Jonathan K. Dodson is the founding pastor of City Life church in Austin, Texas. His new book is The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing (resource website here).
In the Huffington Post, writer Cindy Brandt recently declared she “kissed evangelism goodbye.” Many have joined her in the break up. According to one survey, two out of every three active Christians today have all but abandoned evangelism. In slight contrast, another study noted marginal rises in evangelism but concluded, “we need a lot more evangelizing going on…” Regardless of how the statistics shake out, many people find evangelism hard.
Good Reasons Not to Witness
The typical evangelical response to an ebb in evangelism is to beat the evangelistic drum louder. Leaders preach the Great Commission more, tell us to value comfort less, and ask us to consider the cost by “considering people’s eternal destiny.” But appeals to guilt, sacrifice, and an “eternal perspective,” even if biblical, often fall on deaf ears. These responses are superficial.
The fact is people often have really good reasons for not evangelizing. Some of those reasons include the evangelists. The popular impression of evangelism isn’t positive—impersonal and uncaring, preachy and self-righteous, bigoted and hateful. None of those impressions would stick with Jesus.
If we are going to experience a renaissance of evangelism, we must treat people less like projects and more like persons, distinguish evangelism from proselytizing, and value others’ perspectives instead of rejecting them out of hand.
However, evangelistic concerns can quickly turn into evangelistic defeaters. Good concerns to not come across as impersonal, preachy, intolerant, or shallow can defeat us from sharing good news. As a result, people don’t get to hear about the victorious work of Christ to defeat sin, death, and evil to make all things new.
There is a defeater underneath the defeaters—fear of what others think of us. “The fear of man is a snare but the one who trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 18:25). We can avoid all the evangelistic pitfalls and still refuse to speak about Christ because we are afraid of what people will think about us. Instead, we can preach a fresh gospel by using gospel metaphors—personally discerning and culturally sensitive ways to communicate grace.
Seeking Intimacy, Tolerance, Approval
Our search for intimacy in relationships seems to never end. Even the best friendship or marriage isn’t enough for our insatiable demand to be noticed, loved, and cared for. We all want a place where we can be ourselves and know that we are accepted. When we begin to discern that a person is seeking intimacy, we can explain that, through union with Christ, people can enter into the most intimate, loving, unbreakable, fulfilling relationship known to humanity, which can bring deep healing and joy.
Many people are seeking tolerance. Classical tolerance says every belief has a right to exist. New tolerance says every belief is equally true. Classical tolerance is spot on. New tolerance is inconsistent. This discussion alone can be an illuminating conversation that deepens mutual respect and admiration between people.
Others will simply not like the exclusive claims that Christianity makes. However, before scoffing at their perspective or trying to crush their worldview, ask questions to get on the inside of their perspective and appreciate their views. Build bridges not walls.
What my dad and mom thought about me as I was growing up meant a lot. Their thoughts and opinions could crush or lift me in a moment. The truth is that we seek approval from others all the time. As you get to know someone, you might pick up that they need to hear the gospel of adoption, that God the Father offers an undying approval in his Son Jesus. This can radically change people’s view of God, and thrill them with the hope of a Father’s love.
Don’t kiss your evangelism goodbye; just give it a facelift.
Get Jonathan’s free ebook “Four Reasons Not to Share Your Faith.”