This coming Sunday, January 29th, marks our church’s Public Opening Service. After several months of worshipping on our own, we are finally going “live” and opening our doors to our non-believing friends. In many ways this Sunday marks the culmination of all our labors and prayers up until this point. Our ultimate goal from day one was to be a church for the unchurched (estimated anywhere between 175,000-200,000 people in Irvine).
How are we going to accomplish this? We liken evangelism to that of building a bridge. Bridges aren’t erected over-night. Rather, they require sustained effort, energy, and time. As a result, we see evangelism as a long term relationship more than an event. To quote John Maxwell, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Before someone will listen to the Gospel, you must first earn a right to speak. They say that a typical conversion today takes about two years of bridge-building before a profession of faith is made. That’s a lot of meals and conversations.
Such an approach, however, has not been easy for me. No, not because of what I discovered about my non-believing friends, but because of what I discovered about me. I have met people who are far kinder, nicer, and more loving than me. I think of my former neighbor (who has since moved) who was genuinely one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He was the neighbor everyone wished they had. He trimmed my palm trees, fixed my sprinklers, grilled me steak, and played with our kids. I sure do miss him! I think of my Peruvian friend who throughout high-school flew up to the United States to work odd jobs every summer vacation so that he can financially support his family back home. While I spent my high school summers hanging out with friends, spending my parent’s money, he was working hard in a foreign country, providing his parents with money. I think of my agnostic friend who spends hours every week volunteering at animal shelters and homeless shelters all in the name of good will. What do I do with my free time? I tend to spend it on me. I quickly realized that my non-believing friends love their neighbors, their families, and their city far more than me. Such realizations have caused me to question myself and what I hope to accomplish. Who am I and what do I have to offer?
In the midst of my doubts, the Lord gently reminds me of the goal of evangelism. The goal of bridge-building is to lead others to Jesus, not me. If the bridge leads to me, then there’s no hope and there’s no point. They’re better off without me. Praise God, however, that the goal of evangelism is to lead people to Christ. What will save my friends is not my life, my obedience, and my faithfulness, but His life, His obedience, and His faithfulness. Praise God that the Gospel I have been sent to proclaim is not the Gospel of Jeff Suhr, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ alone has the beauty and the power to captivate sinners and raise them from the dead.
Having this Gospel-centered perspective liberates and frees me to be bold and steadfast in my evangelism and preaching. It frees me from paralyzing self-absorption because I know that the power of salvation is not found in the messenger but the message. Despite all my failings and weaknesses, I will continue to stand behind the pulpit every Sunday. I will continue to build bridges with my non-believing friends because I am convinced that the power of God to save is found in Jesus. That is what I hope our guests will see this Sunday. That is my prayer every Sunday, that all those who come will witness nothing but Christ and Him crucified.