A few months ago I wrote of the emphasis many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, give to “having a relationship with Jesus.” My point was that overemphasizing one aspect of Christian discipleship to the neglect of other important aspects can lead to a warped view of Jesus. We can end up seeing Christ more as a buddy than as the Lord of the Universe.
This overemphasis can also have a detrimental impact on our evangelization efforts. Why? In the Protestant world, having a relationship with Jesus is often the end-all, be-all of Christian evangelization. Once someone has committed to this relationship, the thinking goes, the work of evangelization is over. Some Catholics have also embraced this form of evangelization. In homilies, talks, and conversations, they are laser-focused on the importance of relationship above all else.
Now, to be clear, it is important to have a relationship with Christ. And it’s an important aspect of evangelization to urge people to begin and to foster such a relationship. But it’s not the only aspect of evangelization, and often it’s less important than many other aspects. Like a basketball player who drives only to his left, we’ve let “have a relationship with Jesus” become our one go-to move. But in many situations, a different emphasis could be much more effective.
Every person is unique in his desires, personal history, and culture. What’s appealing to one person might be distasteful to another. That’s why there can never be just one way to evangelize. How to evangelize always depends on many factors, such as the specific person being evangelized and his current life situation, or the relationship you have with the person. An overarching insistence on the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus ignores those nuances. But recognizing personal nuances is often what makes evangelization successful.