreconciled to Christ onto themselves in a way which was never intended. If you stop to consider for a moment, Christ must care more about these people than you do. This being the case, he must also be more interested in their reconciliation than you are and therefore is most likely to be working toward this end. Subsequently I believe we will be most effective when we simply follow Christ. He will use us to best bring about the desired results.
In contrast, if we take this burden upon ourselves, we will feel the weight of these people on our shoulders. I don’t believe we are to take up this sort of stress—the burden of having people’s fate resting on our shoulders. Note this is different than caring about or having a passion to witness to people. This is not an excuse to sit idly by instead of loving others and following the directions Jesus is giving us. In a sense I feel that he is relying on us. Yet we can’t take the weight of responsibility over other people’s relationship to God. We can only take responsibility for how we are following Christ ourselves.
If we take too much upon ourselves, we’ll think that people’s fate lies on our shoulders. “If I don’t convince them of their need for Christ, they’ll go to hell” the evangelist may be tempted to think. While this may be good motivation for talking with them about God, the problem is we will be focused on trying to convert this person in our own power, pressuring them rather than listening to them, loving, and actually caring for them. Generally speaking, people can sense a sales pitch. If they feel we’re simply trying to pressure them to convert, they aren’t likely to be persuaded. So feeling like other people’s salvation is our responsibility is ineffective as well. So follow Christ’s leading, love people, go where he sends you and talk to those he leads you to talk to. But understand that their relationship with Christ is based on the work of God in their lives, not on you.
Jesus instructs us to make disciples (students/apprentices) as we go, rather than to go and make converts as is sometimes understood. Understand that I say all of this because I actually care about people and witnessing, not in order to try and minimize evangelism. Now I certainly want to minimize bad evangelism, but that is because I believe it is hurting rather than helping. I desire to see bad evangelism replaced with good evangelism, which I believe is a church truly loving in the spirit of Christ. People resent the condensation communicated by stating their beliefs are wrong, that they’re essentially bad people, and by pressuring them to convert. However few if any people will resent being truly loved. Interestingly, Jesus seems all about genuinely loving people (which is not the same as being accepting their sins). So why don’t we work on loving people along with him?
We can’t save the world, and it’s not our responsibility to do so anyway. What is our responsibility is to follow Christ and to love those around us along with him as he leads us.