The Dirty Dozen: Some Thoughts on Why We Stink at Evangelism7
When I say that “we” stink at evangelism, I’m not talking about all of you. Some of you, I hope many of you, excel at sharing your faith with non-Christians. But most of us do not. It may sound offensive, but let’s be honest: we stink at evangelism. At least I do. But I don’t want to. My desire to be more faithful and vocal in sharing the gospel with the lost has led me to identify what I call the Dirty Dozen. These are the twelve reasons why we are less than faithful in making known the glory of the gospel to those who otherwise have no hope in this life or the next.
Not all twelve of these apply directly to me, and my guess is that such will be the case with most of you. But to whatever extent we can honestly point to any of the twelve and say, “Yeah, that’s true of me,” I pray the Spirit would bring conviction and a corresponding boldness and energy to make Jesus known.
I was also motivated to write this brief article because of something I saw in the text that I recently preached at Bridgeway. In John 1:35-51 we read about several individuals who followed Jesus. One of the first to do so was Andrew. We read in John 1:42 that “he [Andrew] brought him [Peter] to Jesus.” What a wonderful way to be remembered, as a man who brought another to Jesus! So why don’t we do likewise? Here are the dirty dozen reasons why. There may be more, but I’ll settle for these.
(1) We are reluctant to share the gospel with others because of a loss of belief in the reality of hell. If there is no eternal conscious punishment for those who reject Jesus, why bother with taking the time and making the effort of telling them about him? If divine wrath is little more than a figure of speech, there is no urgency in taking the gospel to the lost. There are empirically verified statistical studies which demonstrate that when a denomination or church loses its conviction concerning the reality of hell, its commitment to global missions diminishes, both in terms of the money devoted to it and the people they send.
If you don’t believe people without Christ are in danger of eternal damnation, you won’t feel any need or urgency to tell them how they can be delivered from it.
Do you believe that those who leave this life without Christ are consigned to eternal damnation away from his glorious presence? How deeply does the reality of hell penetrate your soul? If you find yourself shrugging your shoulders in response to this question, you may have been given a primary reason why your evangelistic zeal is low.
(2) We are hesitant to share the gospel with others because of a loss of belief in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. More and more are coming to the heretical conclusion that all religions are equally valid paths to God; sincerity is what saves, not faith in Jesus. If conscious faith in Christ as Lord and Savior isn’t necessary, neither is evangelism.
Jesus himself declared that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). When Jesus says that reconciliation to the Father comes only “through me” we must define what he means in light of the broader context of John’s gospel. And everywhere in John we are told over and over again that you must believe in Jesus. You must trust him alone. You must look to his work on the cross as your only hope. For example:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:35).
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
“Jesus said to her [to Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die’” (John 11:25-26; see also 12:46 and 17:20).
That’s what it means to come to the Father “through” the Son. It means you believe Jesus is who he said he is and that what he will do on the cross for sinners is the only hope you have for forgiveness of sins.
But might there be other pathways to the Father? Why is there only one? We don’t deserve any pathway to the Father, much less one. The fact that God has provided a way through his Son is a miracle of divine mercy.
But won’t other religions do the same thing? Can’t we climb the same mountain but by a different road? Can’t we arrive at the same destination but by different means of transportation: some by car, some on foot, some by plane, others by bus? No. There is only one way, the way that God himself has ordained. Non-Christian religions are not an attempt to find the true God. They are rebellious and idolatrous efforts to get away from him, to deny and suppress the truth about him.
So note well: Jesus does not point us to the way or describe for us how to get there. He does not show the way. He is the way.
That he is the truth means that those who search for truth apart from Christ are destined for failure and will only find what is false. Jesus is not one of multiple, equally valid and effective ways to the Father. He does not just have some truth. He is truth. He does not direct them where they might find eternal life. He is life.
(3) We justify not sharing the gospel with others by appealing to God’s sovereignty. Some have embraced the unbiblical notion that if God wants to save the lost, he’ll pull it off without my help. This is a monumental failure to remember that God accomplishes his purposes through means. He has chosen to make use of us and our testimony and witness to make Christ known. I urge you to read two texts that clearly demonstrate this truth: Acts 18:1-11 and Romans 10:14-15.
(4) We find an excuse not to speak of Christ by thinking: “If I don’t do it, someone else will.” Let’s call this what it is: willful disobedience. Besides, have you ever considered that another Christian is also saying the same thing to justify their silence? Perhaps you are the “someone else” that is supposed to tell a lost soul about Jesus.
(5) We fail to passionately share the gospel with others because we are devoid of gratitude for what God has done in saving us. If a person does not fully grasp the magnitude of God’s mercy in delivering us from a well-deserved damnation, it is unlikely we will feel much zeal to share such good news with others.
(6) We don’t share the gospel with others because we lack any substantial and heartfelt fear of God. Paul says this about himself in 2 Corinthians 5:11 – “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” In context, Paul is referring to the fact that he (and all of us as well) will appear before the judgment seat of Christ “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10).
(7) We don’t share the gospel with others because we are smugly comfortable with our life and we don’t want to disrupt it. Evangelism is often inconvenient and intrusive and time-consuming, and we resist most things that threaten our physical and emotional comfort.
(8) We don’t speak of Christ to others because we are selfish and prejudiced! There is no better example of this than what we see in the life of Jonah (see Jonah 4:1-4). Jonah turned tail and ran away from Nineveh because he knew God was a merciful God, the sort of God who very well might end up forgiving these pagans. The bottom line is that Jonah didn’t want them to be saved. He wanted the saving mercy of God to stay strictly within the boundaries of Israel.
(9) We fail to share the gospel because we live in bondage to the fear of man. We are afraid of rejection, being laughed at, and being mocked as fools. We cherish our own reputations and status in society more than we do the glory of Jesus and the eternal destiny of lost souls. This is perhaps yet another example of how selfishness and self-preservation hinder our evangelistic outreach.
(10) We don’t share the gospel because of a fear of persecution. Of course, in the present day in our country this may not factor in as much as it might in other countries where Christians are routinely imprisoned, tortured, and often martyred for speaking up for Christ. But persecution can take other forms: the loss of a client, the loss of income, being marginalized at work, being left out when a party is thrown, etc.
(11) We are reluctant to speak to others about Jesus because of our fear of not being able to give answers to hard questions they might ask. This is simply an expression of our pride. We don’t want to appear as if we are ignorant or uninformed. But sometimes the most effective way to reach someone for Jesus is the honest acknowledgment that we don’t have an answer to their question. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer. Undoubtedly there is. When I’m asked a question for which I don’t have a good answer, I simply say: “Great question! I appreciate that you are thinking deeply about Christianity. I’m sure there is an equally great answer, but I don’t have it right now. Give me a few days to get back to you on this.” People will most often appreciate your honesty and humility in not trying to pull the wool over their eyes by pretending to have an answer when you don’t.
(12) We justify not speaking of Christ by saying: “I don’t have the gift of evangelism.” But nowhere in Scripture is evangelism restricted to those who have the gift of evangelism. All Christians have faith, but not all have the gift of faith. All Christians are to give generously of their income, but not all have the spiritual gift of giving. All Christians are to exhort one another and teach one another even though not all have the spiritual gifts of exhortation or teaching. The same obtains when it comes to sharing our faith with others.
So, then, what’s your excuse?
Oh, that it might be said of us, what was said of Andrew: “He brought him [her] to Jesus” (John 1:42).