A recent Lifeway research survey revealed what most of us already know: Christians are reluctant to share their faith. According to Lifeway, 80% of evangelicals know they are called to evangelize, but 61% admit they’ve not had a spiritual conversation with anyone in the last six months.
This frustrates ministry leaders. If you could get any five pastors in a room, you might hear them say that one of their top frustrations is the seeming unwillingness for their people to engage the mission of God and share the good news of the gospel with those in their immediate context.
Many, much smarter than me, have offered new research and fresh strategies to motivate Christians. This is helpful. However, I suspect that our hesitance to evangelize is less a matter of faulty methods and lack of opportunity. It goes deeper. I’d like to suggest that there are three spiritual reasons why we don’t evangelize:
We’ve lost our wonder.
When I read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Great Commission, I’m struck by the lack of guilt and manipulation in his words. Jesus’ announces the good news that He’s been granted all authority in Heaven and earth. By virtue of his death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ is reigning King. He’s defeated the powers of sin and death and has reversed the curse. And now he’s calling out a people for His name from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
When I read Jesus’ words, it seems to me that He’s not imploring his disciples to share the gospel. He’s expecting it. And why not? These people on the hillside hearing Jesus’ words? They’d just witnessed a man brutally crucified, buried for three days, now risen. If you had met Jesus, if you’ve seen him first dead, then alive, nobody would have to convince you to go tell someone about this miracle. Jesus’ instructions were permission to not be silent, to take this gospel beyond Israel and to the nations.
Why don’t we evangelize? Not because we don’t have the right tools or the right spiel. We don’t talk about Jesus because those of us who know Jesus have lost the wonder. If you’ve been with Jesus, who was raised from the dead and has given you new life, if he’s indeed the reigning King of the Universe, if you know and love him, of course you are going to tell people about him.
This is why pastors’ first obligation isn’t to invent novel new ways for their people to communicate the gospel. A pastor’s first obligation is to lift up high the risen Christ, invite your people into the wonder of his love.
If you do this and your people get a glimpse of Christ, you won’t be able to stop them from telling their friends and neighbors and coworkers. We are all evangelists for the things that capture our hearts. Think back to your last several conversations. Think about what animated you, what got you talking, what gave you excitement? Did anyone have to prompt you, cajole, you, guilt you? No, it came naturally.
If Jesus is the center, talking about Jesus will be natural.
We’ve lost our love for neighbor.
Today our world is divided along political, racial, economic lines. Every day we are tempted by the ease of social media, by the tribalization of our politics, and by racial and economic differences. We’ve lost the art of loving people with whom we disagree. Just check your Facebook timeline. Consider the harsh and often vulgar language often used, by professing Christians, to describe politicians they don’t agree with, people groups they are afraid of, and religions they don’t agree with.
You will not share the good news of the gospel with someone you do not genuinely love. Pastors need to teach people to love their neighbors and not just the neighbors that look like them. This means we need to teach our people what the gospel is doing in uniting people from every race, tribe, and tongue in the Church. In America, this means God is helping us obey the Great Commission by bringing the nations to our doorstep.
This means our people need to stop seeing missions as something we only do when we write checks to support missionaries. Every follower of Christ is on mission in his own community. You can’t disparage a people group on Facebook and expect that same neighbor to find the gospel message a compelling alternative to his worldview.
Pastors need to lead their people, to push back against the divisive rhetoric in the culture, and to teach what it means to see every human as created in the image of God. To nurture and build friendships with people with whom we disagree.
It could be that our evangelism must be preceded by repentance. Repentance for our hating of the people God has called us to love around us. If you love Jesus and you love your neighbor, sharing the gospel message won’t simply be something you check off your to-do list. It will be a natural outgrowth of a Christ-shaped life.
We’ve forgotten our source of power.
Lastly, we don’t evangelize because we’ve mistakenly put ourselves at the center of evangelism. For many of us, our fears, our frustrations, our inability to talk about Jesus stems from a man-centered view of salvation. We really think it is us, our ingenuity, our power, our technique that delivers a soul from death to life. But salvation is not work we accomplish, but a work of the Holy Spiri. It is God who “quickens” the dead heart (Ephesians 2:1). It is the work of the Father to draw people to his son (John 8:44).
This means that in obeying the Great Commission, we can’t fail. Our job is not to do the saving, but do the sharing. Our job is to simply be faithful in declaring the word to those who haven’t heard. We are the ones God is using to share his message with the world. There are no others. (Romans 10:14). But we can rest in God’s sovereignty, motivated by the knowledge that if we share the news, people will repent and put their faith in Christ.
God uses even the worst communicators to herald his message because it is the Spirit who both empowers the communicator and opens the heart of the hearer. This is why we don’t have to evangelize like we are trying to sell someone a used car, life insurance, or a set of knives. We don’t have to close the deal and manipulate people into false conversions.
If Jesus is real in us, if Jesus is real in the people we lead, sharing Christ will be a natural outflow that will burst forward into our friendships, our neighbors, and our coworkers. The mission of God won’t be something we do on Sundays, but will be a way of life.