E. Stanley Jones, an American missionary to India, asked Gandhi what missionaries could do to make Christianity more accepted in India. He asked, “How can we make Christianity more naturalized in India, not a foreign thing, identified with a foreign government and foreign people, but part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift? What would you, as one of the Hindu leaders of India, tell me, a Christian, to do in order to make this possible?”
Gandhi responded with great clarity and directness: “First, I would suggest that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your driving force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.”
Gandhi’s response beautifully captures how our efforts at mission and evangelism should be. Sadly, it is not always the case. Many times our evangelism efforts do more harm than good.
Here are a few ways we have gotten it wrong and what we can do to get back on track.
1) We try to share our faith before we even have any.
I remember talking with a 13 year old girl who came to Chicago for a mission trip. I asked her what she was doing. She said, “I went downtown to evangelize the homeless!” At first, I thought, “how sweet, ” but then I thought, “how arrogant!” First, why do we assume the homeless have no faith? Second, most men and women on the streets have a lot MORE faith than you and I. When was the last time we didn’t know where our next meal would come from? When did we have to trust God for shelter or protection from the elements? We may have good theology, but that is different from having faith. Most of us don’t know what it really means to have faith in God. Perhaps, we need to go sit at the feet of the homeless and learn from them how to have faith!
2) We focus on The Great Commission over The Great Commandment
The Great Commission does not supersede the Great Commandment. Our mission is first and foremost: “Love God with all your heart and mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” What we have done is divorce The Great Commission from the Great Commandment. We falsely believe our commission to make disciples is separate from our commandment to love. The truth is, we are commissioned to love–to proclaim and demonstrate God’s love. To proclaim the gospel is to share the depths of God’s love for the world (AKA everyone). T he gospel is demonstrated through unconditional, sacrificial, cross-embracing love. The message and the medium is love. The gospel of love has to become flesh, otherwise it’s not the gospel. The gospel is best seen, felt, and experienced when it becomes flesh in our lives. The great commandment must be what drives the great commission.
3) We turn Christianity into a culture rather than a lifestyle.
We have turned Christianity into a market. We have reduced Christianity to products we consume, sell, and advertise. We are more about profits than prophets. Christianity has become a culture rather than a lifestyle. We’ve been taught to consume Christian products rather than being Christian. We’ve been taught to be salespeople for Jesus rather than true followers of Jesus. Living a Christian lifestyle means Christ’s love has penetrated so deep into our heart that our lives begin to embody that love in real and tangible ways. We want everyone to know they are loved. We want everyone fed, clothed, housed, welcomed, included, employed, supported, tutored, visited, forgiven, and freed.
If we really want to share the gospel…
If we really want people to know Jesus…
We need to be converted to Gandhi’s style of evangelism. We need to make love our driving force. If we really are the body of Christ then we need to move our body like Jesus did. While we go out to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel, let’s ask ourselves one simple question, “What would love do?”