This article is part of the Open Letters series.
Dear Fellow Christian,
I’ve never felt gifted at evangelism. That’s why my knees were trembling. My coworker’s name was Colleen, and I felt burdened to share the gospel with her. I had no idea how she would respond. I finally asked, “Colleen, do you ever think about eternity?” She looked at me, big tears welling up in her eyes, and said, “Yes, I think about eternity a lot.” That opened a door to a conversation I wasn’t sure could happen. I gave her a recording of someone’s conversion story. She took it home and listened in her car, sitting for an hour in her driveway. Later I gave her a study Bible. She moved away shortly after, so I don’t know what happened next. But I share this story to just say that no matter how ill-equipped you may feel for evangelism, God can use you.
All Christians know they should be evangelizing others. Yet many of us struggle to find the courage to talk about Jesus with unbelieving neighbors, family members, and friends. There are many reasons we struggle. Perhaps we lack confidence. We’ve never been trained to do evangelism, or we lack the skills to discuss apologetics or don’t know how to start gospel conversations. Some people have shy personalities. We’re timid not only about evangelism but in other ways, too. Even asking a stranger for directions can feel intimidating! Sometimes, it’s a motivation problem: we’re indifferent, lacking in both compassion for people’s souls and zeal for the glory of God. Selfishness has darkened our hearts and dimmed our vision of eternal realities.
We can’t transform hearts or renew minds. Our job is to spread the Word, to sow the seed, to share the good news.
In diagnosing our evangelistic disorders, it helps to remember that effective personal evangelism depends on the convergence of multiple factors including opportunity, character, and skill. Here are a few thoughts about each.
Sometimes Christians are ineffective evangelists because they live in a Christian ghetto. Most of their friends and family members are already Christians and they don’t build intentional relationships with unbelievers. Witnessing gets limited to airplanes. Of course, this is more perception than reality. “Look, I tell you,” said Jesus, “lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). Are all your neighbors believers? Do you have siblings, cousins, or in-laws who are not in the kingdom? Does the barista who made your coffee this morning know Christ? The opportunities are there. Ask people how you can pray for them. Learn about their religious background. Invite them to read the Bible with you. You may be surprised by their openness.
Words, including words about Jesus spoken to others, are the overflow of the heart. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). Personal evangelism, or the lack thereof, is rooted in our character formation as followers of Jesus. Ask yourself some questions: Do you cherish the grace that brought salvation at the cost of Jesus’ precious blood? Do you feel compassion for hurting people? Are you sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit? Do you burn with zeal for God’s glory? Are you willing to be rejected for Jesus’ sake? Do you believe in hell? When your mind is renewed by the truth of the gospel, and your heart is transformed by the Spirit, and your will is bent in glad surrender to the Lordship of the Savior, words of witness will follow.
I’m using “skill” as an umbrella term that includes interpersonal relationship skills, knowledge of Scripture, acumen in apologetics, and the development of natural and spiritual gifts. Obviously, there can be vast differences between any two sincere Christians. These differences help us do better in some contexts than others.
A talkative Christian plumber may have more success sharing the Romans Road than an astute professor with a proficiency in presuppositional apologetics. The hammer should not despise the surgeon’s scalpel—or vice versa. Each tool is well-suited to its particular task. But whatever your gifting and skills, you can grow. You can know your Bible better. You can deepen your understanding of the gospel. You can strengthen your conversational skills and learn to ask better questions. All of us could be more friendly, prayerful, and bold. So, take an evangelism class, or read a book on theology or apologetics, or attend a workshop on how to start spiritual conversations with immigrants.
Finally, don’t forget the sovereign work of God’s Spirit. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). We can’t control the wind of the Spirit. He is mysterious in his work. But we know two things: (1) no one can enter the kingdom unless they are born of the Spirit and (2) the Spirit is active in drawing people to Jesus. That’s his role. Knowing this should humble us. We cannot secure a saving response to the Word. We can’t transform hearts or renew minds. Our job is to spread the Word, to sow the seed, to share the good news. Only the Spirit can give life. But recognizing the Spirit’s role should thrill our hearts with hope. For who knows how the Spirit has been preparing the soil of someone’s heart for the seed of the word? “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7).
Sowing with you in hope,
Brian G. Hedges
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