Why don’t people do evangelism? At root, the answer is simple enough: they don’t want to. Why don’t churches do much in the way of discipleship? At root, the answer is simple enough: they don’t want to. If they did want to, they would do it, wouldn’t they?
Now, there may be all sorts of reasons why they might not want to do those things. They might be scared. They might feel ill-equipped. They might feel too busy. They might not feel that one or other of them is so important (usually discipleship takes a back seat to evangelism is one is dropped over the other). They might feel one rolls into the other i.e. discipleship fundamentally consists of getting people to do evangelism and not much more. Reasons abound.
Evangelicals tend to have two responses to these sorts of things. Either we put on a conference or we produce a course. Sometimes, we’re very clever and we put on a conference that promotes our new course. Come to the conference and use the course and all these problems will be gone forever. Get your whole church doing evangelism and discipleship in three easy steps! Do this seven week course on how to walk into church (this is, actually, a real course). Do this course to learn what to say in evangelism. Do this course to learn how to make cups of tea at church. Do this course to learn how to open the door for someone and say ‘hello’ when they come in. We have courses for just about everything.
But if our problem consisted of a lack of training or not knowing what to do, you would imagine we would have cracked that by now with the endless stream of courses we produce. We’ve got Christianity Explored, Christianity Explained, Christianity Exhaled, Christianity Exhumed, you get the idea. 7 steps to this, that or the other (there’s a bunch of them). And yet, we don’t seem to be getting particularly better at this stuff. I still hear all the same reasons and arguments for people not doing these things as I’ve heard for the last 30 years of being a Christian. The issue simply cannot be good enough access to courses.
It is notable that the early church didn’t have access to these sorts of course and faced far sterner (and more understandable) reasons for not cracking on. But they managed to get on with it and the church exploded as a result. In my own church, some of the best evangelists have had no real training in evangelism and haven’t bothered with any courses. They just seem happy to talk to people about the Jesus they know and love. In fact, most of our church are involved in evangelism of some sort and we almost never run special courses to train them in it. Instead, we just crack on and bring people with us while we do it and then tell them to go and do the same sort of thing.
I once said this to somebody and it was suggested that, perhaps, this is the result of me being some sort of exceptional leader. I think anybody who knows me would find that as unconvincing as any answer you might care to give. Others have suggested that maybe I just have an exceptionally gifted church of SAS evangelists. But half my church are operating in English as a second language and have been Christians 5-minutes, not even having been in our country all that long. None of them would be the first draft pick in your ‘fantasy evangelism’ team on paper. Yet, here they are involving themselves in evangelism, sharing the gospel, bringing folks to church and talking with them about Christ. Those who are operating in English seem willing to get on without requiring lots of courses before they will have a go. Most of them have cracked on to the fact that they know the gospel and they can share that with someone else readily enough if they know it, which they do because they’re in membership having told it to the church to get in.
Leaving my church aside, lots of countries do not have the same access to courses as we do in their own languages. And yet, their churches still seem able to get on and do evangelism and discipleship. The Lord doesn’t seem to need these courses for the gospel to go out in those countries and, apparently, nor do those believers. Perhaps the issue really isn’t access to courses?
In fact, I have said before, I think the plethora of courses add to the sense that we cannot do this. Their very existence suggests that there is some key to all this beyond just opening your mouth and speaking about Jesus. There is some special training that we require before we can share the gospel. There is some magic insight we must have before we can sit down with a Bible open and read it with someone. The courses add to the air of mystery, which increases the fear, that in turn makes us less likely to just get on and do it.
I wonder if we would be helped by just simplifying the whole thing. Forget the courses. Just go and ask somebody if you can tell them about Jesus. Ask someone if they would be willing to read the Bible with you. Tell people about what you did on the weekend and what you heard in church when they ask you, ‘what did you do at the weekend?’ Tell people the gospel you believe that you claim has changed your life. Just have a go, and I bet if we did, we would all get that much further.