I’ve seen people fidget whenever the topic of evangelism is mentioned. Of course, the reasons for squirming vary from person to person.
I wonder if some feel awkward engaging in an activity they’ve never, or seldom, done. They are awkward when it comes to sharing their faith.
I’m convinced that none of us is very life-skilled. For instance, nobody is ready to get married; if we waited until we were, we would miss those joys of life. Nobody is ready to have children; if we waited until we were, the whole human race would end in this generation.
And nobody is ready to share their faith; if we waited until we were, the mission of God, mediated through his people, would come to a halt.
We cannot wait until we are ready. We have to accept that we function awkwardly throughout life—and that is OK. A toddler learning to walk falls down and gets bruised. A 6-year-old taking the training wheels off his two-wheeler falls down and gets abrasions. Every new endeavor in life reveals that we are awkward. One could say if we are not awkward some place in our lives, then we are just not growing.
2. Historical Baggage
For others, the squirming may be a result of watching those who shared the gospel abusively. There are those who use the Bible as if it were a club to coerce and bludgeon people to God. Such insensitivity seldom bears kingdom fruit. Nevertheless, those who are turned off by abuse fail to realize that silence in matters of the gospel also contributes to the failure of the church; it does not correct the abuse.
Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Theologica, “An abuse does not nullify a proper use.” If we judged any segment of society by its worst examples, nobody could stand. I can’t help but think we should fix what is broken rather than give up on the mission of the church.
To cease our witness because of these abuses is like throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. In an age where abuse or silence is the option, sharing the gospel with a graceful demeanor affirms the message and goes a long way toward correcting such deficiencies.
Others squirm at the idea of presenting the gospel, fearing what people might think of them. Certainly, it is important to be sensitive about what people think of us when it keeps in check insensitivity and obnoxiousness. Nevertheless, if we fear what people might think of us, then we may inadvertently drift toward idolatry.
Let me explain: We should be motivated by what God thinks about us—and he loves us. Giving greater preference to what others think of me instead of what God thinks of me honors others more than God and is a form of idolatry. The antidote to this idolatry is to grow deeper in the love of God and to discover our identity in that love. Squirming ceases, and a witness for the gospel of Christ flows naturally out of this love.
So, why push past the squirming?
Why be concerned with this tendency to squirm rather than share Jesus with the world? Perhaps the question should be, “Why witness at all?” It shouldn’t be to swell church attendance in order to be a political power in a pluralistic society. Nor should witness seek to increase the number of giving units on the church register like politicians seeking to increase tax revenues.
The answer to that question is found primarily in the revealed character and nature of God. He made us for himself and, as Augustine observed, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. The antidote to human restlessness is the discovery that God is the object of our deepest longing. We live in a world where people, at some level, sense the vacuum in their hearts. Questing to fill that God-shaped vacuum with artificialities and irrelevancies is like an anesthetist hoping the drugs he gives could be a permanent substitute for a needed surgery, or a replacement for health.
We share the gospel because men and women need to know God loves them. If we have lived one moment of honest human life, then we recognize that we desperately long for unconditional love. Human love is good as far as it goes. But honest people are aware that they have never loved anyone perfectly, and therefore are aware it is unlikely a mere mortal has ever loved them perfectly either.
Only God, who knows us utterly, loves us unconditionally.
Furthermore, the God who loves us without condition forgives our every sin and flaw in Christ. Who has lived a moment of honest life and fails to recognize their need for forgiveness? In Christ alone, that deep-felt need to be forgiven is satisfied. Sharing the gospel of Christ points men and women to the God who loves unconditionally and forgives thoroughly.
This is why we tell people about Jesus. We long for others to know of his love and forgiveness. Resting in the very love and forgiveness of Christ authenticates our witness and gives it vitality. Caring about men and women who have not yet encountered that love should cause the squirming to cease and winsome proclamation to begin.
Dr. Jerry Root is professor of evangelism at Wheaton College and director of the Evangelism Initiative at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.