May 9, 2007

Evangelism Must Start With Love

I decided to start reading some of John Wesley's Journal. I don't know if I will start an ongoing series, but I did want to write on something that struck me as I read. Be sure to check out the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.

On Tuesday, October 14, 1735, John Wesley and three friends embarked for Georgia. They were going to be missionaries to the New World. With high hopes, they felt a great sense of excitement at the possibilities ahead.

In his journal, John Wesley wrote, “Our end in leaving our native country was not to avoid want (God having given us plenty of temporal blessings) nor to gain the dung or dross of riches or honor; but singly this — to save our souls; to live wholly to the glory of God.”

Wesley’s endeavor in Georgia would be an absolute failure!

I was reading Wesley’s journal yesterday, and that line, “to save our souls; to live wholly to the glory of God” struck me. It didn’t strike me in the way you might think. Knowing that Wesley’s Georgian Missionary endeavor was a failure, I thought, “I wonder if it had anything to do with his desire to “save our souls” versus that of the people he was going to minister to?” We all need to have a desire to save our souls and to “live wholly to the glory of God,” but often that is code for “I am concerned about me.”

Wesley’s ministry was characterized by reaching out to the hurting, the lost, the broken, and the poor. He set up orphanages, schools, and job programs. But his ministry in Georgia was a failure. It wasn’t until there was a fundamental shift in Wesley that he began actually reaching people.

What was that shift?

It happened at Aldersgate where his heart was “strangely warmed.” Many have called it Sanctification which Wesley defined as loving God and neighbor. But it represents something far deeper. Wesley shifted from being concerned only for his own salvation, and simply loved God and loved his neighbor.

Wesley stopped seeking his own salvation and viewing people as possible converts, and began to love them. As you read his early journal entries, you get a sense that he was there to impart of his vast knowledge; he viewed himself as superior or a savior, not in the biblical sense, and everyone else as deficient. Following his Aldersgate experience, and worked out through the rest of his life, Wesley seems to have actually loved the people in need.

I wonder how often we have approached evangelism in a manner that tells people we think we are their superior. I am the great and mighty Saved One and you are the Heathen Sinner in need of my message. I am somehow better because I am already in the “in” group, and you are not.

How unfortunate. The verdict is the same for everyone…we are all sinners. The only difference is that we are forgiven. When we approach people with this mentality, we push them away; not only from us, but also from the true Savior who can rescue them from their sin.

Evangelism that doesn’t start with loving the other person is not really evangelism. I think the primary work of God in us is to help us actually love other people. Not just to “like” them, but to love them.

This should go without saying, but “love” is not a mushy-gushy feeling. It is our seeking and desiring the best for others. It is also a verb. We show love by caring for others and meeting their needs. Many have confused “helping a person get saved” as meeting their needs and demonstrating love. It is part of it, but there are other needs that must be met first.

Sometimes the greatest need the person has is for patience. It takes time for them to accept the message of Jesus Christ; it cannot be rushed. We don’t want them to verbally acquiesce to something that they don’t truly believe.

If we are simply trying to convert someone, then we have missed it. We must love them. Loving someone means we care for them, treat them exactly the same, even if they continually reject God’s message.

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