by Laurel Bunker
(Editor’s note: This is the 1st in an 8-part series on The Beatitudes & Evangelism [reference: Matthew 5:3-10].)Several years ago, my husband and I, sans children and energy to do almost anything, decided to take a lazy walk through a local Twin Cities mall. After a good deal of strolling, we planted ourselves in some particularly comfortable chairs stationed at the far end of the busiest section of the mall. As we sat together relishing the time that we had, we noticed a group of four individuals standing in a huddle as one would do on a winter day to keep warm.
All of the sudden one of the individuals broke away and made a beeline for a young man standing alone looking at some merchandise in a store window. Suddenly, the individual from the group wiped out a pamphlet, pointed to several sections of the pamphlet, put his hand on the shoulder of the young man, and began to pray as the others watched from a distance.
Approximately three minutes later the person walked away and there stood the young man with an amused and slightly confused look on his face. My husband went up to the group and asked curiously who they were and what they were doing. They were an evangelism team from a local church and, as they explained, they were at the mall on most weekends “sharing Christ” with others.
“But you hardly spent any time with the individual,” my husband said. “How do you know if they actually heard the gospel, need a ride to church, or have any pressing needs?”
“Our job is to bring them to Christ. They need to find their way to a church and walk out the faith that we have just presented.” Really? Is that what sharing our faith is all about? Neither my husband nor I felt convinced that this was a helpful interaction.
For any individual who has been lovingly encouraged to consider the claims of Christ and has ultimately been brought to the point of conversion, evangelism can certainly been seen as positive and beneficial.
However, for the person who has been the victim of another kind of evangelistic endeavor, one that shows a lack of genuine interest in the individual, their story, their needs, their fears, and their questions, evangelism can be viewed as hurtful and harmful, both to the individual and to the church at large.
So when we think about the Beatitudes and Christ’s first declaration, blessed are the poor in spirit, and how the lessons of Christ might apply to evangelism, some helpful ideas can be gleaned and applied to our lives as we seek to be faithful witnesses. Barnes Notes on the Bible says:
“To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; to be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own; to be willing to be saved only by the rich grace and mercy of God… It is opposed to pride, and vanity, and ambition.”
In light of this:
- When we share Jesus Christ from the perspective of being poor in spirit, we can remember our own salvation stories—the need to be listened to, cared for, and nurtured in our journey to faith. This does not happen if we simply want to get the evangelistic encounters “over with.”
- We must remember that it is Christ who is prominent and preeminent in our witness, not we ourselves. When we go in faith, in love, and by His power, others are drawn to Christ, not repelled from Him because we have let our own ambition get in the way.
There are many kinds of evangelism that can be helpful and reap kingdom results. However, all will fall short if we do not have a humble opinion of ourselves, remembering what Christ Himself did on our behalf. Only then, with that same grace and mercy, humility, and sacrifice in mind, can we bring His love and mercy to a lost and dying world.
Laurel Bunker is dean of campus ministries and campus pastor at Bethel University. Laurel’s mission is to radically impact the lives of individuals through empowered teaching and preaching and through mentoring others to be influencers of culture through Christ-centered leadership development.