Why do we struggle with evangelism?
Notice I said “we.”
I was raised in a church where I was taught that I needed to share the gospel, and grew up with almost constant guilt over my negligence. Perhaps you’ve also felt or still feel the same way.
Just a quick reminder from last week’s visit on The Front Porch Swing: Jesus left one specific command for His disciples: “Make disciples.” Jesus’ game plan hasn’t changed; we make disciples by sharing the good news about Jesus and by baptizing those who choose to follow Him, teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded.
So I ask again, why is it so difficult? Why am I silent when I ought to speak? If I lived in North Korea or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, I would have reason to be cautious. But living in America I have no legitimate reason for remaining silent.
Is it fear of rejection? Is it because “people may not like me anymore”? Perhaps, but when you think about it, that’s a pretty anemic excuse. That’s especially true if I believe that those who reject Jesus face an eternal separation from Him in hell. What kind of friend would I be if I failed to warn my neighbor that his house is on fire? I would wake him out of his slumber anyway I could.
Another reason (excuse) I have fallen back on is that I may not know what to say. I may not have all the answers to their questions. So rather than risk sounding stupid, I act stupidly by remaining silent.
Frankly, I believe we have tended to make evangelism far more cerebral than necessary. Over the four plus centuries of serving local churches, I have offered evangelism training. We have brought professional trainers to teach evangelism techniques. Within weeks, however, after the excitement of the evangelism training nothing has really changed.
Every freshman student at Moody was required to take a Personal Evangelism class. We had to memorize scores of biblical verses. I passed the class with an A, but I wasn’t an A student in personal evangelism. Sure, I handed out Christian literature on the city buses and the el trains. I preached “at” intoxicated men in Chicago’s Rescue Missions. Quite candidly, I was more comfortable preaching at these captive men, sitting through another sermon about hellfire so they could finally enjoy a hot meal and a warm place to sleep.
If you still struggle with sharing your faith with friends and neighbors, I offer a few insights:
- Be familiar with the gospel story. Know what it is and what it is not. The gospel means good news. It’s good news about Jesus Christ—who He was and is, and what He has done for us. He is God in a human body living the perfect life we have tried always failed to live. He voluntarily died in our place—paying the death sentence we deserve. He was buried and raised from the dead, demonstrating that He truly was God and that His death satisfied the righteous demands of the holy God. (There is one more item in the gospel story that I want to save till our conclusion.)
- Be familiar with a few key verses to support the above truths. Write the location of these verses in the fly-leaf of your Bible (or in the “notes” app on your smartphone) to alleviate fear of forgetting them. Choose verses that explain our need for salvation because we are sinners. The consequence of our sin is that we are spiritually dead and separated from the holy God. Consider Romans 3:10, 23. Be prepared with verses demonstrating that Christ has paid our debt and offers forgiveness and justification by grace through faith—not though working harder or a merit system. Consider Romans 5:8 and 6:23 as well as Ephesians 2: 8-9 to help make this point. Maybe some other key verses will come to mind. John 3:16 and John 5:24 have been used to move hearts down through the centuries.
- Create or adapt your strategy for sharing the key points of the gospel. Over the years there have been several specific plans for sharing the gospel message. I introduce three:
- I am most comfortable with the “Romans Road” because the verses are part of the context in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. He writes to present a systematic, biblical understanding of the gospel; beginning with man’s lost condition in Romans 1-3. Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf means we can be justified (pronounced righteous in God’s sight) through faith. If you have never heard of the Romans Road approach to sharing the gospel, ask your pastor or look it up on the Internet.
- CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) developed the “Four Spiritual Laws” as a way to share the gospel on college campuses.
- More recently, “The Bridge” approach is so simple that one can share it on a napkin over a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
- Finally—and perhaps most importantly—tell your personal story. Share why you are excited to be a follower of Jesus. Share how He has made a difference in your life. Has He delivered you out a life of crime like a man who now calls me Pops? Perhaps your life has been quite tranquil so you feel like you have no amazing conversion story. That’s okay. Tell what it is you love about Jesus. Tell why you decided to follow Him. Has Jesus brought peace to a convicted worrier? Has he brought joy to a baptized sourpuss? Just share your story.
How did a small group of early Christ-followers turn the world upside down while experiencing persecution? They told their stories about meeting the resurrected Jesus.
Peter and John boldly defended themselves for healing a man crippled from birth. Arrested by religious leaders for the crime of healing the man “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” they were incarcerated overnight and put on trial the next morning. Peter and John answered their accusers by sharing that Jesus, having been crucified and rising again, had healed the lame man through them. Listen to Peter’s boldness, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Contemplate those words. “No other name under heaven….”
Note Peter’s conviction that apart from Jesus Christ, every person is hopelessly and forever condemned. Believing that simple statement ought to provide motivation to evangelize. After threatening Peter and John to speak no more about Jesus, they responded, “…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Peter and John had a story. A story so grand and life-changing they would gladly lose their lives rather than remain silent.
If you are a Christ-follower, He has given you a story. He has given you purpose and hope. So why not share your story? Perhaps God will use your story to naturally turn the conversation into an opportunity for sharing the good news about Jesus.
Oh yes, I promised one more truth that is part of the gospel. We agree that the good news about Jesus dying for our sins and rising from the dead. But the gospel doesn’t stop with Jesus walking around Jerusalem in His glorified body. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. No more exalted place can even be imagined. Jesus also sent the Holy Spirit to empower people like you and me so that we can also boldly share the good news like Peter and John and Paul.
Speaking of Paul, Wow! Consider his story about meeting the resurrected Christ. Knocked off his mount and fearing for his life. Blind three days. Then through the power of the Holy Spirit Paul could see once more—and much, much better than ever. No matter what they threw at him or hammered against him—whether stones or wooden rods or whips or the threat of beheading in a Roman dungeon, Paul always responded by telling his story about meeting and being transformed by Jesus.
So can I. So can you.
What am I reading? I am still reading The Essential Jonathan Edwards but for a respite from Edwards I have also begun reading The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore.