Q Is it ever possible to be unloving in our evangelism? Isn’t telling people the gospel by any means necessary an act of love to save their souls?
A I believe that aggressive evangelism methods that do not show respect, grace, or humility do more harm to the gospel than good. In my first year as campus minister at York University, I noticed a comic strip in the local student newspaper that showed a student being “harassed” by a Christian evangelist. The strip’s last panel showed the student beating the Christian into a pulp. That strip expressed a lot of non-Christians’ sentiment toward aggressive evangelism tactics.
More recently, a Christian student wrote in her blog about street evangelists she met. “Where’s the love?” she asks, as she reflects on their methodology. Yes, it is possible for evangelism to be unloving.
John P. Bowen, in Evangelism for “Normal” People (Augsburg Fortress 2002), calls many such evangelism tactics “flasher evangelism”—totally inappropriate behavior between strangers, turning something intimate into something violent, violating the victim’s dignity or privacy. Many non-Christians at the receiving end of Christian evangelism feel like an “object” or a “target” of a sales pitch or a prepared mini-sermon. They feel dehumanized and not respected as people with feelings and intelligent thoughts. Such encounters turn people off from the gospel rather than make them curious or interested in what Christians have to say.
True, the Holy Spirit can still turn any mistakes into gospel effectiveness, but that doesn’t excuse us from loving our neighbors as ourselves even when evangelizing. Instead of “flasher evangelism,” we need to practice “lover evangelism”:
- Get to know and respect people.
- Listen more than you speak.
- Be humble enough to learn from non-Christians and to admit “I don’t know.”
- Speak, not to convince but to witness—“this is what Christians believe.”
- Give personal stories of why you believe, not lectures on why others are wrong.
- Have integrity—people can smell hypocrisy.
- Think long-term multiple dialogues, not a one-time winner-takes-all debate.
- You do not have to tell the entire gospel in one sitting!
- Remember that God has other witnesses in a person’s life besides you.
- Most important, pray—since it is the Holy Spirit, not you, who saves souls.
Shiao Chong is campus minister at York University, Toronto.
Q Two years ago I lost my wife to cancer after 18 years of marriage. Recently I have begun to “see” a female friend, and we want to take the relationship to the next level. But my teenage children are angry about my dating someone. Should I continue to pursue this relationship or break it off for my kids’ sake?
A The past two years must have been very difficult for you. By all means, continue to pursue this new relationship that makes you happy. It is never a good idea to let your kids dictate whether you should become romantically involved with, or eventually marry, someone else after losing a spouse.
Having said that, you need to resolve some important issues before a second marriage can have a chance for success. Your children first need to know that you plan to pursue the relationship with or without their blessing, but also that their feelings and reasons for objection are important to you. Listen to those objections without becoming defensive, and mirror back to them what you understand them to mean. They may have an underlying fear that their mother is being replaced by a “stepmother”—a title with often negative connotations to many children and teens.
Encourage them to meet your friend, and allow them to call her by her first name. Reassure them that you understand that because you have a close relationship with her does not mean that they will also. Tell them your hope is that they will make an effort to accept her for your sake, but that accepting her will not change your remaining the one in charge of their well-being.
The most important step you can take is to reassure them that you will continue to spend quality time with them alone and together, without your friend having to be part of all family times. Brainstorm with them how that might be accomplished. You could offer, for instance, to take one of your children out for dinner or lunch once a week to maintain individual closeness. You could also suggest doing a family activity of their choosing (like bowling or a movie) once a month or every two months. Your children have to experience in concrete ways that they are not being relegated to a less-important status by someone else to whom you are drawing closer.
If your teens are quite immature, you may want to consider postponing a possible remarriage until the youngest of your teens is away from home. That would not mean giving up the relationship, but it would mean giving up having someone share your home while your children still live there. Blending two families in remarriage is a big challenge even when all parties get along. If your teens continue to reject your new love, the challenge may prove overwhelming, shattering a relationship you were hoping to nurture, and damaging the relationship you have with your children.
The chance at new happiness for you with a new partner may feel like an unexpected blessing. Expending every effort to help your teens come on board with you may multiply that blessing for them as well.
Judy Cook is a family therapist and clinical
director of Salem Christian Counseling Services, Hamilton, Ontario.