Are You Ready for Evangelism?
It’s easy to feel uncomfortable and even guilty in the face of evangelism. Is this how it’s meant to be?
This is part 1 in Andy's series on evangelism.
Clammy skin. Racing pulse. Afraid they might have heard us. The sound of approaching footsteps. Panic as a light goes on and the door swings open. Then hearing my voice. “Good evening. We’re from the local church and we’ve come to talk to you about Jesus.”
Sometimes they swore, sometimes the door was slammed in our faces, sometimes there was an attempt at intellectual argument, but worst of all, most of the time they were... nice. Perhaps patronising (after all we were just a couple of 15-year old lads), but mostly polite in their dismissal of us. And this went on month after month, each time having steeled ourselves for the effort, feeling guilty if we couldn’t make the visits.
We knew it was the right thing to do. We knew that without coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ men and women would be eternally lost. We knew they lived in ignorance of the greatest good news that the whole universe had ever known. We had to let them know. We had to share what had happened to us. But we did so with little joy and a whole lot of unease and discomfort. It just seemed so forced; so unnatural. And we felt guilty.
No doubt my own experience will resonate with some. We know evangelism is a good thing; it’s just that the way we go about it can seem strangely disconnected from the world we live in.
Comparison and false guilt
I’ve travelled on the London Underground and heard mini sermons shouted out to captive tube passengers between stops. Is that what I should be doing? Is that what evangelism is all about? I’ve heard Bible verses fired out through mini PA systems to crowds thronging into a Springsteen concert. I’ve walked through a busy shopping centre and been harangued by a preacher with a bullhorn. I’ve witnessed tracts being systematically slipped into books at the local library. And all the time my sense of failure as a believer grows because I know I just couldn’t do what they’re doing. It would seem so personally unnatural.
What makes it worse is that there are Christians who just love to do this stuff. You can’t stop them. They seem energised whenever they get the opportunity to witness, whether that be door-to-door, street work, sketch board, or market stall. If they sit next to someone on the train or plane they invariably strike up a conversation that points to Christ, whilst I would sit there hoping for some peace and quiet!
Then that’s compounded by them telling me that I should be doing what they’re doing; that evangelism embraces a Star Trek philosophy of outreach – boldly going where no one has gone before.
The truth is I have a massive respect and admiration for their drive and passion, and often have tried to copy their techniques and programmes. However, the reality is that these resolutions of mine fade away within a few weeks of rejections and disappointment, and once again the dark cloud of guilt descends upon this rubbish believer who wants to make Christ known but finds the methodologies of others so alien.
What’s happened to evangelism?
Perhaps this explains why so few Christians today seem engaged in sharing their faith; why so many find it easier to hide away in a Christian ghetto; why it’s easier to keep your head down than speak up for Jesus.
This is compounded by the apparent failure of many gospel people to unpack God’s word. Preachers, who for the most part would carefully exposit sections of the Bible, seem either to be silent on the whole subject of evangelism or else flip-flop into pragmatic suggestions reminiscent of 21st century marketing programmes.
More than that, when it comes to church, theological insight disappears when confronted by evangelism. Rather than being a gathered community of believers, church morphs into a building-centred entity, from which ‘outreach’ takes place in the hope of capturing a few more who will attend the same building we do.
So, what’s happened to evangelism? Is this how it’s meant to be? Indeed, is this how it has always been?
The intention of this series is to revisit what the Bible teaches with an expectation that we’ll gain a new vision of what it really means to share the wonderful saving news of Jesus Christ.
I’ll be arguing that every single follower of Jesus Christ has a role to play in ways that are both natural and free from false guilt.
Of course, it may also challenge the sinful laziness of our hearts and expose the fig leaf lies that we use to cover over our feeble excuses. And that will be no bad thing when the eternal destiny of the lost is at stake and the honour and glory of Christ is to the fore.
Next time, part 2: Evangelism in the Old Testament.