Tuesday night my friend Jeremy Courtney spoke with our church. He is a missionary to Iraq and ministers by connecting kids with life saving heart surgeries. His soon to be released book, Preemptive Love, has been endorsed by everyone from GQ to Shane Claiborne to Senator Joe Lieberman. (Click here to learn more about the book or buy a copy.)
Most of the evening Jeremy answered questions from the audience. He spoke of Iraqi life, bringing in medical teams, building relationships – great stories. During this time questions came up about evangelism. Missions and evangelism were tied together, but some wondered if Jeremy was an evangelist?
When we first hear the word evangelist, ours minds picture a street preacher or maybe Billy Graham. We might also envision door to door evangelism. But Jeremy is not standing on street corners. Instead he is organizing life saving heart procedures for kids. Can this be evangelism? I believe the answer is yes and I would ask, why must evangelism only be equated with speaking??
The modern church has focused on getting decisions (asking people to accept Christ as their savior), but has not explicitly expected life change1. In this way the Good News can become an intellectual choice, rather than a lifestyle. And without life change, it becomes a decision about the future (Heaven or Hell), rather than a decision for today.
1 This could bring up the topic of salvation by faith not works. And this is true, we are saved by faith. But James has answered clearly, “faith without deeds is dead”. (James 2:14-26) For emphasis he also writes, “You believe that there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe that…”
In this vein of thought, Christianity seeks to logically convince people of Christ. Then wait for his return. With the central focus on getting decisions, spoken evangelism becomes the main path. Intellectually, people must be convinced of Christ. Actions of love and service are not primary (and in some ways seem unnecessary, as we await His return).
This leads to a fundamental breakdown for Christianity. When our focus is solely on punching tickets into heaven – getting boxes checked on decision cards – part of the gospel is lost. Evangelism means to share the Good News. The Good News is that Christ – God – has come, but WHY has Christ come? It is not just to make a place for us in heaven. He came to reconcile creation to God – now. Salvation begins today and lasts into eternity. (2Corinthians 5:11-6:2)
A mission or church focused on decisions may have numbers on paper, but will show little in the way of disciples. Yet our Commission from Christ is to “Make Disciples” (“Go” is not the verb in the Great Commission – the only verb is “Make”). To “Make Disciples” is a very different action than to “make decisions”. For a disciple the moment of decision is essential, but only the first step in a journey of following Christ. And wherever He leads we must go.
How many decision cards are checked with no second, third, or fourth step to follow Christ? This is a bane of the modern American church. We allow people to believe walking down the aisle and saying a prayer is all that is required for Salvation (may God be gracious on those we have confused). NO, salvation is not a single decision, we must make Christ our Lord. We must commit our life to Him. We must act to follow Him from that day forward.
In this way, evangelism becomes many things: word and deed. We are making disciples who act, not just decisions of the mind. By always pointing to Christ, teaching and acting out His way of life, we live evangelism. Our actions and our words, as we follow Christ, are all evangelism. Every part of our day should be evangelism.
Which arrives at the question of Jeremy. He and his wife live in Iraq. They have had two children there and are raising them to be on mission – even sending them to an Iraqi public school2. The Courtney’s mission is to help Iraqi children get life saving heart surgeries. Though Jeremy makes it known he is acting for Christ, his focus is not preaching with words alone. He is sharing the love of Christ with actions. At times those healed return, and Jeremy tells them about Jesus. In this way he has lead Iraqis to salvation!
The Courtney’s are evangelists, though they do not go door to door, because they live the love of Christ. They are missionaries, because they are on the mission of Christ – spreading the Good News that changes lives today.
Each one of us are called to be both – to be evangelists and to be missionaries. We should not allow our definitions to limit our calling. We must instead seek to follow Christ, who will lead to live out the Good News for Today.
2 In America we are scared to send our children to public school. Fearful of the world, we keep the light under a bowl. In fear we reject the Commission of Christ for our children.
On hearing the story of Jeremy, my wife pointed to the passage of Jesus and the 10 Lepers (Luke 17:11-19). As Jesus traveled, 10 lepers called out to him. He stopped and told them to go and present themselves to the priest. As they were going, their bodies were healed. One ran back and thanked Jesus. BUT, Jesus healed all ten. In the same, way Jeremy brings healing to many. Some return, but he has not failed when they do not return.
He has acted like Christ.