QUESTION: Some of my Christian friends refuse to distribute tracts or confront unbelievers directly about their need for the Savior. They say they don’t need to tell strangers” about Jesus because there’s a better way to spread the gospel—”lifestyle evangelism.” How can I show them they are wrong and still keep peace within the Church?
ANSWER: “Lifestyle evangelism” is the idea that Christians can present the gospel by living for Jesus in such a way that unbelievers will notice and be led to ask why their lives are different. Then the Christians will be able to explain that Jesus enables their joyful lifestyle.
“Lifestyle evangelism” is good, as far as it goes. However, like all human efforts, it falls short—in this case in two important areas. First, it is not humanly possible to live a consistently perfect life. Besides, even if it were, the theory presumes that those needing to be reached would be unbiased observers of such perfect lives. If we could totally eradicate the old sin nature, some people might be just that perfect. But the effectiveness of “lifestyle evangelism” would still depend on the observers having a perfect level of awareness and a total lack of prejudice concerning the gospel.
The problem remains that “men love darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). Unbelievers often do not seek to find what is right about a Christian’s lifestyle, but what is wrong with it. This is a defense mechanism to avoid feeling obligated to pay the price of receiving Christ—the surrender of one’s personal sovereignty. In short, the natural person is usually not a good finder, but a fault finder in the lives of Christians. There may be some exceptions, but such people usually carry other defenses against the gospel.
The logic of insisting that “lifestyle evangelism” is the only way to promote the gospel carries us to a strange conclusion where the Church would not need to batter against the gates of Hell. Rather the gates of Hell would obligingly swing open to release all of its prisoners, simply because the righteous Church was approaching.
The main problem with those who advocate “lifestyle evangelism” is that they want to avoid conflict. That is part of your problem, too. You presume that if you try to correct a person in the church, he or she will respond with hostility. You recognize that “lifestyle evangelism” is inadequate but are reluctant to say so because you risk losing the peace you feel God wants.
You must recognize that God’s peace passes all understanding. It is not the absence of conflict. It is a peace that especially happens in the midst of conflict, where right is struggling with wrong. The remarkable characteristic of our peace as believers is not the cessation of conflict, but our inner assurance of victory, regardless. Those who promote “lifestyle evangelism” as the only way to spread the gospel would do well to heed the words of the Savior: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
All true evangelism is “lifestyle evangelism” because we must live what we proclaim. Nevertheless, in order to witness effectively for Christ, we must proclaim why we live the way we do. Some Christians feel that they can be so tactful that they will avoid offending anyone with the gospel of Christ. It won’t work if they are to be any kind of light at all. Christ himself, the most loving, tactful, thoughtful person who ever lived, so offended some that they crucified him. Don’t be afraid to proclaim the gospel. And if they crucify you, don’t worry, because as Christ rose from the dead, so will you!