Evangelism is hard. I can’t think of anyone that I have met over the last 15-plus years of being a Christian who did not struggle with evangelism. Even the people who seem to excel and have the gift of evangelism readily confess their weakness.
So, why is it so universally difficult?
Some common answers include such things as not knowing enough Bible, fear of rejection, or not being sure how to bring up the gospel. I am more convinced then ever that these are symptoms of bigger issues. I’ve distilled my answer to evangelistic struggles into three areas: my view of God, my view of others, and my view of the gospel. I am convinced if we get these 3 down then we will be well on our way to diagnosing unfaithfulness and demonstrating faithfulness.
1. My View of God. In Acts 17 we read that Paul rolled into Athens and made some observations. He looked around and his spirit was greatly provoked because the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16). We are filled with wonder as we walk through museums filled with all of this stuff but when Paul looked at it he was filled with jealousy for God. His worldview was so theo-centric that idolatry crashed his spiritual server. For Paul, walking around Athens was like transplanting a Floridian to Minneapolis in the middle of winter: it would be painfully uncomfortable.
I am convinced that we don’t view evangelism through the lenses of worship and glory. Think about evangelism as proclaiming “the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2.9) Think about Jesus with the woman at the well (John 4). He anchored his whole message in the truth of worship. God is actually seeking true worshippers, Jesus said (John 4:24). This is the pulse behind evangelism. When I am not active evangelistically I am actually saying, “They do not hallow your name, but that is ok with me.” Listen, evangelism is about worship before it is about getting people out of hell. They are not worshiping God and that should greatly disturb us. The Lord’s prayer shreds my lack of evangelistic zeal.
I need to spend more time at my Master’s feet, learning to worship and pray like a Christian, “Hallowed by your name.” Yes, I must truly want this. I must truly desire to see the name of my God exalted. Lord, make your name hallowed, make it holy, for it is being disregarded, vindicate yourself through the proclamation of the gospel.
2. My View of Others. On the other hand I am convicted by my own lack of love for others. This is really an outflow of the first; if I do not love God properly how can I love my neighbor?! So here I am, walking about my life with a neopharisaical, self-consumed mindset that ignores the greatest need people have. What in the world is wrong with me? I can ignore them easy enough. But this is because I am not compelled by love. Sometimes I can talk to them about the weather, sports, politics, food or whatever, but Jesus? This is not on my tongue.
What is wrong?
How can I walk by the man or woman who has been beaten by the affects of sin and not open my mouth? There they sit, ever afflicted by the beatings, like the young man voyaging from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell upon robbers (Luke 10.30-34) and I am like the Levite or the priest who just walked on by. I have a medicine cabinet strapped to my back and I ignore them like they are not even there?
And remember, hell is for real! In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, there was pleading from hell to have someone come and warn his family. Why? Because hell is for real! It is the eternal, consuming, unrelenting, miserable, abode of all those who reject Christ. People are really dying and going to hell. You may not like to think about it but you really should! The answer to this is the gospel. When we don’t open our mouths and proclaim Christ then something is definitely off. That something is love. Perhaps you can relate?
This morning I was reading Deuteronomy and I was struck for how Moses pleaded for rebellious Israel. Moses was so burdened by the people’s sin and its intersection with divine glory that he prayed fervently for them. Now listen, I mean he prayed for them.
“Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger.” (Deuteronomy 9:18)
This is convicting. Like the Pharisees I tend want to move on to the weighty matters of the law and neglect the basic stuff like loving people and being obedient.
One thing that has been particularly helpful to me is to look into people’s eyes. Now I did not just go off the deep end. We live in a society where we fly by one another without even noticing each other, and when we look for more than the accepted 2.8 seconds, suddenly we are psychotic. What I am advocating is to look at people. Watch them, pray for them, look into their eyes as they speak to you. Hear their heart cry for relief. When you are filled with divine love for the glory of God and fueled for a love for your neighbor, a good healthy look into a person’s eyes will convict you to the quick to lovingly evangelize and move on from meaningless banter about such futile things as the weather, the news or other distractions.
3. My View of the Gospel. Let me just be frank: if we believed the gospel really saved people then we would tell them about it. That’s it. Thanks for reading. It’s true though. Often times we do not open our mouth to tell people about Jesus because we don’t believe they will believe it! We don’t believe the gospel will actually work.
Paul reminds us that this is not correct: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
This gospel works. If you need a reminder of this then look in the mirror. If you are a Christian it is not because you are smarter or more deserving then the guy on meth down the street. You are a Christian because God attended his word with power!
I am convinced that this is why evangelism gets replaced with all kinds of other gimmicks and fluff in the name of reaching people. We are running around with all kinds of innovation, marketing, philanthropy, and other “stuff” in the name of reaching people. Meanwhile, the gospel itself is benched. Listen, good things happen when you pray and preach the gospel. Nobody gets saved when you don’t.
At least the liberals admit that they don’t believe the Bible. Many of us walk around saying, “I believe in the Bible’s power. I am gospel-centered. Blah, blah, blah.” Meanwhile we don’t tell anyone about Jesus! Some of us need to repent of our functional liberalism that denies the supernatural power of God’s Word.
The gospel is powerful. It actually saves people. It saved a murderer and a savage like Paul. He went from ravaging the churches to strengthening the churches (Acts 8:3, 15:41). How does this happen? It is because the gospel is powerful! God uses it to save people. We have got to believe this.
I know that Revelation 5 teaches that a great multitude from every nation, tribe and tongue will be before the throne. It will happen. I am certain of it. I also know that God will used the church to bring this about (Mt. 28:19-21). Therefore, we need to diagnose our lack of evangelism biblically and repent of our unbiblical view of God, others, and the gospel.