Christians overwhelmingly agree they have a personal responsibility to evangelize: to announce the good news that sinners can be forgiven and adopted as children of God because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. LifeWay Research conducted a study regarding evangelism and reported,
“The study conducted by LifeWay Research found 80 percent of those who attend church one or more times a month, believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, but 61 percent have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months.”
This got me to ask the question: “Whynot? What is it that keeps us from sharing the gospel with nonChristians?” I could’ve come up with my own reasons, but I wondered if they would match up with the reasons your typical church-going Christian would give. So I asked my Facebook friends for their input and discovered some really great insights that I wouldn’t have considered on my own.
Here are a few of the general themes that emerged from their responses:
This was by far the most common answer. We are afraid of losing friends, jobs, and our reputation. We don’t want to look like one of “those Christians” who is going around judging and criticizing people. It is simply impolite to talk about politics, money, and religion – so we don’t. In the midst of our fear, we need to remember the gospel is GOOD news, and it’s worth sharing.
2. We Don’t Believe in Judgment & Hell
In the midst of our fear of losing friends or anything else, we need to remember the gospel is truly GOOD news. It’s good news because there is indeed very bad news: God is just, and he will judge sin. As sinners, we have earned God’s judgment and wrath, and we will all stand before a holy God to give an account for our life, and I firmly believe we all know we will stand before God as guilty sinners. Some might excuse their sin or minimize its consequences, but I have never met anyone who has truly claimed they will stand innocently before a holy God.
Despite our agreement that we are all sinners, we rarely talk about judgment, wrath, or hell. As one friend observed, “We are unsure of the reality of Hell. God really wouldn’t let my good friend who is in many ways a better person than me go to hell even though he doesn’t make a confession of Jesus as lord… would he?” I am afraid by how many so-called Christians minimize the cross and the gospel by believing that people who have not repented of their sin and confessed faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior. For more, read this article from GotQuestions?: Is Jesus the Only Way to Heaven?
Because Christianity believe God is Holy and Just, we believe in judgment and hell. And yet, the gospel is good news. As Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller fame, who is an outspoken atheist and critic of religion, states,
“If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward, and atheists who think that people shouldn’t proselytize — ‘Just leave me alone, keep your religion to yourself.’
“How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
Penn Jillette (from Penn & Teller – view his comments here)
3. We Don’t Know How
Not many people said, “I don’t know how,” but it seemed to run underneath their “fear” comments. The traces of, “What if they ask questions I can’t answer,” or “What if I do a bad job and push them farther away” seemed to indicate both fear and a lack of confidence in their ability to share the gospel. Since I’ve already written a post on What is the Gospel, I’ll point you there rather than taking up more room than to encourage you: be equipped, and trust that God will use even your feeble attempts that are faithful to the gospel.
4. Our Own Sinfulness
This response surprised me, but I think it’s very true. We know our own sinfulness and we don’t want to by hypocrites, so we keep silent. I believe this is a good and noble desire, but when we take this too far we’ll find ourselves never talking about Christ.
Let us remember Jesus taught his disciple to remove the plank from their own eye first, but then they are to remove the speck from their brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). As we continue to grow in Christ, let us invite others for the journey towards Christlikeness. If you are humble enough to recognize your ongoing need for a savior then you’re probably the perfect person to share the good news with someone who doesn’t yet believe.
5. Confusion About Evangelism and Outreach
A final theme that seems to emerge both in this conversation and in many others I’ve had in recent years is a lingering confusion between “evangelism” and “outreach.” Since “evangelism” has a bad reputation among this generation, many have switched over to talking exclusively about “outreach” as if they’re the same thing – but they aren’t.
Evangelism is telling someone else the good news of Jesus Christ and inviting them to confess their sin, to confess Christ as Lord, and to repent of their sin in order to follow Jesus. Outreach is caring for others in a way that reflects and demonstrates the love of God towards people. Outreach is good and absolutely essential for the church to do, but it cannot convert anyone and make them a Christian… only the gospel can do that, and the gospel requires words.
My fear today is that so many have had bad experiences with evangelism tracts and programs that make evangelism like a math formula (“ask these two questions,” “share these four spiritual laws,” etc.) that they have rejected evangelism completely in favor of “loving people.” In our efforts to show an unbelieving world the love of God, let us live unashamedly for him, and that will absolutely involve our words.
Ask a nonChristian what they think it means to be a Christian, and 99% of the time you will get a list of “do’s and don’ts.” Christianity is a message to announce (“God saves sinners”); not merely a lifestyle to model. So by all means engage in outreach to show the world hope and life; but make sure you evangelize and proclaim the gospel, because it is the only message of salvation for all people.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.”
Romans 1:16 (CSB)