In our culture, we want things now. We don’t like to wait. We will actually pay five to ten times as much to get it tomorrow rather than waiting seven to ten working days for standard delivery. Today’s kids probably do not even know what an encyclopedia is—not when you can google everything in the world and have an answer in thirty seconds. When we are done shopping at the big box store, we spend three minutes scanning all the open lanes to see which has the fewest customers with the fewest purchases, just so we can save three minutes in the check-out line. We hate waiting.
We even like our evangelism microwave-style. We want three points and a prayer—or a clever diagram we can draw on a napkin—but, even as impatient and time-crunched as today’s culture is, the canned, elevator-speech methods of yesteryear, while perhaps appealing to the evangelist, are becoming less and less effective. To today’s listener, questions like, “If you were to get hit by a car today, where do you think you’d spend eternity?” only bring to mind the telemarketer. And I don’t know about you, but I hate being hung up on, and I would rather not be on anyone’s “Do Not Call” list.
So, what is the answer?
But why is that? On the surface, it seems counter-intuitive. It seems like the less time people have, the more brevity they would appreciate. But here is what I think is happening. Our frenetic pace and information overload has pushed people toward two extremes—gullibility or skepticism. But I see this as an opportunity, because, now, the only style of evangelism that really works is the style Jesus taught.
What can move the gullible away from the conman? Relationship. What can move the skeptic away from suspicion? Relationship. The old saying “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” has never been more applicable than it is today.
Perhaps now more than ever before, clever methods and persuasive words are failing to bring people into a real, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ, because people are either drawn to the flashy and shallow or they are rejecting the whole thing outright. The only way to overcome this is to do what Jesus did.
We need to eat with people. We need to build margin into our schedules so we can respond to needs. We need to be intentional about relationships, not so we can evangelize people, but because trust takes time, and trust displaces both gullibility and skepticism. In order to truly follow Jesus’ command to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” we need to follow Jesus’ example and commit to the long game. Because, when we build relationship for its own sake, we do not have to be clever or persuasive. We can leave that to Jesus.
Pastor of Quest Church, Arlington Heights, IL
We look forward to hearing more from Ed on Wednesday.