The book was revised and updated in 2008. In early 2012, Grace and Peace Magazine met with Steve, who was a plenary speaker at "A Cup of Cold Water: Christians in Compassionate Service," a conference hosted by Northwest Nazarene University, and asked him to share what he means by servant evangelism. When he’s not writing, Steve spends a lot of time speaking and mentoring church planters.
G&P: Explain what you mean by servant evangelism and how kindness brings people to God.
Steve Sjogren: Servant evangelism is taking the kindness of God and aiming it out toward the community. Romans 2:4 is a profound verse that I suspect a lot of people read over and don’t really notice. You may not notice some aspects of Scripture until you've been through it a dozen, 20, even 30 times. What Romans 2:4 is really saying is that the kindness of God leads to repentance. It hit me recently that, first of all, there is something called the kindness of God. I didn’t really get that, that as a believer, it isn’t just Steve being kind to another human being, but it’s the vertical action of God, through Steve, bringing the kingdom of God to somebody else. It is the eternal kindness of God coming through an available person, like Steve, like Greg my friend, and giving that away is an eternal action. It changes people’s lives. It causes people to stop in their tracks, to realize by the anointing of the Holy Spirit that God is real, that Jesus Christ is a real person, and that he wants to have a love relationship with us. As we do that in our communities, not once, but over and over and over again, what Leonard Sweet calls a "nudge" occurs in people's lives. And we help them come closer and closer to a saving relationship with Christ.
We’re in a historical moment when people are so distant from a relationship with Christ. It takes more than a few nudges to help them build a bridge from a relationship with Christ to where they are. In about 1970, Paul Benjamin, who’s a theologian, did a series of “scientific” surveys with people during the Jesus Movement. He discovered that it took, on average, about five of what he called “significant events” in people’s lives to bring them into relationship with Christ. That could be any number of different things, but events that they could identify: either somebody witnessing to them, reading a scripture that jumped off the page, or maybe seeing a Billy Graham crusade on TV that really spoke to them—five of them. George Hunter is a friend of mine who teaches at Asbury Seminary. He and I have put our notes together, have talked numbers of times about this, we believe that it takes 15-20 of those significant events in our day, some 40-45 years later. America and the western world, in general, have orbited so far away from where we were, even in the early 70s, that a lot has changed since then. We need a lot of “nudging” events to help people come from where they are into relationship with Christ.
I flew in this morning from the west coast to do this taping. I got to pray with a number of people and to say, “This is to show you Christ’s love.” And I typically don’t even ask if I can pray for them as I’m standing there. I say, “I bless you in the name of Christ.” I pray whatever comes into mind at that moment. It’s a little bit bold, but I notice Jesus never asked for permission to pray; he just prayed. Paul would pray a prayer, and he never asked for permission. I notice that when you ask permission, most of the time they give you permission. I used to say, “Could I pray for you for 10 seconds?” I almost never got turned down, because people thought, “What’s the harm that could come from being prayed for for 10 seconds?” But I kind of go into the thing now just praying. I sometimes get a picture in my mind’s eye, and I keep it to five seconds, and I just pray the picture I get. Sometimes people get tears in their eyes, sometimes their mouths go open. It could be a big nudge even, but it helps them come closer to Christ.
I’m a believer now that people are so distant, we as believers need to be escorting or “bumping” them towards relationship with Christ and be looking for lots of chances to build a bridge. Servant evangelism, in short, is just an excuse to get in front of people, to help them find a relationship with Christ through a simple act of kindness. It means that the kindness of God leads you to repentance, and I have seen over the years that, while we cannot convey the gospel without words, people are not really that hungry for words upon words upon words upon words. We have to enter into their lives through a practical means, through a demonstration of love. The kindness of God, the action of love. Once that happens, they’re all ears. They’re an audience at that point.