What could be stranger than stranger evangelism?
‘Stranger evangelism’ is a misnomer. Forget the comparative; we should use the superlative instead, for isn’t it the strangest evangelism?
So you are on a beachfront, in a park, on a university campus, on someone’s doorstep, on a plane, on a bus, among one of those wedding crowds where you don’t know anyone, or basically anywhere other than being cosily among one of your well-connected relational networks. And you get talking to someone about Jesus.
Now, why would anyone (in their right mind) say that they would like to hear what you have to say about Jesus? Here they are, enjoying the evening breeze off the ocean, chilling out, relaxing with a friend, and suddenly you are in their face. They may have been thinking about everything and nothing, but certainly not God the Creator, humanity’s rebellion or Jesus Christ’s rescue. But suddenly you have put those thoughts in their ears. The only choice that has been taxing their mind is whether to get an ice-cream before they go home or watch the waistline, and you have suddenly arrived and put the choice of life or death, heaven or hell, squarely into their hands. Now in this very ordinary scene they have come to stand on the brink of eternity.
At every step of the way, isn’t that the strangest thing?
I guess that is partly why so many seem to disparage stranger evangelism. Perhaps that is why others are more convinced of its value for training Christians than for converting non-Christians. I am sure it is why we are all filled with something between apprehension and gut-wrenching dread at even contemplating getting among it.
The alternatives seem much more ‘friendly’, more acceptable, more common-sensical. We evangelise those we are already well-connected to. We must ‘build bridges’. We must win the right to evangelise. We must befriend before we speak. That certainly buys us a lot of time, and gets us off the stranger’s doorstep quick smart (what a relief!).
But, here’s the thing: with all that energy going into our friends, who is going to reach those who don’t have Christian friends already? How will they hear without their preacher? It may make us feel strange, but isn’t it necessary for us to reach the stranger by engaging in the strangest?
The strangest evangelism really puts your belief in God’s sovereignty to the test. “Heavenly Father, I know you want the world won for your Son, and you have promised to lay the nations before his feet. Give me someone to talk to—someone whose heart you have already prepared”. And out you go, ready to find that pre-prepared ‘divine encounter’. And lo and behold, time after time, those who actually get involved in stranger evangelism speak of how God has answered their prayers.
It is also amazing how often the strangers themselves testify to God’s providence too: “I was just thinking about these things yesterday”. “My girlfriend is a Christian, and she reckons I need to learn about this stuff.” A big view of God means that, in the end, there is no such thing as a ‘stranger’. The living God is active through his people, even in the strangest of human encounters.
After all, he is the one who sent his Son both to those who are near and to those who are far off. The cross, the power of God, is the strangest message of them all. But for those who know our own strangeness, aren’t we glad that the Son came for the stranger—to seek and save the lost? Aren’t we glad he did the strangest of things? Aren’t we glad?