When raising children, we know that it’s only God who can draw their hearts to himself. But that doesn’t stop us from reading the best books and looking for the best advice. We search for the church with the best youth group and spend way too much money on the best camps.
When we’re sick, we know that ultimately it’s God who heals. But that doesn’t stop us from buying insurance, looking for the best hospital, and researching the best methods.
When we travel, we know that God is the one who protects us. But that doesn’t stop us from finding the safest car seats, getting our brakes serviced, and using only reputable airlines.
When we do evangelism and missions, we know that God is ultimately the one who saves souls. But why then are we supposed to check our brains at the door?
I am a firm believer in the Sovereignty of God–that God is in control of all situations and all hearts. I also have no doubt that God can take our worst failures, our biggest sins, or even downright evil, and use it for his will and his glory.
Of course, God can take the most abusive parent and bring forth the most kind-hearted child. God can take the most run-down hospital or ill-equipped doctor and bring healing. He can preserve and protect us despite a rickety vehicle or failing brakes.
But that doesn’t mean we stop thinking. We don’t go recklessly running after failure if a better option is right in front of us. So why then, when it comes to evangelism and missions, are discussions about best practices considered taboo?
I keep hearing things like this:
If God called her, then who are we to judge if she is qualified or equipped?
If God led them to do that, then what right do we have to criticize?
If just one person is reached with the gospel, then it’s worth any expense of time, energy, and money. It doesn’t matter if there could be a better way to steward those resources.
Whether or not his evangelism method was effective, that’s between him and God. We should just keep our mouths shut.
If she says God called her, then she must be doing the right thing. Whether she was a success or not is between her and God.
If their intentions were good, then that’s all that really matters. God only cares about the heart, not the end result.
We wouldn’t say that about anything else. If 90% of the people who entered a hospital ended up dead, we wouldn’t say, “Well, as long as one life is saved, why try to improve it?” If a car seat got terrible safety reviews, we wouldn’t buy it anyway and say, “Well, ultimately it’s God who will protect my child.”
Of course, there is a balance to keep here. For example, as missionaries, sometimes we do choose to live in places where medical care or road conditions aren’t exactly stellar. And in those times, it absolutely is our comfort and confidence to rest in God’s sovereignty. Similarly, when we’ve laboured hard on the mission field and seen very little (if any) fruit, we can lean heavily on the promise that ultimately it is God who saves souls.
But that shouldn’t shut down conversation on how we could do it better next time!
Remember, saying “God called me” can be dangerous. So yeah, you do have a right to ask the hard questions of the under-equipped young person who wants to go out and change the world. We do have the responsibility of evaluating the fruit of evangelism methods of the past. It’s okay to delve into the potentially harmful impact of the short-term team. It’s important to question the methods of a ministry strategy that may actually be hindering the gospel. Robust discussion, constructive criticism, and listening with humility are all ways God uses to provide checks and balances for what could be sinful inclinations or just plain foolishness.
So for all of us involved in local evangelism or overseas missions–whether that be as a short or long-term missionary, financial supporter, trainer, recruiter, or partner–we must ask ourselves: Are we willing to humbly listen to our biblically-based critics? In light of that criticism, are we willing to honestly evaluate our motives and methods? As iron sharpens iron, let us make each other better.