If you’re a faithful pastor, you want to see people in your church growing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10, 28). You also want to see your neighbors come to know God, and your people do too. They sincerely want to know God and make him known (Matt. 28:18–20).
But even though many Christians at your church genuinely want to make God known, they struggle in evangelism.
Have you ever wondered why that is? Some of your people want to share the gospel, they just don’t know how. Others may try to share the gospel, but they fear man, fumble over their words, and clam up altogether. Some of your other members might (wrongly) think evangelism is a task for the extroverts or the church staff.
At worst, some of your people, if they’re honest, simply don’t desire to share the gospel. Maybe they’ve been too busy with their own lives to think about someone else’s eternal state; maybe they’re embarrassed about God’s justice and goodness in judging sinners. Whatever the case may be, folks in your church are not sharing the gospel for a host of reasons.
How should you respond?
Of course, you can and should keep preaching sermons that are rich in the gospel. These sermons not only catechize your people in the gospel, they remind them that the good news is good news for them.
What’s more, you can and should keep praying for your people and their evangelism. Far be it from you that you should sin against your flock by ceasing to pray for them!
We could note other ways we might faithfully respond to the lousy evangelists in our churches. To be sure, the apostles understood that though all sinners require patience, different types of sinners require different responses—whether it’d be help, admonishment, or encouragement (1 Thess. 5:14).
I want to focus on that last activity: Encouragement. Here’s the point of this article in a tweet:
Pastor, when it comes to helping your people in their evangelism, patiently and faithfully encourage them!
WANT YOUR PEOPLE TO EVANGELIZE? ENCOURAGE THEM!
Encouragement isn’t the only thing to do but it’s an often easily overlooked thing to do. My hunch is that out of all the groups I listed above, they are all likely struggling with some level of discouragement. Even the folks who don’t want to evangelize will feel some level of guilt when the topic is raised. To be sure, this guilt isn’t always bad; godly grief can lead someone to repent of not sharing the gospel (2 Cor. 7:10).
Yet on the other end of the spectrum, even the people in your church who are faithfully sharing the gospel may be discouraged because they’ve seen little to no fruit from their evangelistic efforts. Think of the mom who’s shared the gospel with her son or daughter a thousand times, just to see him grow up and rebel. Think of the roommate who’s hosted a Bible study in his apartment complex, just to have no one show up to it. Faithful brothers and sisters like this cry out with Paul, “who is sufficient for these things!” (2 Cor. 2:16).
Knowledge of the right things, like evangelism, does not prevent us from being discouraged about them (in fact, this knowledge can only increase our anguish). Pastor, I believe people in our churches know they should evangelize. That’s not the issue. Instead, many of them just feel crummy about their evangelism. Again, this can be for several reasons, good or bad (e.g. perhaps they have too low a view of evangelism—seeing it as a transaction rather than the King of Kings making his appeal through them). Yet one common reason people feel bad about their evangelism is because they feel like they’re no good at it, and so they’re intimidated by it and feel like a failure at the mention of it.
SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT YOUR PEOPLE’S EVANGELISTIC SILENCE?
You can’t solve this problem overnight. Your people aren’t faucets to be fixed but sheep needing shepherding over the long haul. But here’s one important and simple thing to do: Patiently encourage your people, especially in their evangelism.
We pastors need to remember to encourage our sheep because our instinct, especially when talking about evangelism, so often runs the opposite way. We shame our people. We guilt them. And like the coach screaming at his players, we hope this leads them to do better faster.
I’m not saying we should never instruct our people or lay down the law. But good parents aren’t most fundamentally characterized by scorning their kids but by rooting for them—kindly, lovingly, faithfully bearing with them.
So, yes, you could pull out the statistics and tell your flock how many people are dying and likely dropping into hell by the second. Especially in these COVID-19 days, this would be easy to do, and maybe there is a place for this. Yet using tactics like this to inspire evangelism can easily become more of the same underhanded manipulation that people often employ in their evangelism. Praise God, he uses even shoddy proclamations of Christ for his glory (Phil. 1:18).
