Every Christian should practice servant evangelism because of the discoveries revealed by Steve Sjogren in his book Conspiracy of Kindness.
My parents have heated their home with wood for a long time. When I was younger we would cut the wood ourselves. I can remember many times when dad would take a piece of wood that we had cut and he would get out his splitting maul. Many times the splitting maul would not work so he would turn to a wedge and a sledge hammer. If that did not work he might turn the piece and look for other ways to get the piece of wood to split. Sometimes he could turn the piece over and strike it with the maul or the wedge and the piece would fall apart. It was a matter of taking another approach.
For many of us who have been in the church for years, evangelism means one thing. It involves going door to door and inviting people to church or asking them to follow Jesus. In our society that is going to likely lead to a confrontation. Instead of confronting people this way, servant evangelism touches the heart first and sparks interest. It is like hitting the chunk of wood on the other side.
I believe that we have become so intimidated by the way we used to do evangelism that we simply do not do evangelism. Rather than abandoning evangelism altogether I would like to suggest that we take up servant evangelism. Here are some discoveries that Steve Sjogren has made about servant evangelism.
Discovery I. People listen when I treat them like friends (Jn. 6:37)
A. I am not sure who coined the phrase, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is one of the goals of servant evangelism. A lot of times evangelism can be impersonal and really seem like a rehearsed routine. It does not look like the person who is doing it is very committed to the person. They are simply trying to get through their presentation. To a lot of people this is like door to door salesmen who get paid based on the number of sales calls he makes. One day we had a vacuum cleaner salesmen stop by the house to sell us a vacuum. He quickly learned that we already had what he was selling, and asked to hide out for a while. I was not impressed. I think some Christians can come across that way when they do evangelism.
B. As Jesus fed people, healed them and performed other miracles, He was being a friend to them. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (Joh 6:37 NIVUS)Jesus was a friend to the people he came to.
C. By doing Servant Evangelism things we are being friends to people who maybe are in need of a friend. Our acts of service alone are never going to bring a person Jesus Christ. Through our acts of service we might be able to make a friend that could lead to someone becoming a Christian. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that our acts of service alone are bringing people to Christ, but through those acts of service we might open up doors that will help to bring someone to faith in Christ.
Discovery II. When I serve hearts are touched
A. One time when we were having a free car wash at the church a car load of Mormon’s drove up. They let us wash their car. I think there was a fear that they were going to try to convert us. Instead they were surprised that we would do this for free. There was not much discussion. We were dealing in two different mediums. When we were washing cars we were touching hearts. When they found an opened door they would engage the mind. They are completely different approaches to ministry.
B. One of the central themes surround Jesus Christ is that he was a servant. In Philippians 2:5-8 we are told that even though Jesus was God he became a servant. Imagine the creator of the world, the king of the universe came into this world so that he could serve. If there was anyone in the world who ever deserved to be served it was Jesus Christ, yet he came as a servant. He gave us an example. He served and he dealt with some pretty dirty and disgusting people.
C. The religious leaders of Jesus day engaged the mind of people. Many people who are involved in evangelism today will attempt to engage the mind. The instinct much of the time when the mind is engaged is a defensive one. People in our society are skeptical of anyone who engages them. When we engage the heart of a person they are likely to set down their skepticism. They are more open to hearing the message we are delivering. We might assume that if we can change the mind of a non-Christian their heart will follow along. Through our acts of service we touch the heart first, and allow the mind to follow along. Acts of service are used to touch people’s hearts.
D. Someone can be very anti Christian in their life. They might have a whole host of arguments against the Christian faith. If I try to engage this person through the avenue of the mind they will shut me down. It is possible if I serve that person they might give me the opportunity to speak to them. It is a completely different approach.
Discovery III. As I serve, I redefine the perception of a Christian.
A. Mother Theresa was invited to speak at a Harvard University Chapel. As this slight woman rose to address the group she said, “I understand that there are many students in the university who are doing things that displease God. You are harming yourselves and offending God. Some of you are drinking alcohol and taking drugs. Others of you are engaged in sexual sins of many sorts. I have a message for you from God. Repent, turn away from what you are doing.” The response from this short simple message was a standing ovation. Why could this woman get away with doing this at a place like Harvard? I believe that it is because she had secured a great deal of credibility because of the way she had served through her life.
B. Jesus came to this world as a servant and God empowered him. Philippians 2:9-11. This exaltation came as a result of Jesus serving. He served those he was around and as a result Jesus gained a great deal of authority. The religious leaders of Jesus day had things the other way around. They sought the authority without serving. Jesus instead served first and then that authority was granted to him. Jesus created a completely different image of what faith was about.
C. We live in a world where the perception of Christianity is pretty grim. Many Christians and Churches are seen as always wanting something. That perception should not be what Christians are about. We can change that perception through things like servant evangelism.
Discovery IV. Doing the message preceded telling the message
A. Sometime presenting the message of salvation can seem like a competition. In the competition whoever has the best argument wins. Most written evangelism programs deal with the issue of objections. If someone raises a question or a doubt about your message you are taught how to respond to the objection. It really leaves you with the impression that there is a competition.
B. When people have the opportunity to see the message of Jesus Christ in action first many of these objections can be dispensed with prior to the objection being raised. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When Jesus was dealing with the woman caught in adultery it seemed that the religious leaders wanted to tell the woman and the community that she had done something really bad. As Jesus dealt with her he communicated that she was forgiven. He dealt with her sin in an entirely different direction than the religious leaders had. They were making sure people knew they knew the law. Jesus let the woman know that she was loved. It was different.
C. Our actions need to communicate to the world that we care about people. People need to know that they are important to us. Jesus left us with the example that people really matter to him. We are supposed to be living examples of Jesus Christ in the world. The people of our world need to know that they are important. People want to see the message, before they hear the message.
Discovery V. Focus on planting not harvesting
A. When you go to the store or road side stand and buy some sweet corn you probably do not think about all that it took to get an ear to sweet corn into your hand. Someone had to prepare the soil for planting the seeds. The seeds were probably fertilized, watered, and protected for destructive elements. After the corn had matured someone had to pick the corn and deliver it to the place where you could buy it. All we tend to think about is the juicy sweet corn we are going to get to eat.
B. When Paul talked about evangelism he broke it down much like I have broken down the process of getting sweet corn. “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” (1Co 3:6-8 NIVUS) We like to think of evangelism as someone telling someone else about Jesus Christ and that person accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. In reality it is very much like the gathering of sweet corn. You might have several people who tell a person about Jesus Christ, and interspersed are acts of kindness done in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul states it, there might be several who are involved in the process of leading a person to Jesus Christ, but ultimately it comes because of Jesus Christ.
C. Over the next year we could do one servant evangelism project each month and never see one person come to Christ. That does not look very impressive on a report, but we need to see it from the perspective of how many people were touched by the love of God. That is planting seeds. It does not look impressive and it does not feel impressive, but it is what we are to be doing. It is God who moves people from a state of unbelief to one of belief. Rather than being consumed with how many people came to Christ, I would challenge you to adjust your thinking to focus on how many people have been served.
As a part of the great commission Jesus told us to make disciples. Rather than throwing everything out just because of some bad experiences I would encourage you to consider servant evangelism as a doable alternative. I am not suggesting that we do away with all of the other forms of evangelism, but I would ask you to consider adding the idea of servant evangelism.
Here are a few things I would ask you to consider doing. First think about some ways you can serve people around you. You are doing simple acts to show God’s love. Second, I would encourage you to get educated in this matter. Learn what you can about servant evangelism. Then I would ask you to be praying that God would use these simple acts to bring people to Christ.