The dairy aisle at Target
I was recently tasked with purchasing our groceries, something I don't often do for our family. Not because I am unwilling, but mostly because I nearly always mess up. Almost without fail I forget something, purchase the wrong item or find a new way to screw up what should be a very simple task. I could go on with tales of my attempting to purchase our groceries, but I will stop there.
While I don't often buy our groceries, I do on occasion. Recently, on one of my more successful grocery runs, I turned the corner into the dairy aisle and was greeted by a friendly face. He was a stranger to me, but friendly none the less. There was another man getting groceries and he complimented me on my shirt. I must admit, I was a little surprised by the compliment. I do like the shirt I was wearing, but it really isn't anything special. He proceeded to ask me where I got it from. Then he asked me which stores I like to shop for clothes. He continued to ask me questions about my work, my family, where I live and other introductory questions. I am not sure if I was visibly perplexed, but I was having a hard time reading his intention behind these questions. We were able to relate with one another over the fact that we both worked in downtown Minneapolis, were both married and had young children and a few other areas. Each time the conversation seemed to be drawing to a close, he continued it with another question. Overall, the conversation felt forced, but I still didn't know why.
Then it happened. I was ending the conversation, telling him it was nice to meet him and as I began to walk away, he said, "Oh, and I guess there is one more thing..."
He proceeded to tell me about a direct-marketing company he was part of and attempted to give me a pitch about vitamins, how much they had done for his life and that I should think about taking them as well. I was on the receiving end of someone else's agenda. And it wasn't pleasant. I kindly told him I was not interested and finished my grocery shopping - successfully I might add, no messing up the grocery run that day!
I don't have anything against direct-marketing companies. I don't even think I would have minded a stranger stopping me in the middle of Target to see if I was interested in taking part in their company. What was most frustrating to me was that he veiled his agenda behind the smoke-screen of being interested in me as a person. Now, he may have had some genuine interest in the conversation, but it was clear to me that he was less interested in my answers than he was in the pitch he wanted to make.
As I reflected on that experience, it made me consider the way that we often share the gospel with other people. I wondered if people might feel the same way I did when we reveal the hidden-agenda of our conversation.
People are more than an agenda
God loves people more than our agendas. When people are devalued to simply being on the receiving end of our own agenda to share the gospel with them, it is more about us than it is about them. When it is only an agenda, it is more about us than it is about God's love for them. It is more about us than it is about God's glory. Sharing the gospel with others can not be only an agenda. People will sniff that out like my daughters week old diapers in our garbage can. It isn't very pleasant and it is really hard to mask. Consider your motives when you share the gospel. Is it about you and your agenda? Or is it about the other person and the glory of God?
Speaking the gospel still matters
Sharing the good news of the gospel still matters a great deal. We are still called to share the gospel. God still has a mission in the world to redeem a lost people for the sake of His name. We are called to be the ambassadors of that message and carry it into the world. As a result, in some sense of the word, we do have an "agenda" to share the gospel, but that doesn't mean we need to be manipulative or make people into an agenda themselves.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:1-2 ESV)."
Be honest with people. If you desire for them to know Jesus, then go ahead and tell them. But they should know you care about them more than your personal agenda to add another name to your personal convert list. You don't have to apologize for wanting other people to know and follow Jesus, but let's not use manipulative tactics. Lets not pull a bait and switch. It is inauthentic and unworthy of the gospel.
Is the gospel changing you?
If we are going to share the gospel without it being tainted by our own agendas, then the gospel should be changing us first. If we are not amazed at the beauty of the gospel, why would we want others to respond to the message of the gospel? This doesn't mean you need to be perfect, be experiencing a spiritual high or have all the secrets of faith figured out. God is well served when imperfect people share about the perfect love of God. Do not be hindered from sharing the gospel because you feel like you are in a slump. On the other hand, do not share the gospel out of guilty compulsion. Remind yourself regularly of the gospel. Preach the gospel to yourself (read more about this practice here). Instill habits that give you fresh perspective on why you follow Jesus. If the gospel is not changing you, then it will make it difficult for you to have pure motives when sharing it with others. If the gospel is not first changing you, then you will almost certainly turn people into agendas.
Don't put someone else on the receiving end of your hidden agenda. Share the gospel honestly and authentically.