Let’s not make evangelism into something superhuman. God delights in sounding out His message through quiet, private folks.
Once upon a time, scientists assumed the Coelacanth had vanished along with the dinosaurs. Then in 1938, they discovered this bulldog of a fish alive and well off the coast of Africa.
Now we know the coelacanth isn’t extinct, just rare.
It’s kind of like Christians who have experience telling people about Christ. They’re out there, but rare.
Why? Well, if all the studies are correct, most people are wired at some place on the introvert scale. At one end we find the terribly shy; at the other, those who are high functioning—that is to say, able to manage interpersonal communications well—but still textbook introverts.
Yes, I’m one of these. I know what I’m talking about when I portray how classic introverts respond to the idea of gospel preaching. For instance,
“I would rather not talk to people about Jesus; I prefer to show my faith through my life and deeds.”
“Sharing Jesus with people is not my ministry/gift/strength area; I don’t want to pressure myself into something I don’t feel comfortable doing.”
“I’m not knowledgeable enough/mature enough as a Christian to tell other people about Christ; I’d rather be quiet than risk preaching incorrectly.”
If you operate subconsciously under the influence of any of those philosophies, let me respectfully suggest from one introvert to another, that you reconsider your position.
This doesn’t mean we should adopt synthetic bluster, and pretend to be like our extroverted brethren. Instead, let’s take a knee for a moment, and think through how obedience to “preach the gospel to all creation” might look for a typical introvert.
“I’d Rather Show My Faith through My Life and Deeds”
First, kudos to you for showing your faith through your works. The evangelical community badly needs more behavioral consistency with the faith.
But works are not a substitute for words.
St. Francis of Assisi was purported to have said, “Preach the gospel by all means and if necessary use words.” We love the sentiments expressed in that quote, because it sounds noble, and directs us to the difficulty of doing instead of talking. Besides, it resonates with many of us who would rather not say anything, anyway.
The quote is pithy, and memorable, but mostly wrong. Of course we have to use words in our preaching. They are not a last resort. The apostles didn’t silently go from place to place painting houses here and digging water wells there, only to leave puzzled residents to think, Must’ve been a relief effort from the local synagogue! No, they began with words and then let their manner of life confirm their message.
Before James instructed us to show faith through works in chapter 2 of his book, he told us in chapter 1 that we were “brought forth—[regenerated]—by the word of truth” (v. 18). Someone had to say something in order to stimulate saving faith in us. An example of godly living did not save us. The good works of other human beings did not save us.
Works no doubt lend credibility to the gospel, but they cannot become our gospel. Someone has to mention Jesus. The cross. Resurrection. Paul asks, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14).
This all establishes the primacy of spoken word, but happily for us introverts, none of it necessitates becoming a fast talker, a social butterfly, or a debate captain. We’ve often thought evangelism required such things. Relax. There’s no need for us to resist inflated expectations that don’t exist. It’s sufficient for the moment to remember the Word is the bow of the ship.
“This Isn’t My Ministry/Gift/Strength Area”
Talking isn’t your bag. I sympathize, but to some extent it’s unavoidable. Jesus told us we would be His witnesses (Acts 1:8), and when the Holy Spirit fell on the church, represented by the first 120 Christians in that upper room, it was visibly symbolized as tongues of fire, not hands, feet, tools, etc. (Acts 2:3). The intended means of witnessing for Him would chiefly come through words—both for introverts as well as extroverts.
Jesus knows that most people prefer not to be some kind of promoter or proclaimer. He knew you would find it awkward to broach spiritual topics, especially if the person you’re talking to is far from God.
Regardless, He planned gospel ministry this way, so that the power would come from the Spirit and the Word, not the persuasive abilities of the person doing the preaching. Actually, those who are glib run the risk of eclipsing glory that should only go to God. Many a gifted speaker has crashed on the rocks of pride. This means none of us are natively good at the gospel. Both introvert and extrovert have serious problems, they just occur in different areas.
Thankfully, Jesus isn’t shocked that your personality prefers a more comfortable gospel mechanism than the use of words. He knows our excuses backwards and forwards, and the truth that lies at the core of them—that maybe we’re just ashamed of Him, or scared of persecution, or afraid we’ll lose a friend or a romantic interest. Perhaps we don’t want to be singled out as the office religious freak, or marginalized by professional colleagues.
Whatever the case, Jesus won’t hate you over it. Instead, that gentle, powerful hand will go to work. You’ll be surprised to see conversations develop from which you can’t escape, where the topic unerringly leads to Christ. Maybe you’ll feel like a calf being roped by a cowboy, squirming in the moment, telling yourself, This isn’t my gift!
And when it’s over, and you are perhaps even more certain that evangelism isn’t your gift, a certain joy surges through your heart. Twenty-five words spoken to a friend at a softball game brought more power to you than twenty-five days spent in the familiar environs of your personal gifting.
“I Don’t Know Enough”
You’re right. You don’t know enough. Relatively speaking, no one does. By all means, strive to make up your knowledge deficit by studying your Bible and good spiritual books. Go to church, listen, take notes, and get help from godly mentors. If you’re not doing that, your complaint of not knowing enough is hollow.
Even if we are pursuing a greater grasp of God and His Word, we’re not supposed to wait until perfection before we attempt to open our mouths. Apollos set about preaching and teaching with an imperfect knowledge of Christ. He didn’t wait until he arrived at some pre-set standard.
Still, to his credit, he had a teachable spirit. On one occasion after preaching, Priscilla and Aquilla “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Imagine that—a preacher who was celebrated in Scripture as one who “greatly helped those who had believed,” needed to learn more, himself.
You haven’t been called to deliver beautiful, flawless infomercials. You’ve been told to share good news, and sometimes this means it won’t come across as complete and polished as what you hear from your favorite silver-tongued preacher on Sunday morning. Your gospel will often get mixed into a conversation casserole, blended with the dialogue you’re having with another person.
There will be objections—I don’t know if I agree with that, distractions—Do you think the Browns will go to the Superbowl before Christ returns? and questions—What do you mean by the word ‘sin’? Insertions—Jesus rising from the dead reminds me of something I saw in a movie once! and interruptions—Sorry, I have to take this call.
You’ll feel your message is all broken up, like salt sprinkled on French fries, but the pressure is off to “hold the floor.”
Introverts don’t much care for filibusters, anyway.
Be sure to read the next installment of “Channel Your Inner Evangelist.”