In the name of "ministry" we sometimes overstay our welcome in the life of a person who absolutely wants nothing to do with Jesus. We beg, we plead, we get overinvolved, we "love" by doing for them things they should be doing for themselves, we invest over and over and over again, we reach out, call, call again, offer advice and counsel... and the list goes on and on. We do all of this in an attempt to mirror Jesus who desires that none should perish. However, many times people actually choose to perish! Sounds crazy, I know, but they do. They love their sin, and no one is going to convince them otherwise. These people are the nemesis of evangelism because there is an entire world dying in their sin while we try desperately to kick the dead horse of one person over and over seeking to raise it to life.
Matthew 10:12-14 NKJV And when you go into a household, greet it. (13) If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. (14) And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.
Our Lord tells us there is only one appropriate thing to do with your feet when you encounter the dead horse. Shake the dust off of them and move on. There is more work to do. There is another set of ears that may hear the message. There is another person who will actually welcome the gospel. There may be another who will cherish your generosity instead of vacuum it up. There is a town, city, county, state, nation and world that will hear. Although it's hard to let go and walk away, that may be the very thing you must do.
Evangelism indicates movement. The work of an evangelist is likened to a sower who has the seed bad at their side. They move and walk systematically through the garden scattering seed. They would never think to stop in one place and dump the whole bag of seed on a rock where the seed will never grow.
Dysfunctional evangelism gets stuck in the mire of people's lives. How do you get out of it? Introduce yourself to someone new you've never met and invest there. Go to a new location and invest there.
So how do we detach from unwilling people without seeming to be arrogant, judgmental, harsh, holier-than-thou, and so forth? Easy, don't do those things. Just move on. If the other person wants to know why you chose to move on (you don't call me, I've not heard from you in a while, etc.) Simply tell them that by their choices your gifts and counsel seemed unwelcomed. Offer yourself again if that condition changes, but not until that time.
But aren't we accountable before God for their lives? We are responsible to the work of the Lord, not responsible for the choices of other people.
Ezekiel 3:18-21 NIV When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. (19) But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. (20) "Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. (21) But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself."
Are you trying to take over someone's life in the name of evangelism when they really don't want what you're offering? Then hear these words: It's time to move on.
Brett Heintzman is passionate about the spiritual formation of God's people. These writings are designed to draw us close to God and to help us live out of the riches of His presence. It's all about being in the world but not of the world.