I love rocks. There are, right now, in my study, within my reach (although I may have to stand up for some), 37 rocks that I can touch (add 22 more if you will allow me to take two steps). Now, some of these rocks are decorations; but many of them, I use. Some hold down pages of books. Some give me inspiration (but you have to hold those rocks just right) and some reduce stress. But some are just to have and to hold. Now, the bigger rocks are assigned a part in my stone walls (I know . . . I live in Maryland, but I have two New England stone walls). So, the rocks in my study are all generally the size of a softball or smaller. I have rocks from China, Nova Scotia, Sweden, Norway and rocks from various states. To be honest, if I go somewhere fun, I usually come home with a rock. And yes, many of these rocks are stolen. I have one that I stole off a Viking grave in Norway (how cool is that to say?). I have several that I stole off stone walls from my hometown. And all the rocks from the Great Wall would definitely be considered contraband. But many other rocks in my possession have come as gifts. I have a great round rock from Virginia (from Dan and Dana), a rock from Hawaii (from the Otto’s), and a rock from Washington state (from my mom). When I lived in Turkey, I found a rock that I absolutely loved (it may have been the rock that started this whole craze). I kept that rock for at least 12 years. But during my senior year of college, my mom gave it away. Some kid was visiting my house with his parents; and for some unknown reason, my mom let him play with my old toys and then gave him my rock. If I met that kid today, trust me, I would punch him in the nose. Back to the point. When a rock calls my name, I take it home.
Now suppose you are taking a day hike over a mountain and back again. You have already gone over the mountain, and you are now headed back up the far side of the mountain. You are just over halfway up the mountain; and you see this spectacular rock, and it calls your name. There is just one problem: the rock is way too big. But you want that rock. And so, you decide to roll it up the mountain. Now, there will be times when you want to give up, thinking it an impossible quest. And there will be times when you will be tempted to leave the rock for someone else to take home (if you want to do that, that is absolutely fine – the important point is that the rock finds a good home). But you want this rock, and so you trudge that rock to the top of the mountain. It was a lot of work, but you did it! Now, all you have to do is roll that rock across the ridge until you can start the descent down. Now, this terrain is much easier. For starters, it is flat which means that the momentum is no longer against you (it may not be in your favor, but at least you’ve done your Sisyphus duty and are now on level ground). Now, of course, it is still hard work; but if you keep at it with patience and perseverance and good hope, in time, you will reach the far side of the mountain, the down side. Here, the going is much easier, but you still need to be careful. Too strong a push and the rock could get away from you and end up who knows where. And if you give it too little attention, you could end up in a rut and everything could completely stall. But if you work at it just right, before you even know it, you will find yourself at the finish line. In fact, if you do it just right, it will feel like things are almost happening all by themselves. And then finally, there will be one last heave and the rock will roll over and you will have arrived. From here, you can quickly pick it up and throw in in your trunk. Congratulations! You have a rock!
Whoever has ears, let them hear the “Parable of the Rock.” A lot of people think of evangelism as lugging a heavy rock up a mountain. It’s hard and miserable, and you just hope nobody sees you doing it because you look rather stupid. And if you ask most church people which they would rather do, push a boulder up a mountain or go out and do evangelism, they would gladly choose the boulder. But that is not the point of the parable. My point is simply this: evangelism should always be an act of love. Yes, it is hard work, but it should be work that delights your heart and soul. But how is that even possible? It is possible if you know where you are on the mountain and what you are trying to do. Let me explain.
Let’s divide our rock-rolling adventure into ten sections. And let’s call where we started on the far side of the mountain “minus 10.” Up the rest of the mountain, we will pass “minus 9,” “minus 8” and “minus 7.” These four are the hardest. They are all up hill. Let’s mark the flat top of the mountain from “minus 6” to “minus 4.” The momentum is neither for you nor against you, so you have to push forward. Going downhill consists of “minus 3,” “minus 2,” “minus 1” and “0.”
