My life mission statement is short and easy to remember: To reach the lost and teach the found to reach the lost. Over the past three decades I have led outreach training for leaders from Los Angeles to La Libertad, El Salvador. I have spoken about evangelism to groups from Tauranga, New Zealand to Amsterdam.
This is my calling and passion. It is what I try to do with most of my days and hours, but I have to admit that doing evangelism is still difficult. If I don’t fan the flame and stay attentive to outreach, my heart can grow cold and my evangelistic activity will wane.
We all believe in the Great Commission and most of us are committed to follow this call of Jesus, but it is just plain hard. Momentum gets stalled. Attention gets distracted. We drift off course. The next thing we know, our lives and churches are doing lots for believers and our focus on the lost fades. After encountering thousands of pastors, elders, staff members and church leaders from around the globe, I have seen the same three obstacles to evangelism surface over and over again.
All the forces of hell are set against the person who seeks to reach out with the good news of Jesus. When a church mobilizes to equip believers to share their faith, it is a declaration of war. Honestly, I don’t think the demons of hell tremble when we meet for a church potluck. But when believers are prepared, passionate and engaged in evangelism, the demons arm for battle.
Because of this spiritual reality, many churches stop reaching out and engaging in intentional evangelism. In many cases they don’t even know why. They don’t recognize they are facing demonic lies, satanic attacks and hellish battles. Our Enemy will seek to destroy us, our family and our church, and will pull no punches. If we do not recognize and identify his tactics, we will find ourselves quickly sidelined and discouraged. We will spend our time doing the easy things, but not what is most important.
Instead we must fight the good fight. We must arm ourselves with the Word of God and immerse ourselves in the truth of the Scripture. To do this, we need to open the Bible daily and teach others to do the same. When Jesus faced the Enemy in the wilderness, he quoted the Bible in the face of each temptation. Like Jesus, we need to know the truth of Scripture, believe in the power of God’s Word and have it so deep in our soul that we can declare the message of the Bible confidently and consistently.
We also need to pray in power against the tactics and activity of the Enemy. In the name of Jesus, because of the victory of the cross and the resurrection, we can resist the Devil and watch him flee. We must live each moment profoundly aware that God, who is in us by his Holy Spirit, is greater than our Enemy who is in this world.
If we are going to share the love, grace and message of Jesus (and call others in the church to do the same), prayer will be a weapon we must wield every day. I would also suggest you develop a prayer team around you and your church. If you are going to stand strong and enter the spiritual battle, you will need a consistent team of prayer warriors at your side. Give them fresh prayer needs on a regular basis and keep them praying.
Most followers of Jesus are deeply fearful of engaging in sharing their faith. We can even be timid about walking with people toward the Savior, having spiritual conversations and telling stories about our own relationship with Jesus. I have met countless pastors who have confided that they make no time in their schedule to be with nonbelievers and they don’t offer invitations to accept Jesus from the pulpit because they are afraid no one will respond and they will look silly.
Many Bible-believing Christians are afraid to engage in spiritual conversations because they fear rejection or being asked a question they can’t answer. More and more, followers of Jesus are nervous to say they love and follow the Savior because of the dishonest caricature of Christians that is often portrayed in the media.
Admit your fear, name it and stand in faith. A pastor will pull me aside after an Organic Outreach Intensive or training event and admit their secret fear of sharing their faith. They confess their personal sorrow about never (or rarely) giving an invitation for people to respond to the gospel. Once they have admitted this fear, many of them say, “I am going to change. I will lead my church in a new way. I am ready to learn how to lead an evangelistic movement in my church and live it in my life.” The truth is powerful and the Holy Spirit is ready to lead us outward with the truth of the gospel.
When Christians declare their desire to engage in the evangelistic mission of Jesus and name their personal fears, something changes. As each fear comes into the light of Jesus, it melts, shrinks and pales in comparison to the power and glory of our Savior. Faith can flood in. We can strategize ways to confront our fear with action.
As we engage in outreach, we feel the Holy Spirit’s power fill us, we sense Jesus with us and we see evangelistic fruit. Even when an evangelistic encounter or conversation is hard, it is always worth it. Our faith grows as we are faithful to the call of Jesus.
LACK OF TRAINING
Every Christian should be prepared to explain the hope they have because of faith in Jesus. We are expected to do this in a respectful and gentle manner, but the problem is most Christians have no idea how to articulate their faith. We don’t know how to engage naturally in conversations about spiritual issues. We have not thought through how we can tell our story of faith or the story of Jesus in a way that is organic and compelling. Unfortunately, too many pastors have never trained their congregation in the basics of organic outreach. So, people simply do not do it.
Get equipped for the work of outreach. It is easier to stay uninformed and unengaged when it comes to evangelism. But, we must refuse this enticement. Commit to be prepared for daily outreach encounters and engagements. Read a practical and down-to-earth book about how to share faith naturally. I would suggest Organic Outreach for Ordinary People. If you are a preacher, commit to doing a three-week preaching series every year through which you equip your congregation to share faith naturally.
Practice sharing your testimony of how you became a follower of Jesus. Do this with other Christians to get warmed up, then share your story with people you know who are not yet followers of Jesus. Practice sharing the story of Jesus’ coming, love, life, sacrificial death and resurrection. Go over it until the words are natural and the message is embedded in your heart. Then share it with someone who needs to know about God’s great love.
Get prepared, because God is ready to send someone your way who is open, hungry and longing for more in life. You have what they need—or better yet, whom they need. Don’t let the tactics of the Enemy, fear or lack of preparation get in the way. You have met the one who is the way, the truth, and the life—share him freely.
Kevin Harney is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International, and the author of the Organic Outreach series and many other books, studies and articles. For more information: KevinGHarney.com