From the beginning The Salvation Army has embraced the biblical design to combine service and evangelism. Our founder, William Booth, once asked, “What is the use of preaching the gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?”
For such people, words alone may not suffice. As evangelist John Mott observed, “Evangelism without social work is deficient; social work without evangelism is impotent.” But how do we faithfully integrate these mandates to both serve and evangelize, especially when it doesn’t happen naturally?
Evangelism through our service should always have at least three characteristics:
We must be INTENTIONAL
As the church becomes more socially conscious, we must create opportunities for believers to serve others. We cannot merely assume any “random act of kindness” – whether we share one-on-one or with thousands – will automatically result in meaningful ministry. But when we approach every effort with a spirit of expectation, believing that we are partnering with God to both change circumstances and transform lives, amazing things happen.
Being intentional begins with simple prayers, asking God to show us opportunities where we can go deeper by investing more of ourselves in the lives of those who once were nameless, faceless strangers. Their journey toward spiritual healing and physical wholeness begins with our decision to make an intentional effort to do something. Even if we’re not sure how to start, when to share or even what to say – we can decide that we are ready, willing, and available for God’s use, and we can trust Him to use us for His purposes.
Doing good for others can be easy, especially if we have abundant resources and determine that someone in need deserves our attention and care. But His Spirit dares us to go beyond just offering SOMETHING and venture into a realm where we offer SOMEONE. This begins when we give OURSELVES, knowing that we can become “a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…” (Romans 12:1). This level of sacrifice allows God to help us identify with others more closely, helping us to love them in the manner we would want to be loved. When we place ourselves in God’s hands, He uses our unique personality and experience to speak to others through our own testimony.
“Showing up to help” is essential and helps us respond to someone else’s needs. But when we go beyond that and intentionally step out in faith, we are confident that we can serve with His strength, speak with His truth, and love with His heart.
We must be APPROPRIATE.
If we want to reflect the grace, sacrifice and unconditional love of Christ through ourselves, then our methods must be suitable to the setting and the recipients’ needs.
If we intend to serve someone else, we naturally give careful attention to the source or scope of their needs. But giving them something we think might help is only effective if it connects to their need and makes a difference in their circumstances. This basic principle also applies to their spiritual needs, especially if they aren’t aware of them.
Some of our settings don’t always allow for traditional means of evangelism. Being appropriate may drive us to a new level of creative thinking, where outdated outreach techniques evolve into more effective models of engagement. Changing our habits (or traditions) are never easy, but it may be essential to be creative in our ministry if we are to reach those who are inoculated to the gospel through more traditional methods of outreach.
As we consider what that might look like for us today, remember – our METHOD doesn’t help others get saved. Our MESSAGE does. Methods are only a means to share His Truth through appropriate ways that help us connect, engage, and make a spiritual impact.
We must be RELEVANT
The hurting world just outside our doors might accept our assistance but may resist our message because skepticism, hurt, or pride has built barriers. Therefore, just as our service is directed toward specific needs, our message and purpose ought to be relevant.
Relevance begins with an awareness of each other’s culture and life experience. The way we interact and respond to others may be as distinct as we are. Therefore, our sensitivity to how others perceive us and our message ought to help us pause and allow for His Spirit to guide us forward. Sometimes, we are given the courage to share some bold, good news outright. Other times, we find that compassion takes over to allow us to listen, love, and connect. This builds a relationship where we earn the right to speak Truth into need. However God uses us, we should seek to become genuine, vulnerable – and relevant.
Whenever we intentionally share God’s truth in appropriate and relevant ways, we have His promise that it “will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11b) His truth is inspired, anointed, and purposeful. It is also timeless and timely. God has something to say to every age and every generation. So, God calls each of us to apply fresh truth to raw need.
But J.I. Packer warns that “Our business is to present the Christian faith clothed in modern terms, not to propagate modern thought clothed in Christian terms.” Relevant evangelism doesn’t mean compromising our values or marketing our message. It means that we work to find a way to clearly communicate the Good News through applicable words, compassionate actions, Christlike attitudes and persistent creativity. It also requires us to get our hands dirty, have our imaginations stoked, and let our hearts be broken.
Get prepared. We each must be open to having our schedules, plans, and expectations divinely interrupted. Are you ready for that today?