Ask any evangelists and they will tell you that the church at large is not really making evangelism the priority they should. Speak to any evangelistically-minded pastor, most will tell you that their church members aren’t as active in evangelism as they could be. Speak to the average evangelical who affirms the general principle that we ought to be about the business of evangelism and you will probably find someone who feels quite guilty that they don’t feel they are doing the requisite amount of evangelism either.
Given that we all seem to agree we’re not doing enough evangelism, you would think the solution to that problem is relatively easy. Essentially, just get on and do some. Go and tell some people the gospel and start doing what you currently don’t feel you are doing enough. Simple.
But people are rarely so straightforward. Just telling people to get on and do something doesn’t really deal with the root problem. If we all agree that evangelism is something we should be doing more of, but we ultimately aren’t doing it, it suggests the problem isn’t one of needing to be convinced that it is an important thing to do.
Some would argue that the issue is time. I don’t doubt, for some, this is a factor. But I’m not convinced it’s the main issue. As one of my church members was fond of saying, ‘we all have the same 24-hours in the day as everyone else. It’s not lack of time, but how you choose to spend it.’ It’s hard to deny that. It is the case that people will have different responsibilities that may make it easier or harder to navigate the time issues. But the time issue is often overplayed. Let’s put it this way, we all seem to find the time to do those things we deem important enough. But, again, if we all (largely) accept that evangelism is important, why aren’t we finding the time to do it?
In my experience, the issue tends to come down to fear of man. I think most of us are scared. I don’t think it much of a coincidence that some of the people I have seen most effective in evangelism are those who evidently – not just in this arena – do not care whether people think they are weird or strange. They just aren’t bothered and so they quite naturally talk about Jesus, caring not one jot whether people think they’re strange or not.
But most of us do worry about that sort of thing. We don’t want people to think we’re weird. We certainly could do without people judging us for what we believe. We are worried about what people will say if we start talking to them about Jesus, and that gets even worse when we mention things like sin and Hell. Then we worry we might get asked some really awkward questions and we’ll get branded bigots or we’ll just end up looking a bit silly. We often labour under a view of what ‘the culture’ believes and know that we will be voicing views and opinions that don’t line up. But as Glen Scrivener said here:
Perhaps you’re excusing yourself from fruitful outreach simply because you’re afraid of a projected image of what “the culture” believes. But you’re not called to love “the culture” as a concept. You’re called to love your neighbor. So why not turn to your neighbor and start the conversation?
I am convinced this is the biggest barrier to our evangelism. It isn’t that we don’t believe evangelism is important; we know it is. It isn’t that we don’t have the time; we make the time for what we think is important. It’s that we are scared of how it will be received and how we will look in front of others.
The problem with fear is that it is not easily overcome. If it is irrational, it is difficult to help with rational arguments. You can’t reason with irrationality. If it is rationally based, then reason alone won’t help because reason tells us that the fear is not entirely illegitimate. So what are we to do?
I remember a friend of mine, who worked for many years with an evangelistic organisation, admitting he got scared too. He then said, it doesn’t go away the older you get. You think it is the sort of thing that you will grow out of with time, but it never goes. The only way to even come close to getting over it is to go and tell people and see that, very rarely, does anything bad happen. Obviously, every new conversation is a fresh opportunity for rejection, but as you realise not much happens when people say they don’t want to talk, the fear of rejection – whilst always there to some degree – does lessen.
But I think simply going on about the importance of evangelism will not do anything to get our people, who all agree in principle, doing any more of it. Such comments don’t address the root issue. We need to find ways to be less scared of rejection and less worried about initiating those conversations.
A little like my children learning to swim, the only way to get somewhere towards that is to get into the water. The only way to get used to evangelism and to see that it isn’t necessarily as scary as all that is to do it. Perhaps doing it with some others first and then striking out on our own as we grow in confidence.
Let’s be honest, to share the gospel with somebody you only need to know what the gospel is and have a mouth to speak it. We aren’t failing to go because we don’t have the resources, because we don’t see the important nor because we don’t have the time. It is fear that seems to make us reluctant. We would go a long way to getting more of our people involved in evangelism if we focused our attention on helping them overcome their fear.