A Philosophy of Evangelism, Part 3: Taking a Long View

About this series: Developing a biblically rooted philosophy of evangelism can greatly enhance the effectiveness of outreach and evangelism ministries. In this third part, Ken Boa talks about the time involved in the evangelism process and the long-term investment that it represents.


Cultivation Takes More Time Than Reaping

Most models of evangelism center on the reaping side of the agricultural spectrum, and this is understandable, since the harvest is the desired result of the whole process.

The problem, however, is that this tends to promote a more confrontational style than most people would prefer. It also could foster a superficial “hit-and-run” technique that leads to questionable conversions and a general lack of follow-up.

While there are exceptions, we should expect the cultivation phase of evangelism to take more time than the reaping phase. Otherwise, we may be inclined to “bruise the fruit” by attempting to pick it too soon.

This series of contrasts adapted from Tim Downs’s book, Finding Common Ground is instructive:1

  • The harvester focuses on the end result, while the sower focuses on preparing the way.
  • The harvester focuses on proclamationwhile the sower focuses on persuasion.
  • The harvester focuses on immediate results, while the sower focuses on gradual change.
  • The harvester focuses on individual effort, while the sower focuses on team impact.
  • The harvester focuses on points of disagreement, while the sower focuses on common ground.
  • The harvester focuses on answers, while the sower focuses on questions.
  • The harvester focuses on justice, while the sower focuses on love.
  • The harvester focuses on courage, while the sower focuses on wisdom.

Evangelism: An Eternal Investment

The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son in Luke 15 are really one parable in three movements. In each case something of value was lost, an effort was made to find it, and when it was found, the result was joy and celebration. The application of these stories is that “there is joy in heaven in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Each person is of great value to God, and when we participate in the process of helping people come into the Father’s household, we share in the Father’s joy.

In the parable of the unrighteous steward that follows (see Luke 16:1–18), Jesus teaches that we can leverage the temporal assets of time, talent, treasure, and truth into eternal gain when we use them to build into the lives of people:

“And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)

This is what the apostle Paul anticipated when he told the Thessalonians,

“For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20)

When we invest our lives and resources in the spiritual service of others in our walk and in our words, we are investing in eternal relationships. In effect, we are building a “portfolio” in heaven and sending our assets ahead of us. We are also pursuing what pleases the Father and participating in his purposes.

“And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)

For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20)

There are a variety of things we will be able to do better in heaven than we can possibly do on earth, including music, prayer, fellowship, worship, and the study of general and special revelation. But we tend to overlook the one thing we will not be able to do in heaven that we can do on earth, which is to serve those who are in desperate need. When we leave this planet, we will never again have the privilege of sharing the gospel and serving the lost.

Those who want to be rich toward God will give their lives in exchange for the things Jesus declared to be important. Jesus said, “For that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Those who seek the Father’s heart will respond to his Son’s call: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).

“When we leave this planet, we will never again have the privilege of sharing the gospel and serving the lost.”
—Ken Boa

Series Navigation<< A Philosophy of Evangelism, Part 2: The Results Belong to GodA Philosophy of Evangelism, Part 4: Context & Motivations >>

Footnotes

  1. From Tim Downs, Finding Common Ground: How to Communicate with those Outside the Christian Community … While We Still Can, (Chicago, 1999), Moody Publishers.