How to Avoid “Pet Project” Evangelism

A personal challenge to embrace the Army's "One Message."

January 23, 2013 by Jason Waters


In October 2011, General Linda Bond outlined a global vision for The Salvation Army. This vision is not new, but it does clearly articulate the application of what our doctrines and name declare us to be about. This articulation helps give focus to what we, as Salvationists, should be striving towards. This does not just apply to our organized, corporate expression of getting involved in church or social services, but also to our personal lives.

I struggle with the “act” of evangelism, or in the context of the global vision, “One Message.” I am unsure how to bring God and topics of faith into casual discussion. To me, having these types of conversations requires a special effort on my part that often feels forced and makes the person I’m speaking with feel more like they’re my evangelism “project.” I’m sure I’m not alone in this struggle.

Recently, I read two books that have aided my thoughts this subject: The Faith of Leap by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch and Untamed by Alan and Debra Hirsch. While primarily written to inform an understanding of faith that is rooted in adventure and mission, they address questions of how we see and understand God because our theology greatly informs how we live and communicate our faith. This challenges me to consider how I think about evangelism and the message I have to share.

Evangelism sometimes gets a bad rap. Fire-and-brimstone sermons abound and “bring a friend to Sunday School” contests haunt me from my childhood. To me, these fear-based messages and reward-incentive projects do not agree with the motivation that drives the Incarnation of Christ or the Great Commission given to his followers.

This is why I am much more comfortable with living out my life under the, “One Mission” of this “One Army,” but General Bond reminds me to embrace the, “One Message.” So, how do I think about God?

A Biblical model of talking about God is to ascribe Him with names that express his character as we have experienced him. A name of God that resounds in my reading of Scripture and my experience of God’s working in my life is Missionem Dei—The Mission God.

Starting from the very beginning of Scripture we are told of a God who goes out into creation:

  •  His spirit hovered over the chaos of formless earth (Genesis 1:2)
  •  He walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening (Genesis 3:8)
  •  He spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3)
  •  He spoke to Judah and Israel through the prophets (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, et al)
  •  He sent his prophets—like Jonah—to others
  •  He became Incarnate to redeem (Romans 3:21-28)
  •  He dwells in us to empower and guide (Luke 24:49, Acts 2:1-21)
  •  He will redeem the world through the Second Coming of Christ (Revelation 21-22)

This is the very theme of Scripture—God, out of love, pursuing His creation, seeking to offer redemption but never forcing himself on those he loves (John 3:16-17). This is the Missio Dei—the Mission of God.

In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer affirms the need to focus our whole being and our lives on Christ—making him the centre of our existence. He writes against what he calls “Cheap Grace,” affirming the call to discipleship. Bonhoeffer insists that when we hear the call of God to discipleship, “all that it requires is single-minded obedience.”

It is interesting for me to consider how much this would impact my witnessing through evangelism. I am a great talker and anyone who knows me would easily testify to my tendency to dominate conversations with stories about my experiences. I expect that, as I place an emphasis on intentionally centring my life on Christ, the stories I tell will change; placing less emphasis on me and more on God who has redeemed me and who now has centre stage in my life.

The Jewish Shema gives insight into this lifestyle. Shaped from three passages of Scripture, the Shema is described by Lois Tverberg as an oath of allegiance. In her book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, Dr. Tverberg gives insight into the Jewish practice of making a recommitment to God. These passages are a call to hear and obey the words of God. In the Book of Deuteronomy it says:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Jews recite this passage along with Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41 at the start and end of each day, reminding themselves to Whom they belong. Along with our Jewish friends, this passage can remind us to make God first in all we do (Matthew 6:33). It also warns us to avoid being distracted by the things around us, which can easily take the place of God as the first priority in our lives. We are admonished to keep God’s Word in front of us and all around us so that we will not forget Him or what He calls us to be.

As I focus on God in all I do and say, as described in Deuteronomy, I expect that evangelism will no longer be something that feels like a chore. It will become a natural expression of who I am and what I’ve experienced. My love for telling stories will make me passionate about sharing the greatest story ever told. And those who hear what I have to say about my Lord will not feel like projects, but instead will realize I care for them and want to share life with them.

The Great Commission can be better understood and lived out when we make the Great Commandment a priority. As we grow in our love for God, our devotion to him and our love for others, we can experience freedom from our fears and timidity. Then we will be able to share our experiences of redemption and can then have the privilege of fellowship with others as they come to know the love of Christ for themselves.

Jason Waters works as a court worker with Correctional and Justice Services in Toronto. He attends the Cedarbrae Corps with his wife, Susan, and their daughter, Rachel.

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