Now, let’s suppose each number identifies where someone is in relationship to God. A “minus 10” is as far away from God as possible. He or she is a hardened atheist who has no interest in God whatsoever. In fact, God is absolutely nowhere on their radar screen. Not even a blip. A “minus 9” is very similar to a “minus 10,” but something has happened that has made them wonder if there might possibly be a God, even though they are pretty sure that there isn’t. But they wonder, “What if there was?” Here’s the big difference. A “minus 10” does not have a friend that they respect and enjoy who is a Christ follower, but a “minus 9” usually does. A “minus 8” and a “minus 7” have moved from where they were not too long ago. They are no longer atheists. They are agnostics or maybe even skeptical seekers. One thing is for sure, they want to know more. They don’t believe it, but they want to know more. The next three numbers (“minus 6, 5 and 4”) have questions, lots of questions. More than that, they have struggles and doubts and fears and apprehensions. But they are definitely seekers at this stage. They also have heard the claims of Jesus; but while they are drawn to him, they are not ready to give their lives over to him. But the lower the number on the scale, the more answers they have, the less struggles they have and the more interest they have. We definitely turn the corner on the next four. A “minus 3” and a “minus 2” are really investigating the claims of Jesus. They want to know the truth. They have several friends who are Christ followers, and they want what their friends have. They may be part of a Bible study. They may start going to church. They may be trying on the “Christ following thing” to see how it feels. A “minus 1” may have one or two questions, but mostly they need someone to encourage them to take the next step. They know that what they are considering will change their life, and they want to be convinced that walking with Jesus is worth the cost. And then there is “0,” and the person comes to Christ.
Now, let me ask you a handful of questions. First, which part of this 10-step process is properly called evangelism? If you guessed it’s only when you take a person from a “minus 1” to a “0,” you are wrong! I should punish you by making you roll a boulder up a hill for the afternoon! The correct answer is all of it! Moving someone from a “minus 10” to a “minus 9” is just as much evangelism as moving someone from a “minus 1” to a “0.”
Second question: which step in this process is the easiest? I would argue that moving someone from a “minus 1” to a “0” is the easiest. That’s why people get all excited about “leading some to Christ.” They think they have done the heavy lifting! But that is not even close to the truth. Think about it:
Which is easier, rolling the rock down the last few feet or rolling the rock up the first few feet? I promise you, pushing that rock UP the mountain is much, much harder. Hear me: moving someone from a “minus 10” to a “minus 9” is far more difficult than moving someone from a “minus “ to a “0.” Why? Because most of the hard work is already done. Someone has moved that person all the way from a “minus 10” to a “minus 1.” And you want to take credit for moving them 1 space? Plus, isn’t moving that one space really all God’s doing?
Third question: Is there a difference between how you handle your rock moving uphill, moving on level ground and moving downhill? Of course, there is. Is there any difference between how we interact with a person who is a “minus 9” and a person who is a “minus 5” and a person who is a “minus 2”? Absolutely. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach here (or at least there shouldn’t be). To do evangelism properly, we need to start with where the person is and pray that we will be able to move them to the next level (and not simply rush them to say a prayer). Enjoy the process. Go slow and let the person enjoy each aspect of the journey. And whatever you do, don’t rush things so that you can get them to the prayer. The prayer will be there when they get there. Slow down and deal with each person where they are on their journey.
Fourth question: Instead of one person rolling that rock through all ten “levels,” wouldn’t it be easier if ten different people each had a turn and only had to go 1/10th of the way? Indeed, it would! And that brings up another very interesting point. I know a lot of great people who are skilled at being phenomenal friends to “minus 10s” in hopes to move them to be “minus 9s.” I know others who are skilled at having conversations about difficult questions (questions like, “How can a good God allow so much suffering?” and “How do we know Jesus is God?” and “Hasn’t science disproved Christianity?). And I know some people who are always ready to love “minus 2s” into the kingdom and answer any question about Jesus anyone has. But here’s the thing. Put that person who is skilled at befriending “minus 10s” and tell them to talk to “minus 5s,” and it is often a train wreck. Here’s the problem: We think we have to do it all. But what if all God wants you to do is your job (whether that is befriending “minus 10s” or answering questions for “minus 6s” or whatever) and to celebrate your part in being a link in a chain. You don’t have to be there when the person crosses the finish line to get the evangelism merit badge. All you have to do is your part. Here’s my advice: do what you do best for the kingdom of God and relax about the rest.
Last question: But how do we know if a person is a “minus 10,” a “minus 6” or a “minus 3”? Here’s the easy part. Everyone starts somewhere. All we need to do is listen and love, and we will be able to figure out pretty quickly. But here is the point: Everyone starts from somewhere. And that means that figuring out where people are is almost half the battle. Long before you share a Bible verse or your testimony, evangelism is all about listening to a person’s story and being a good friend. Bottom line: Long before we start prescribing a plan, we need to first diagnose where the person is.
Behold the Parable of the Rock. And now that we have heard it, we are really rocking and rolling. More next time (more words, but unfortunately, less rocks).