Evangelism can be scary for a lot of us. We’re often afraid of offending or alienating people. We worry what they will think of us, will they think we’re weird or pushy or one of “those” Christians. (I’m not certain we even know what “those Christians” are anymore, we just know we’re not supposed to be in that category.) It’s also easy to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to say just the right thing, in the right casual tone of voice, that will appeal to the other person in just the right way.
First of all, let’s get over ourselves and remember that we’re not actually that important. People don’t think about us as much as we fear that they do. Whatever fears of judgment and rejection that keep us from asking questions and talking about our faith are more often than not wildly unfounded. Also the work of the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than any of us broken vessels. A friend of mine in ministry once observed, “It amazes me how much the Word stumbles forth.” God can and will use all kinds of people to expand the Kingdom. Brothers and sisters have come to Christ through way cooler and way weirder people than you, and all Jesus needs is your obedience.
Secondly, I think we can find a model for our Christian witness through the way God worked through the community of faith in the Old Testament. A lot has been written by far more learned people than me about the various “archetypes of Christ” throughout the OT. I’ll let their work stand, and I’ll add an observation. All of the faithful expressed Messianic traits, a way in which they lived that foreshadowed what the coming Christ would be like.
Moses acts as a continual intercessor throughout his ministry, coming between the people and God’s judgment (Ex. 33, Num 11, Num 14, just to name a few). He demonstrates our need for a mediator, someone who can bring us near to God’s presence (Ex. 33:7-11).
David is Israel’s best king, popular and successful and blessed by God (2 Sam. 7). He epitomizes a ruler who is submitted to the Father (1 Sam. 23, 2 Sam. 11), a shepherd who seeks the best interests of the flock, a man who (usually) wields his power with justice and mercy (1 Sam. 24). He also was in communion with the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16) and wrote scripture that was both present and prophetic.
Elisha is a prophet who boldly requests a double portion of the Holy Spirit (2 Kings 2). His ministry presents striking parallels with the ministry of Christ. For more on this, see the Bible studies page for a 6 part study comparing Elisha and Jesus. His miracles paved the way for the people to get a glimpse of the power of God and to see God’s intent for wholeness in the lives of His people.
I named only three of countless other people you can find in the OT. Hebrews 11 will give you a good place to start for further reading. The Israelite people knew their history and the stories of their heroes. All of these people created familiarity with the heart of God so that when Jesus began his ministry, they could all recognize His work as something they had seen before and yet never to this degree.
God’s servants had made God’s hand memorable so the community could identify when ministry was coming from Him. The Israelites could look at Jesus’ work and think, “You look familiar, haven’t we seen something like this before?” They could read the familiar words of Ps 23, “The Lord is my shepherd”, and have that in mind when Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10). Jesus proclaimed that every good and powerful thing they had witnessed in the past was from and about Him. He was the completion and perfection of everything they had been longing for.
I think the process of evangelism is something like that. We treat others and behave in ways that make Jesus familiar to them. We demonstrate Christ’s love through compassion, ethical practices that care for the well-being of all, taking time to let others know they are valued and loved, and by talking about the Word of God. We mimic Christ to the people around us so that when they do meet Jesus, they’ll say, “You look familiar…have we met before?”
Just like the heroes that came before us, we are not Jesus. We are limited and flawed and fail to show God’s heart in perfect ways. And yet the Word stumbles forward, and we have the same calling to make Christ recognizable to His people. This is what propels us in evangelism and outreach.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:7-12
We can’t see God’s form on this side of the resurrection, but we see His love through each other. We are the image-bearers through which God has chosen to show Himself. When we love others with the love that we have received, we show our family resemblance. We are the ones who love and serve so that when someone we love meets Jesus for the first time, they’ll say, “Have we met before?”