Friday, October 23, 2015

Rethinking Evangelism: “But Sharing the Gospel is Tough!”

Staying in shape is tough but more Americans are exercising more frequently than ever.[1] My wife and I try to make it to the gym at least four times a week. Maybe because we're now "middle age" and see the urgent need to stay fit as we enter our more "mature" years. The greatest obstacle to staying fit is not taking the time to exercise regularly. But the investment is worth it. 

During a break at the gym the other day, I was chatting with a friend. I was sharing about the need to reach the nations with the Gospel, another passion of mine. It is, after all, the mandate of Jesus that the Good News of his Kingdom be proclaimed to all peoples everywhere (Matthew 24:14).

I was explaining that the nations are now among us, increasingly so. The data indicates that there are now 85 Masjids, Muslim places of prayer, in the DFW Metroplex, my home turf. This religious demographic has grown greatly over the past three decades. I doubt you could find a few mosques in North Texas 30 years ago. We also have a growing population of Hindus in my city and hundreds of thousands of immigrants representing hundreds of "Unreached People Groups."

I was also sharing about the Jesus Film, how the initial capital for this great evangelism tool, first came from the Dallas area, and the impact that this movie has had globally, about the number of languages the film has been translated into, but how the film has not been effective among most Americans. I was sharing with my friend the success that the ministry of Christ for All Peoples, with whom I now serve, is having with the use this tool in reaching our international neighbors. 

My friend commented, “but sharing the Gospel is tough.” He reasoned that pluralism and multiculturalism has made it tough. Really? I responded, “but how tough it is it to give away the greatest gift I have ever received?” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an evangelism maven, one of 'those Christians' who shares a Gospel message at every opportunity, regardless of the circumstances, sometimes with the motive to "add another notch to the belt." I know some of those guys and while I admire their passion, I'm also concerned about their approach. I have done my fair share of "witnessing" over the years however, was an Evangelism Explosion Trainer, been on the streets in New York City and London sharing tracks and "proclaiming the Good News." But I'm not naturally an evangelist, just as I'm not naturally a super fit person. Who is? 

Maybe my friend has it right, “sharing the Gospel is tough.” But should it be? And if it is for us, why it so hard? In our pluralistic cultural, where every lifestyle choice is now acceptable, where every religious path is equal, where secularism reigns but your "entitled" to keep your faith “private,” maybe it is tough. We certainly don’t want to offend anyone, right? We’re only supposed to love our neighbor and if God wants them “saved” he will do the work, or so the prevailing narrative seems to informs us. We can just focus on doing good works, being compassionate people, and leave the rest up to God's timing. But is that what we see in the Biblical example?

Jesus came on an urgent mission and as he came he sends out those who would follow him. He came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He went from town to town preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. He called and equipped disciples (Luke 9:1), he taught throughout Galilee, healed the sick, fed the hungry (Matthew 4:23), and accomplished so much more than could be recorded (John 21:25). He knew his task, why he had come, and saw his work through to completion (John 17:4). And, most importantly, he told us he had set the example for his people to follow...

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
(John 13:15)

Unlike the record number who are exercising, the problem we have today is that so few do actually follow Jesus example. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, makes the following observation:
“evangelism is on the decline among key demographics, especially among Busters and Boomers who make up nearly two out of three active Christians today…Christians need to be aware of a growing apathy toward evangelism among the most unlikely of groups: middle-age and middle-income Christians. These are the very people who are often reaching a place of religious maturity, which traditionally includes a commitment to faith-sharing conversations.” [2]
We should have a majority of mature active Christians today, since the "Busters and Boomers" compromise the largest segment of the American Christian population, but do we?

“Measure almost any group of churches today versus 30 years ago. You’ll likely find only one person is being reached with the Gospel for every 40 to 60 church members. You will find that conversions have declined precipitously. And where you find numerical growth, you are more likely to find the growth is transfer of Christians from one church to another….Few churches are truly sending out their members to evangelize those in their communities. The Great Commission has fast become the Great Omission.” reports, Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway. [3]

If Christian “maturity” was defined by typical American Christian practice – personal devotion and church attendance – we would be a very mature Church. But it’s not. Those disciplines are important but they are not maturity producing in and of themselves. 

Christian maturity is best defined by obedience to “all” Jesus commands, to actually following his example, by a "commitment to faith-sharing conversations.” That's the final command of Jesus to his disciples. Jesus doesn’t give us, “Busters and Boomers,” a smorgasbord for our own personal selection to reach maturity. He demonstrated how to live and calls those who would follow him to live as he did.  

What makes sharing the Gospel so tough? There are no doubt many personal answers to that question. But let me suggest there are three underlying reasons, that get expressed in many ways, for why we might find sharing the Gospel difficult:

1. A lack of confidence in ourselves. If we truly knew who we are in Christ and believe we possess the greatest and most important message in the history of mankind we would have the assurance to live with the loving and meek boldness (the two actually do co-exist) required of our faith and Jesus’ example. Confidence in who we are as representatives of who Christ is gets expressed in our lives by what we make our priority. According to Kinnamen and Rainer's respective research we apparently have other priorities.

2. A lack of confidence in the Gospel. If we truly appreciated the exceedingly great worth of the free gift of life we have received in Christ’s finished work we would have the confidence to give that gift away to others, regardless of what our culture says. Confidence of the Gospel’s power to transform hearts and lives gets expressed by giving it away, not hoarding it for ourselves and our church. We'll deal with our understanding of the Gospel in another post. 

3.  A lack of confidence in Christ. If we truly grasped the incalculable value of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection we would have the confidence to live as we are called. Confidence in who Jesus is for us must be expressed in how we live our lives, IN HIM, not just in where we plan to spend eternity.

Sharing the Gospel is not meant to be tough, even under the most difficult of circumstances__ in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 21:12-15). In our own strength, sharing the Gospel is actually not possible (John 15:4), which may be why it is so often left undone. But when we know who we are, value properly the message we carry, and understand all Jesus has accomplished, sharing with a world in need becomes more than possible__ it becomes urgent!

Jesus. of course, had no difficulty in sharing about himself, his purpose for coming, so why should we, especially when we can have confidence in his great promise…”And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). 

Just as the greatest obstacle to staying fit is the lack of exercising, the greatest obstacle to sharing the Gospel is not exercising our faith, not to mention our freedom, to do so. But Jesus is worth it! 

How we might bring change to these "confidence" level will be the subject of future posts.

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