Evangelism is probably the second most disliked sermon topic, right behind tithing. No one likes to be told to do incredibly strange things. That especially includes going out to confront people, something only extroverts should ever undertake—you know, folks who have no acute sense of embarrassment.
But evangelism isn’t some kind of drama-driven spectacle. It’s simply the process of sharing with someone that Jesus died for our sins on the cross and rose from the dead. Now He’s available to save all who repent and believe in Him. That’s it. Simple.
It might seem strange then, for me to ask, “Is Evangelism dead?”
Surely not, you say.
Okay, but is it dead to you? Let’s be honest here. If you don’t plan to share the gospel, don’t hope to do it, don’t pray to do it, and don’t want to do it, then you don’t do it. And if you don’t do it, evangelism, for all practical purposes is dead to you.
Why would you ever withhold this wonderful message? I’m guessing you have the same reasons I do.
Here’s a few of them:
First, we live in a world where appearance is everything. Consider the Grammys. What do we hear about for days after the awards event? Not music, but the things people wore (or how little they wore).
Everyone is affected by this approach. Even we Christians are concerned how we’ll appear when we talk about Jesus. Will it come off polished and intelligent? If not, I’d rather keep my mouth shut. And so most of us may never share our faith because we’ll never feel we’re good enough at it.
Nor is the issue of surface appearance an invention of our current shallow society. The apostle Paul encountered it when he visited Corinth. The ancient Greeks loved philosophy and oration. They paid money to listen to itinerant philosophers come and speak. Some of these people were tremendously gifted. They could turn a phrase with poetic rhythm and humor.
Then Paul showed up. He later recites what the Corinthians said about him: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence weak…” Paul wasn’t much to look at—probably puny and unimpressive. “And his speech of no account.”
The Apostle couldn’t compete with the big boys at the level of entertainment. In a world full of top shelf talent, neither can you. In fact, we easily shut up because nobody wants to look like the poor cousin.
We live in a cynical world. Consider the sheer number of internet meme’s—hostile one-liners that belittle Christ and those who follow Him. Add to it the growing library of angry books written by atheist professors. They haven’t armed people with critical thinking skills, but with smart remarks.
Who wants to be the target of their barbed comments? Who likes wearing a dunce cap or a sandwich sign that says, “Village Idiot”? It might be better to keep quiet.
Actually, sarcasm toward faith is far from a new innovation. Paul took the gospel into the heart of Greece when he went to Athens. Remember that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle had lived a mere few hundred years before he arrived and that whole section of the world was still freshly bathed in the backwash of those men and their ideas.
The apostle laid out his simple message. The result was, “when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” (Acts 17:32). Others wanted to hear more, but the mocking must have lasted a bit, during which time there were blasphemies of Jesus and likely jokes aimed at the “fool” preaching about Him.
Honestly, sometimes it feels better to keep the gospel to yourself than to be everybody’s piñata.
We live in a world that insults. Consider how easy it is today for people to tack “phobic” on the end of words in order to demean anyone disagreeing with them. Nothing says irrational quite like the person screaming, hyperventilating, fainting, and having heart palpitations when they see a spider (arachnophobic) or when they’re in crowds (agoraphobic).
Likewise, there’s no better way to write someone off than suggest their faith or moral stand is the result of a clinical neurosis. Freud certainly said as much.
Paul already boiled in that cauldron. As he defended himself and the Christian faith in a court trial, Festus, a hostile onlooker, said to him, “‘Paul you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind…but I am speaking true and rational words.’” (Acts 26:24-25).
Some people are so alienated from God that they see spiritual truth as evidence of a mental disorder. The gospel can get you labeled as the resident religious nut, or weirdo, or ‘phobe. That’s why it’s a lot more convenient to put your Jesus message on ice.
We live in a world of dishonest questions. Inquiries today fall into the politically correct column, meaning they aren’t asked to find information at all. They simply exist to discover whether you’ll give the “right” answer.
Jesus also felt the pressure of such moments, as He was asked the question of questions. His life hung on a ‘yes” or a “no.” “The high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’” (Matt. 26:63).
Where they were concerned, the only right answer was, “Um, I guess I was a little confused for a while, but you fellows have helped clear things up for me. I’m not the Son of God.”
Instead, Jesus responded with “‘You have said so.’” (i.e., “You said it!”). In case anyone missed the answer, He intensified it: “But I tell you from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy…He deserves death.’” (Matt. 26:65-66).
The purest, most loving Person of all gave a truthful response. The result was hate in return. You can try to be compassionate and reasonable all day long, but if in certain particulars your gospel message is “wrong,” you run the risk of being tarred and feathered (or worse). Shhhh.
In the face of all these hurdles, you’ll feel chicken. The early church, often touted for its bravery, felt it, too. During an early bout of persecution, the believers got together and prayed, “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). Their fear was going to intimidate them into silence.
And Paul himself, writer of half the New Testament, said, “Pray…also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…that I may declare it boldly” (Eph. 6:18-20). The apostle prayed for his own boldness, ever conscious of fear’s muzzling tendencies.
In some way, everybody is at least a little scared.
Why would anybody want to persist in sharing the gospel? You might find the answer surprising.
Paul said, “I am under obligation.” That means I have to. I have to tell everybody–Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish” (Rom. 1:14). Paul said, “I’m obligated to all of them—educated folks huddled on campuses as well as the ill-mannered and foolish who have made all the wrong decisions in life…I am ready to preach to all of them.”
You might think that’s terrible.
Wouldn’t it be better to say, “I love the souls of human beings so I preach the gospel to them, or I’m full of joy and so I preach to them”? But obligated? Paul, don’t you know Christians shouldn’t do things under obligation? Haven’t you watched the “I Hate Religion” YouTube that went viral? Sorry, but “obligation” sounds religious.
But from where I sit two thousand years later, I’m glad Paul wrote it that way. As a bottom line requirement, obligation has been my friend. The simple reason is most of the time I’m not overwhelmed with love for human souls or swelling with joy in the gospel.
If I had waited for love or joy before sharing the gospel with people I would have preached a grand total of three times—once in 1984, once in 1989 and a few times in 1992. That’s how often I can remember being in the mood for gospel preaching these last 31 years. Instead, I’ve shared with thousands of folks mostly because I felt it was the right thing to do.
Yes, I know as a full-time vocational minister I’m supposed to be better than all that. I try. But for the most part, my days don’t play out in some Johnny Evangelist ideal.
A typical cameo involves my running into Giant Eagle for chips and salsa and then trying to get out as fast as I can. But then I hit the biggest aggravation ever (for me). Each checkout has an enormous line of at least three people. That’s unacceptable for a mega-grocery. Still, I get in line. But the lane next to me starts moving faster, so I hop into that one instead. As soon as I’m there it stalls, because somebody has a coupon problem. In the meantime, the line I abandoned has repopulated twice. I don’t feel much love for anybody in the grocery store at that moment, but I feel plenty of annoyance. The people there are no longer souls who need Jesus; they’re folks blocking my exit.
If I’m going to consistently share my faith, I’d better do it upon something more reliable than the shifting tides of euphoria.
Paul was obligated to tell everybody about this good news because he couldn’t be ashamed of a message that was “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 1:16).
This kind of confidence makes me think of going back to that grocery store, wandering around blindfolded, and then tagging anybody on the shoulder—anybody—and then taking the blindfold off. Whoever that person is, regardless of their race, gender, personality, secret sins, addictions, weaknesses, fears, or sorrows, the gospel message would be the best thing that ever happened to them. Guaranteed.
With news that awesome, I suppose I owe it to everybody.
If I can stop worrying about skinned knees and hurt feelings.