Our neighborhood has really gone down,” a church member told me casually over lunch. “We’re thinking of moving out.”
When I asked about the signs of decline motivating those thoughts, he named a recent influx of families—people of religious and ethnic backgrounds different than what was typical in his neighborhood.
Luke made sure to mention that at Pentecost, there was someone present from every nation.
The new ethnic makeup was, in this man’s mind, reason enough to be uncomfortable in his own subdivision. I gently asked him a question:
“Do you think, perhaps, that God has moved these new families onto your street as an opportunity—so you can meet people different than you? So you can learn and grow? And perhaps plant seeds to share the gospel?”
His answer, not uncommon in conversations like this, was, “I’ve never thought of it that way.” And he’s not alone.
Sadly, most of us don’t think of demographic changes this way. But we should. In Acts 17, Paul said that the movement of peoples around the world is not incidental to God’s plan to make Jesus’ name known throughout the world (Acts 17:26-27). Before leaving the earth, the Lord told His disciples that the gospel would be for all nations, not just a small band of Jewish worshippers (Matt. 28:16-19). And Luke made sure to mention that at Pentecost, there was someone present from every nation (Acts 2:5).
Love > Fear
We won’t take evangelism seriously if we don’t first love the people our culture, news cycle, and even fellow Christians train us to fear. We share the gospel with those who look like us and with those who might not, because we love them enough to tell them they were created in God’s image and He’s in the process of rescuing them from sin’s enslavement. It’s about seeing our neighbors, not as a threat but as whole persons—recognizing the beautiful and diverse way God has created humankind—and, through our neighbor-love, communicating Jesus’ love for all peoples.
Fear is a natural reaction to a broken world. Some fear is good. We rightly fear violence and evil, and we try to protect our families from harm. We rightly fear acts of terrorism. We rightly work for safe communities and policies that protect our country.
But there is a wrong kind of fear—the kind that motivates us to see whole people groups, not as humans but as obstacles to our flourishing, and a detriment to our particular way of life. This is not the way of Jesus, who went out of His way to avail Himself toward us, even when we were not pre-disposed to love Him. We love Jesus, we are told, only because He took the first step of loving us (1 John 4:19).
Remember: Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
Our evangelism will be ineffective unless we first practice neighbor-love. And such love will be non-existent if we build walls, believing the worst stereotypes of other people groups and letting our apprehensions blind us to their humanity.
But if we start loving those who are different than us—people who have other faiths and worship other gods—then we will work hard to cross cultural barriers and build genuine friendships. Then our lives will be our witness—by exemplifying the kindness and generosity of our God, and the beauty of the gospel.
Which means, of course, the way we communicate about people groups is important to our evangelism. We should ask ourselves, If my neighbor read my Facebook timeline, would he or she be more compelled to know Jesus—or less? The memes I share, the news stories I comment on, the incendiary posts I like—will these drive my neighbors toward Jesus or away from Him?
There is a wrong kind of fear—the kind that motivates us to see whole people groups, not as humans but as obstacles to our flourishing.
A winsome and loving witness doesn’t mean we abandon what makes Christianity distinctive. It doesn’t mean we soften the edges or let go of the “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3). What makes the Christian story compelling is also what makes it unique: Set against the backdrop of every other story, philosophy, or religion, the gospel alone offers answers to the deepest longings of the human heart—How did we get here? Why is the world so messed up? What is our hope? Only Christianity presents a God of perfect justice to confront evil and a God who, in Christ, bears the punishment for injustice. We should not let go of this message. It is precisely what the world needs and yearns to hear.
Quite often, the barrier to the gospel is not disbelief, but our own selfishness and pride. It’s easy to feel tempted to engage in fleshly ways and make arguments that might win short-term rhetorical victories. But in the process of pursuing such tactics, we lose the opportunity for continued dialogue and influence. And sometimes it is fear—fear of the other, or more specifically, fear of engaging adherents of other religious systems—that keeps us from being people who deliver the good news to our neighbors with freedom, joy, and grace.
Paul said in Romans 2 that it is God’s kindness toward us that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Non-Christians near and far won’t hear the gospel unless we love them enough to befriend them. Then we’ll be able to share God’s good news through the outpouring of our lives in both words and actions—not in our unrighteous anger and opinions.