Evangelism frustration

April 25, 2003

[Book cover for Street Preacher's Manual]Why are evangelical Christians so plagued with guilt about not “saying the right things” to lead their friends closer to the Lord? There is so much inner frustration when it comes to evangelism. Is it because they have started listening to the Holy Spirit instead of to their pastors?

My old friend Debbie posted this comment, but since it’s only vaguely related to my Lenten Lectio Look-back, I decided to move it here. (Hope you don’t mind, Debbie. If you keep this up, I’ll make you start your own blog!)

“It’s not about words,” is the concept I was thinking this morning as I as I contemplated posting again. But I was thinking about evangelism instead of intercession.
A snapshot of conversation with co-workers yesterday:

A group of us were eating together and someone started talking about her Episcopalian Church and how, despite concerns over germs, she drinks for communion out of the common cup. She said something like she figures God can take care of them.

Then the conversation drifted to a particular Baptist Church she knew about and how she would not set foot in it if so and so were the preacher. I mean, he says things like, “Do you promise to OBEY your husband?” when he marries people! In her marriage vows, they used the word, “CHERISH.”

A catholic co-worker was asked by another catholic co-worker how catholic she is. She said ‘so-so’ and that she has not been going to mass b/c her children would disrupt mass. So she’ll wait ’til they’re older. She seemed to feel guilty about this.

Another person (raised catholic) expressed her displeasure that she found out she can’t take communion at a non-catholic church.

I’ve had to work to get rid of this notion that Christians have a duty to turn every conversation into an evangelistic thing.

I silently listened to these light-hearted conversations and nodded, but had no idea how to jump in. In my mind, it was the wrong “questions.” Or it was beliefs that are based on a lack of more foundational aspects of Christianity. Maybe I wasn’t even supposed to talk; but that is always my default place to go and in the rush of talk, I can’t think fast enough to know how to steer the conversation toward the right questions.

I later realized that, “It’s not about words,” that I say and the perfect timing of them. He wants us to ‘always be prepared to give a reason for the hope….’ but the Spirit gives Life, not me.

In my protracted period of internal resignation and associated guilt about sharing Christ with others, I am often not even praying for opportunities.

Reading this blog is giving me hope again, with all its stimulating discussion and reflections on the Life of Christ in us. I want to ask Jesus to help me in this place of desperate need for Him.

Debbie, I think the main thing I’ve had to work to get rid of is this notion that Christians have a duty to turn every conversation into an evangelistic thing. I’ve heard as much from the pulpit, with 100-year-old quotes like, “God forbid that I should ride in a carriage for 15 minutes and not ask my fellow passenger about the state of his soul.” Well, things have changed a bit in the past 100 years. Do you remember in InterVarsity how we heard dire warnings that America was becoming a post-Christian culture? Well guess what, it’s happened. You’re right, your friends probably have a considerably different understanding of Christianity than you do, so if you jump in and get serious about surface issues, it is entirely likely that they will misunderstand you.

So what to do? The first thing I would suggest is to laugh and listen. Learn to laugh at your own religion. I think you’re observing that your friends like to talk about spiritual things. They’ll keep talking as long as they know you’re not judging them in any way. And the best way I’ve found to show that is to lighten up and join the fun. …Over time, I think my friends have learned that the Christianity they disagree with is rather different than what I believe. (Now, will they see that the Christianity they disagree with is rather different than the Jesus I follow?)

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

2 responses to Evangelism frustration

  1. I find all such discussions of sharing one’s faith to be quite fascinating. And Jon, as you and I have discussed, is there really one right way to share one’s faith? I don’t think so. I love your advice though! How quick we are too speak and how reluctant we are to listen. We should really LISTEN to people, and then listen to what God is telling us to do. We might be really surprised what the answer is!

  2. Listen to God
    As you point out, it is vital to listen to God. In fact, “one ear listens to the person, the other ear listens to the Holy Spirit” is the standard Vineyard approach to prayer for healing/deliverance. Why should evangelism be different?
    Then there’s the question, what if you’re not hearing anything from God? As in healing ministry, there are some basic things you can do just as a blessing to the person — then you stop.