Treating People Like Projects

Evangelical Christianity has its warts and weaknesses. But if there is anything we’ve got going for us, it’s that we strive to keep our collective conscience alive to the urgency and importance of the Great Commission. “Relational Evangelism” is the name of the game in Evangelical Christian circles. We wholeheartedly believe that one of the primary purposes of every believer’s life is to share the gospel and make disciples. God could have teleported us to Heaven the very moment we trusted in Jesus. But he has instead stamped Agent of Reconciliation on every one of our adopted souls, designating us as the means by which he will draw more people into his blood-bought family. We are all divinely appointed evangelists whose primary role within our relationships with unbelievers is to be a tangible manifestation of the gospel. Above every good thing we desire and do for our friends, we should desire their redemption and co-labor with the Holy Spirit toward that end.

However, there’s some pushback against that idea. I sometimes hear well-meaning Christians say things like, “It is disingenuous to love lost people mainly because you want them to convert to Christianity. Real love doesn’t have an agenda. People shouldn’t be treated like projects!” I don’t wholly dismiss this pushback. I actually think there is some merit for it. There’s no doubt that some Christians appear to evangelize unbelievers simply because they want to be noticed and praised for their evangelistic successes, and that is disingenuous. Also, refusing to talk with our lost friends about anything besides Jesus and trying to turn every single conversation into a gospel conversation probably indicates that we have less-than-charitable intentions. Love doesn’t dominate conversations. However, it is terribly wrong to pit genuine love and a desire to see people know Jesus against each other. Sincere friendship and evangelism are not at odds!

Let’s ask ourselves a question: What is the greatest dilemma our lost friends are facing in life? Is it their dysfunctional relationships or job problems or parenting frustrations? Is it their physical ailments or depression or loneliness? I don’t want to make light of these kinds of issues—they are real problems that we, as true friends, should help those we care for walk through in every way we are able. However, these troubles are incomparable with the blood-curdling reality that our friends are living in rebellion against an all-powerful God who will one day obliterate his enemies. As great as they can be in so many ways, our unbelieving friends are ultimately traitors against God in need of urgent rescue from the penalty and power of their sin.

So if we want to sincerely love our unbelieving friends, how can our hearts not burn continually with a desire to see them reconciled to God? If we really believe they are blindly stumbling toward an eternity of suffering, how can we not long, more than anything else, to take them by the hand and guide them toward salvation? If we genuinely care for their well-being, how can we not engage them with the gospel that will save and satisfy their souls?

Relational evangelism doesn’t see people as projects. It sees them as they really are: enemies of God who are in urgent need of Christ to end their warfare. Nor is relational evangelism selfish. Sharing the gospel with a friend is one of the most difficult, uncomfortable, self-sacrificing things you can do! It is no easy-peasy thing to plow through your fears and speak about Christ. Our fleshly intuition tells us not to make things weird by talking about Jesus and to just keep praying for our friends in the silent secrecy of our own hearts. But we know that faith is birthed when people hear the gospel (Romans 10:14). Therefore we must speak about Jesus. And so we do it—sweating, shaking, and stuttering all the way through. We don’t do it selfishly, treating people like projects—we do it selflessly, treating people like we love them more than we love our own comfort!

It is not disingenuous to have evangelistic intentions undergirding our love and care for unbelieving people. In fact, I don’t know if a Christian can genuinely love their lost friends without wanting, more than anything else, to see them escape condemnation and enjoy the infinite benefits of a relationship with Jesus!

8 Comments

  1. One important thing to note, and you’ve included reference to it in your very first sentence, Matt, is that effective evangelism MUST include “follow-up” in the form of discipleship. It’s not enough to simply bring a person to accept Christ as their Savior and Lord of their lives and “move on to the next one”, so to speak. Jesus worked with His disciples for three years. During that time they observed His life, teaching, miracles etc. They became far more than “just” believers, but they learned how to carry on His work after He was no longer with them.

    Obviously, finding a sound Bible-teaching church to attend will be one of the first steps. Within a larger church body, different people may be involved in different parts of the process, so as to most effectively utilize their individual giftings. And, depending on the circumstances, you will probably want to be involved yourself, since you likely know the person best. But there should be some sort of “process” (probably too formal a word) in place to assure that the full range of discipleship takes place, and that new Christians don’t become “lost in the cracks” and perhaps become disillusioned, and ultimately perhaps fall away as a result.

    1. This was one of my problems as a new believer – there was no follow up, and when I became angry at the church, no one came after me to see why I had quit going. Maybe I hadn’t built the relationships necessary for someone to care – I don’t know. I do know however, that because no one came looking for me, I tried to get closer to God, my own way, because of anger and bitterness. It didn’t work.

  2. I think there’s a similar problem when it comes to some church leaders who treat congregants under their care like projects rather than people with respect to discipleship and spiritual growth.

  3. We’re still a work in progress. I think a lot of churches are getting better and better with this. It’s great to keep the topic alive and keep the conversation going about new and better ways to do things. Sometimes just small acts of kindness make a big difference. I remind myself of that when I don’t know what else to do.

  4. As someone who has experienced ‘being a project’, I certainly resented it at the time, and felt like screaming at well meaning christian peers: ‘people do like me for who I am you know! I have friends! I’m a person not a charity case/ project!’. However, in retrospect, after becoming a christian (through suffering then questioning then joining a bible study group then understanding and then for four years since getting more and more excited and passionate about the truth of the gospel and who God truly is etc) and still being friends with those people, I realise that they did like me for my personality etc, but, so much more importantly, they LOVED me for simply being a human, with the dignity and worth of being made in God’s image. They did not merely see and treat me as a person, but as an eternal person.

  5. I have a problem with the predominant view of evangelism as a call to instill belief of Jesus into others hearts, and here’s why.

    The work of creating belief is not done by human beings. It’s done by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works through people, yes, but it is the Spirit that does the work.

    In my opinion, having a desire for someone’s redemption is so easily twisted to thinking it is your job to make them believe the truth. All you can do is believe, and let the Holy Spirit work. I think, in general, we don’t seek to understand enough, and don’t validate other people’s intelligent, logical, reasonable, non-Christian beliefs. In the best-case scenario, we all share our stories and learn from each other. In the process, we will make disciples of Christ, but we will also become more educated ourselves, achieving answers to questions we didn’t know were there because we were too busy talking about Jesus again.

    I have never heard my point made before and it’s surprising to me that Christians bear such a burden. It’s not your job. You are set free from bondage. You are free to become more and more like God because YOU love Him (not everybody does, and not everybody will). But you don’t have a job. The work is done by the Spirit.

    I also REALLY want to hear at least the writer’s response to this, because this is a new argument to me, even though the thoughts have been floating around for a while. What’s wrong with my argument?

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