It’s been years since I was working part-time at Target during college, but I still remember an odd compliment I received from a co-worker. At the time I was studying engineering physics, and he told me that if engineering didn’t work out I could probably make it as a used-car salesman. I remember being confused as to why he saw me as a salesmen because I wasn’t working in electronics or other parts of the stores trying to make sales; my main job was straightening all the boxes of cereal in the grocery section. Today I realize that, in a way, I am a salesman. If I like a product, a book, a movie, a television show, I become convinced that everyone’s life will be better if they do what I’m already enjoying. Despite this, there is still one area of my life that I am a little uncomfortable talking about with others, and that is my faith. This may seem surprising because I am a salesman at heart and I am a minister; you would think this would be the most natural activity in the world for me, but if I’m honest, it’s not. And I know from my time in churches that almost no two words make Christians more uncomfortable than outreach and evangelism. Let’s briefly look at where this discomfort comes from and what we can do about it.
When many people hear the word evangelism they are quickly washed over with a feeling of guilt. This guilt often comes from preachers and other Christians who have abused them by misusing passages of Scripture, calling into question their own faith, and just being mean.
If guilt doesn’t totally shut us down then three practical concerns immediately come up; I don’t know how to do it, I’m not that kind of person, and I don’t want to ruin my relationships. Many fear that if they talk about their faith with somebody else they will be met with either disdain and/or really difficult questions that they won’t have the answers to. Or when we hear evangelism we picture those going door to door or those approaching random people, and we just know that is not how our personality works. Then if we think about the relationships that we do have with those who are not Christians we are afraid of the topic of faith ruining the relationship.
The discomfort that these thoughts and feelings produce are no small matter. In fact, Paul himself often asked others to pray for him to be bold to share the good news about Jesus, and so if Paul had trouble sharing his faith it makes sense that we would too. There is no quick fix to this, but I do think reminding ourselves about who God is and learning how evangelism works can change our discomfort to motivation.
First, God isn’t wagging his finger at you in disappointment over your failure to share your faith. He loves you. He gave up his Son for you. He sings over you. You are his beloved child, and there is nothing you can do to change that. We need to hear this message again and again and in many different ways for the paralyzing effects of guilt to melt away making it easier for us to move out in obedience to God.
Second, evangelism is a group project that takes time. Many think that to do a good job at evangelizing neighbors and co-workers means that you convince someone to believe before you invite them to belong. In reality most people will belong before they believe. This means that the primary job of individuals within a church is simply to invite others to join them in the life of the church. A non-Christian who is exposed to the life of the church will hear the good news explained and enacted in a community. This person will know who he or she can ask their tough questions to. It won’t be on you to have an answer to every question as the church shares the task of evangelism together.
In summary, know that you are not guilty, (Jesus took all the guilt away), remember why you are a Christian and go to church (because you need God’s grace and he has given it to you and you need to hear that again and again), and remember why you would ever ask others to join you (because you love them). Ultimately we share our faith with others because we want them to enjoy the goodness that we have found in it. Even our concern that talking about our faith may ruin our relationship is a sign that we really love someone and, last I checked, Jesus is a pretty big fan of that whole love thing. Let that love motivate you to share the good news of Jesus.