This week the woman I’m discipling and I laughed hysterically over a story in Rich Villodas’ book, A Deeply Formed Life. He tells about a temp job that he had shortly after he became a Christ in which he prominently displayed Romans 3:23 on his computer screensaver and wore t-shirts with Bible verses on them in an attempt to evangelize his coworkers. Before quitting the job, he sent an email to the entire company explaining how they could go to heaven. He walked out feeling triumphant.
We laughed and laughed and then we shared stories of when we have been just as aggressive and obnoxious and thought we were doing God a favor. We considered the work we were doing as vital to the kingdom, even if it meant knocking on a stranger’s door and accosting them with a question about hell.
I must admit that my perspective on evangelism has changed drastically. (Here’s a short podcast by NT Wright you might like if you’re curious about less aggressive evangelism.) But I need to remember those embarrassing stories so that I will remember God’s endless patience.
I did the best I could. I did what I was taught. I did it, admittedly uncomfortably, with good intentions. And God didn’t blast me from the heavens, showing me better methods. He didn’t smash me for embarrassing Him, even though I would understand if He had. He taught me gently. He sent teachers and examples and models. I slowly learned to do something different because God is patient with my ignorance and my mistakes and my good intentions.
My response to this is two-fold. I want to take the responsibility for where I acted unwisely even if it was with good intentions. I do think not that sharing the good news of Jesus should be done from a place of judgment and fear. I don’t think interrogating a stranger about hell is an adequate introduction to the kingdom. If I could go back and apologize to those people, I would.
I don’t think our actions are what count most because God is already at work in the world. He is accomplishing His purposes without me. Hallelujah. While I don’t think my actions count most, I do believe they count. I think that humans, all of us, are responsible for ourselves, that we will answer to God for our lives and our words and the way we treat other people. I want to approach my own self with humility, asking for wisdom and growth, confessing where I’ve gotten it wrong. I am responsible for getting to know the heart of God and expressing that in the way I inhabit the world, regardless of what other people have told me. There are bad teachers as well as good teachers and I want to have the maturity to know the difference.
Secondly, I want to practice having more grace when I see other believers behaving stupidly. I don’t mean behaving with evil intentions, abusing others. I want to be more patient when people aren’t as mature as I want them to be. I want to have the grace to pull them close instead of pushing them away. Having more grace for that doesn’t mean ignoring error. It does mean praying for that person in love, pulling them in for some discipling if I have a relationship with them. (Perhaps we should consider not correcting everyone we disagree with on the internet.) I want to hold others responsible for maturing and growing in their faith and be willing to walk with them while they do that. Heaven knows I need others to be willing to do that with me.
Often my response isn’t love. It’s seething disgust. How dare they be so stupid. As if I’ve not been as stupid. As if I haven’t grown simply because others were willing to spend time teaching me or producing podcast or writing books or preaching sermons and living life in front of me. The arrogance I must have about myself to respond to others so poorly is astounding. Stupid things done in the name of Christ annoy me more than just stupid things done because it attaches Jesus’ name to actions that drive people away from Jesus. But no one responds well to disgust, whether it’s another believer or it’s a person who has just been asked about going to hell. It’s not a response I make from love.
I hope I continually learn about my own blind spots, the places I need to mature and relearn what it means to walk in fellowship with God. I also hope I cultivate the right attitude toward other believers who are in that same process. Cause it’s all of them.