There he sat, eyes level to mine. He leaned forward in his chair, his arms resting on the desktop between us. "I know I don't have to do certain things to be a good Christian. But I also know if I don't evangelize, I'm a bad Christian. How does that work?" It was my first Sunday teaching a group of high school graduates from our church. All 10 of them had been born and raised in the church and had been taught in our Sunday school classes and youth groups.
I started our first meeting challenging them to ask me anything about Christianity, the Bible, or the church that they didn't feel had been answered in their 18 years of churchgoing. One of the group's strongest leaders asked me the question about evangelism. His eyes were challenging. He certainly didn't want the easy answer and he wasn't wrong in his assessment of what many churches teach. How should I have answered him? To be honest, his question still rattles around in my head today.
Church historians have been seeking a way to answer the question of that student since Jesus sent out the 12 disciples (Matthew 10) and the 72 disciples (Luke 10) to spread the word of the coming of the kingdom of God. These first evangelists stayed in people's homes and preached the good news of Jesus' arrival. They returned to Jesus with rejoicing. Is this what we are supposed to do? Are we bad Christians if we don't travel through the land and stay in strangers' houses?
Throughout the New Testament, God has urged his children to tell the good news through outreach. I've heard churches explain their outreach as "come and see." That is appropriate if there is is something to see at the church, like the presence of God (John 1). When the presence of God is active, then "come and see" is an appropriate invitation. We also have examples throughout the New Testament and church history when the Holy Spirit acts with power (Acts 3) and people are drawn to the church. But if there is no presence of Jesus or the Holy Spirit in the church, then we are inviting people to just see the church and the people.
Jesus instructed his followers to "go and tell" (Matthew 28:7, 10, 19-20). We, as God's ambassadors, take the presence of Jesus' spirit with us as we go and tell others the gospel of Jesus. Matthew 28 assumes that God's children will be interacting with non-Christians throughout their day. It is in those interactions that he instructs us to make disciples. This requires intentional conversations, answering difficult questions, and investing in long-term relationships. Discipleship requires relationships. We can train for that but there is no program that guarantees success of evangelism.
What did I say to my high school graduate about evangelism? Yes, God expects us to tell the world his good news. No, Christ does not expect us to fulfill requirements in order to be a good Christian. But if God is in our lives and the Holy Spirit is changing us more and more into his image, then we will want to tell people about Jesus. It will not seem like a requirement.
2 Corinthians tells us that the letter (rules, the law) kills (3:6) but the Spirit, dwelling in us, brings life. I explained to my friend and all the other high school graduates in that classroom that when we are changed by the Holy Spirit we look more and more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit makes us want to share about his life in us.