I’ve been very familiar the idea of evangelism for the majority of my life. I grew up in church and heard plenty of sermons on witnessing and the pressure to evangelize. We were told it was something we needed to do, and I believed it was a major part of the responsibility if I was going to call myself a Christian.
And even still, I never did it.
As a result, guilt was a consistent feeling for me all the way into my college years. I was told, without any form of sugar coating, that I should feel guilty if I didn’t share my faith. Evangelism became something to be checked off from my “daily Christian check list.”
No really, there was check list. It was on the giving envelope at my home church. There was a checklist to test yourself and see if you had been 100% Christian that week, and “witnessing” was one of the boxes.
I think this is often the mentality people are trained to keep when it comes to evangelism. The result? Many people view evangelism and witnessing as a project rather than a relationship. We stop seeing the person and we view them as the means to an end—in my case, a check mark.
But what if we stopped the mentality that this is something we have to do and began looking at it more as something we “get” to do? This change in mentality came for me when I was in my early 20’s and it has become one of the most welcome changes in my faith life.
I can’t begin to tell you the freedom that comes when I stopped trying to check “witnessing” off my list and just simply let it become part of my life! Gone were the days when I would get off an airplane and feel like I was going to Hell because I didn’t share Christ with the unsuspecting person strapped in the chair next to me! And can I add… never ask a person sitting on an airplane 35,000 feet in the air, “If you were to die today, where would you go?” You might spend more time talking with the Air Marshal than Steve from 21B. And Air Marshals don’t want to hear about Jesus.
So often when it comes to evangelism, we fail to remember that we are talking with an actual person. A person with a history, a past, real life struggles and doubts. As it would be, this is how Jesus operated!
Take for example, Matthew 9: 9-13. In this moment of scripture, Jesus is having a meal with one of His newest disciples, a man named Matthew. During the meal, a large number of what the Bible calls, “tax collectors and sinners” showed up. Jesus didn’t stop down to walk them through a tract or anything like that. It was simply a natural conversation, a good meal, and a chance to get to know the people sitting around Him. From what I know about Jesus, I believe He listened to their stories, laughed with them, and in the process probably answered various questions these people had. After all, one of their friends’ lives had just been radically changed.
Or consider John chapter 4. Jesus has an interaction with a woman at a well. I won’t get into the whole story but she had a lot of baggage. Real world problems, real world shame, and real world consequences. Jesus doesn’t begin His conversation with the woman by asking her, “Where will you spend eternity?” Instead, He starts a conversation, lets the woman talk, and in the process breaks down a lot of barriers that led her to ask some very important questions. No project, no checklist for the week; just a natural love for people and wanting to point them toward something loving and life-changing.
The more I try to view people in this light, the easier evangelism has become over the years. It’s become less “robotic” and much more exciting. I’ve found such great joy in sharing Christ with others. The big change? Getting to know someone, hearing their story, letting them do most of the talking and then responding with what Christ has done in my life.
See evangelism less as a project and look at all the hurting, confused, and hopeful hearts you have an opportunity to impact. Love people and love them deeply. I highly recommend the book “The Unbelievable Gospel” by Jonathan Dodson who speaks wonderfully on the topic of evangelism. He wraps up a chapter with the words “Sow generously, be patient, and trust the results to God.” These are great words of comfort in the world of evangelism.