That said, just as manipulative evangelism leaves a wake of people disillusioned with Christianity, manipulative motivation for evangelism leaves a wake of discouraged people who don’t want to share their faith. In other words, pastors, this tactic doesn’t really work, at least not in any lasting sense. We have an urgent message, yes, but one that often requires patient persuasion, just like our people do (Prov. 25:15).
Criticism or reproof isn’t always the bad choice; it’s a pastoral muscle we must flex (remember 1 Thess. 5:14 commends admonishment). Yet while criticism isn’t always a bad choice, given our self-righteousness, criticism is, sadly, the easier choice. Harshness seems to be the natural reflex of frustrated leaders (especially young ones like me), even when we’re frustrated about the right things.
Ultimately encouragement is generally more powerful than critique, and we should encourage far more than we criticize. Time and time again, Scripture commands us to encourage each other. We pastors should exemplify this practice.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11).
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…encouraging one another”(Heb. 10:24-25).
Pastors, we’re to be like fathers with those in our congregation and mothers, too—gentle among our people and encouraging them (1 Thess. 2:7, 11). Put differently, under-shepherds should be over-encouragers in their churches. None of our members are suffering from over-encouragement, especially when it comes to evangelism.
But, how can we do this? How can we patiently encourage our people in their evangelism? I have two suggestions and a resource for you.
SUGGESTION 1: NAME IT
Talk about it. Talk about how evangelism is difficult, hard, and discouraging. Don’t only highlight stories of dramatic conversions. Don’t teach your people that “success” in evangelism is fruitfulness when the Bible makes clear that faithfulness is, and that fruitfulness is ultimately in the Lord’s hand (Matt. 25:21; 1 Cor. 3:6, 4:2). Like mailmen, our job in evangelism is to deliver the mail; God’s job is to make people like it. The world already teaches our people to make evaluations based on appearance, but God has a different eye on the matter (1 Sam. 16:7). As God’s children, we should too.
Pastor, you can help your church have this kind of heavenly perspective if you put it out there in the open: Evangelism can be discouraging for every evangelist, including the great evangelist Paul. He wrote that “no temptation has overtaken [us] accept what’s common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). This leads to my second suggestion.
SUGGESTION 2: SHARE “UNSUCCESSFUL” STORIES (ESPECIALLY YOURS!)
The Bible has story after story of discouraged evangelists. Think of Paul in Acts 18. Or Jonah. But your church also has story after story of discouraged evangelists. Why not let a member share one at a service?
I remember once a faithful sister shared with our church how she hosted a Bible study at work and no one came to the first one. But that sister encouraged us because she reminded us that faithfulness is the goal, not results. Who knows how God, going forward, might use her invitation to put a spiritual rock in one of her co-worker’s shoes?
The Bible has stories of “unsuccessful evangelism.” Your church has these stories, and pastor, you do too. I can’t tell you how helpful it was when I heard Mark Dever once share how he had screwed up in evangelism once upon a time. Hearing about his screwup made me realize I’m not the only one who doesn’t always knock it out of the park when I’m sharing the gospel. In fact, I often feel as if I strike out.
And yet God’s grace is sufficient for me and every Christian. Pastor, you will encourage your church to hope in that truth if you highlight “unsuccessful” evangelism stories—especially your own.
So, yes, host evangelistic workshops. Talk about reasons we should share the gospel and strategies to better do so. All that is great. But don’t forget about the most basic thing evangelists need to be encouraged to remember—their hope in God. With him, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).
A SUGGESTED RESOURCE
In the new Church Questions series, I talk about this great hope for discouraged evangelists in the booklet: What if I’m Discouraged in My Evangelism?
I pray it encourages you and your church to share the best news in the world.
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the 9Marks blog and is used with permission.
 In his chapter on evangelism in his revised and updated Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Don Whitney cites a study which found that “nine out of ten individuals who attempt to explain their beliefs and theology to other people come away from those experiences feeling as if they have failed” (p. 123).