“Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.” - attributed to St. Francis of Assissi
This well-intentioned phrase gets used all the time. And it’s not exactly accurate. Because how else do you preach the Gospel? Words are always necessary. You can speak the words. You can write the words. You can sign the words. You can film the words. But words are always necessary in the preaching of the Gospel.
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” - Romans 10:14-15
You have an incredible calling as a Christian - to bring the good news to all people. Bring the Good News to your homes, your neighborhoods, your communities, your schools, and your workplaces. As a Christian it is your job to bring the Gospel to those who need to hear the message of the Gospel. Your job is to be a missionary translating the Gospel into the language of the people in your worlds.
But what do you do when no one’s listening?
Preach the Gospel. Use words. But you don’t want to be that lone guy on a street corner shouting and hoping people “turn or burn.” You don’t want to be a jerk that is seen as another “one of those Christians” who are hateful and don’t care about me.
We assume that if we can just get the idea across, then it will be up to the person to respond, whether we do it correctly or not. Maybe we also think that in order to get God’s approving glance, it’s our duty to share “truth,” even if our modus operandi is “Obnoxious for Jesus . . . and loving it.” - Hugh Halter, the Tangible Kingdom
We are called to preach the Gospel, and this always requires words. But in order to preach the Gospel, we also have to earn the right to be heard.
How do we earn the right to be heard?
Earning the right to be heard might seem complicated, but it’s really not complicated. Jesus sums up the entire Law in the commands to “Love God” and “Love others.” In loving others, we are earning the right to be heard. As we love our neighbors - whether that be in our own homes, our schools, or our neighborhoods - we are making relational connections that provide opportunities to share the Gospel.
Can the Gospel be shared and effective apart from relationship? Absolutely! But this isn’t the primary way we should be operating if we are trying to live as missionaries in our cities. Missionaries get to know their city by being present in the city and loving those in the city, not by flying in and dropping off some tracts.
Richard Ford said, “When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things.” This is something that only happens in the context of relationships. When we are present in people’s lives and listen to their stories, we also start to learn about them. We learn their passions, their fears, their pains, their suffering, and their joy.
When Lazarus dies, we see this in Jesus. He weeps. He sits their with the family and cries. His presence communicates something. He actually cares.
“There is also a time to simply become part of the very fabric of a community and to engage in the humanity of it all. Furthermore, the idea of presence highlights the role of relationships in mission. If relationship is the key means in the transfer of the gospel, then it simply means we are going to have to be directly present to the people in our circle...one of the profound implications of our presence as representatives of Jesus is that Jesus actually likes to hang out with the people we hang out with. They get the implied message that God actually likes them.” - Alan Hirsch, Forgotten Ways
Do you like the people you want to reach? Because if you want to reach them with the Gospel, you need to be present in their lives.
If you are being present in the lives of people you want to hear the Gospel, it’s also important that we love, period. This is often difficult because when we have in mind the goal of “preaching the Gospel,” this also becomes the focus of our relationships. But in order to earn the right to be heard, we must love without an agenda. We should absolutely have a desire to share the Gospel in this relationship; that’s important and will naturally flow out of our love for that person.
But it must also be considered, will I still be friends with this person if they don’t get "saved"?
John writes, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
When Christ loves, he loves with no strings attached. It’s not I’ll love you if you come to this bible study. It’s not I’ll love you if you agree with this statement. It’s not I’ll love you if you agree with my political views. It’s I love you, period. And then that love is demonstrated in suffering and death.
And John calls us to love like Jesus loved. This means we love even if they never come to church with us. This means we love even if they continually bash the church and our beliefs. This means we love even if everything in you thinks they don’t deserve it.
And what does this look like. I believe someone once wrote, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”