Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Lesson from a Man on the Highway: The Value of Relationships in Evangelization

Tuesday morning I was driving westbound on I-240 towards OKC. As I came around a bend I saw on the eastbound side a man standing on the hill on the side of the road, some way off from his car. This isn't particularly unusual by itself. People whose cars break down often go sit on the hillside overlooking the road (if there is one) to wait for help to come.

This guys was different though, he was standing on the hillside holding a big sign on a stick. It looked like a protest sign like one might carry in picket line but it had in big red letters the simple message: "Trust Jesus Christ." To make things even more unusual he wasn't even in the city where you might not be surprised to see someone near the roadside. No, he was out by himself, at least 10 miles east of the city, almost to the point where I-240 and I-40 connect.

His location and personal presence (as opposed to just hammering the sign in the ground and leaving) did draw more attention to his message and, with a heat index already in the 90s it did speak to his dedication to the cause; you don't stand on the roadside by yourself in the summer heat for something you only casually care about. It leaves no doubt as to how much he believes in the importance of trusting in Jesus and I applaud him for that faith. But...

How effective is this method as a missionary tactic? For all I know lots of people were positively affected by his message and witness. Perhaps many saw his sign "Trust Jesus Christ" and decided to do so but I'm afraid that far more people saw it and thought he was a crazy-person and that his message was of little importance.

I had to sit an reflect for a while to figure out why he struck me the wrong way despite my agreement with his message. - I think the problem with his method is that there is no communion, no relationship built with the people he is trying to reach. The Christian message requires community, requires knowledge of the other. Jesus said "Love your neighbor." St. Paul said we are all members of one body. People learn about the love of God through  relationships.*

So, I don't want to condemn the man on the road side; he was doing nothing technically wrong and maybe some people were affected positively. But real Christian evangelization has to take place personally, with relationships, face to face...not at 70mph.

*-Some people may start their journey into Christianity by an intellectual path, sure, but they stay because (hopefully) once they start trying to be a Christian they meet others in whom they see God's love and understand it more profoundly than any book could convey.

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