Recently at our staff meetings we have been talking about evangelism. My confession to you is how abysmally infrequent my efforts to share the gospel have been since becoming a resident at The Austin Stone. Through various mind-hoops I jumped to rationalize my lack of faithfulness to talk about Jesus.
“All of my co-workers are believers; who else could I share with?”
“My job is to write Sunday school lessons; surely that counts as sharing the gospel.”
“No one will listen anyway; it’s weird to just approach strangers.”
My excuses were numerous and some might sound familiar to you, but all of them fall down when held to the standard given in scripture. What I find particularly interesting is how often we cite The Great Commission as being Matthew 28:19-20, skipping over the preceding verses. To do so, in my experience, strips the passage of much context.
For starters, verse 17 tells us that some of the disciples still had doubts. If the very men who were among the first to see the resurrected body of Christ still had doubts, is it any wonder that we often doubt our calling as well? It comes as no surprise to me that we struggle to share when I read this verse, but luckily, Jesus had planned for their doubt.
Verse 18 has Jesus speaking to His followers, but He doesn’t start right out with a command, but rather with a reminder: “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me.” What a statement! There is no single thing in all of creation over which Jesus has no authority. There is no person to whom Christ’s commands do not apply. There is no event that can occur without the knowledge or permission of Christ. There is no place in the physical or spiritual realm in which Christ does not have jurisdiction.
On the one hand, this verse serves to rebuke the excuses we may contrive by telling us that we are compelled to obey Christ. However, it does more than just that; it also speaks into our fears and doubts, just as it spoke into the doubts of the disciples, and comforts us with knowledge of who Jesus is. His authority is limitless in scope and in scale, meaning that each encounter you could possibly have with an unbeliever is subject to His oversight.
Reading this passage in this new light should inspire us to shift our view of failure. We tend to view successful evangelism as an instance when a sinner hears the gospel, repents, and believes, and it is. However, when a sinner hears the gospel and refuses repentance and belief, that is success, too. The only failed evangelism comes from us forgetting who is sovereign over our relationships and interactions, and choosing not to preach the gospel at all.
Remembering Christ’s authority is primary, and combined with a secondary method to overcome the obstacles of evangelism can be very helpful. In addition to fixing your theology, it is always good to have a plan of what you can do with that better understanding of God. So, here are a few ideas that helped me rediscover my love of sharing the gospel.
Evangelism is a little like public speaking. It can be really scary, but it will be a lot scarier if you don’t know what you plan to say. Come up with questions you might ask a new friend to direct a conversation toward Christ. Practice asking them. Think about the layers of a person’s life (surface level likes and dislikes, deeper levels like family background, hopes and fears, and ultimately their belief about God) and think through ways you might be able bring those up in a conversation. However, keep in mind that…
Evangelism is NOT public speaking. Don’t just talk and talk and talk. What you have to tell the person you intend to share with is vitally important, but you need to take time to listen to them as well. In general, you are probably better off having a spiritual conversation than offering a spiritual presentation. A quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt captures this idea nicely: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,”
And my last little tip flows from the last. Everyone is a sinner, but not everyone sins the same way. Don’t get too caught up in what a person’s sin may be. A general rule of thumb is that our opinion of their sin doesn’t matter compared to their opinion of Christ. You will be much more winsome with the gospel if you focus on humanity’s brokenness before God than if you try to get a person to specify their personal brokenness.
And remember, our commission is more than good, it’s great.