The Trouble with Evangelism
Paul sets a high standard in Acts 20:24: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Paul is talking about evangelism—proclaiming the gospel, which is the good news of what God has done to accomplish his purposes and rescue us from our sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But if this activity is so essential to Paul’s life and mission, as it should be to ours (cf. Eph. 4:11-13; Phil. 1:3-30; Matt. 28:18-20), then why do we so often find it hard to do? What’s our trouble with evangelism?
First, we need to be clear on what evangelism is. The word itself is a carryover from the Greek word, euaggelizomai, which means “to preach the gospel” (the euaggelion). And because the gospel is a message about what God has done for us through Christ (not something we do for him), the Bible often uses the language of testifying or bearing witness to Christ and his work.
Thus, bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus is necessarily a verbal activity. It is an announcement,
a proclamation, a public testimony to who God is and what he’s done through his eternal Son, Jesus. Where the gospel is not proclaimed, the Church forfeits its witness.
Yet the other side of our gospel proclamation (what we say) is our practice (what we do). Do our lives
bear witness to the gospel’s transforming power? Do we reflect the sacrificial love and abundant grace that we ourselves have we received from the Lord? Do we love our neighbors in tangible ways, making the most of each opportunity and seasoning our conversations with the grace that frees us to be honest about the sinfulness of sin because in Christ we have a sufficient solution (Col. 4:2-6)?
Bearing public witness to the grace of God in Christ—the grace which rescues us from God’s righteous and holy anger against our rebellion because Christ has taken that judgment upon himself in our place—is both our joyful privilege and labor of love in the Lord.
So why again do we so often have a hard time doing this?
There are likely several different factors at play. Sometimes it’s because we are confused about the content of the gospel message—what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters. Sometimes it’s because we don’t really believe the gospel is powerful enough to change lives. Often, sadly, it’s because we’re more in love with self than with Jesus, such that we don’t love God enough to obey him, we don’t love our lost friends and neighbors enough to share Christ with them, we’re distracted by our own goals and desires and the busyness and attention they require, or we’re derailed by the fear of rejection, failure, or suffering that often accompany our witness. Sometimes it’s because our love for God is disproportionately expressed in our love for his people, such that we are too busy with church-related activities and relationships with other Christians that we have no space in our lives for the lost. Still sometimes, the love and desire are there, but we’re just not sure how to get started, or how to get close enough relationally to proclaim the gospel with friends and coworkers, especially in the rather closed and reserved context of New England.
Each of these factors deserves deeper exploration. So over the next few weeks we’ll take a closer look at each one, as we try to unravel the trouble with evangelism.
So for what other reasons do you personally find it hard to actively engage in evangelism? Share in the comments below.