Refocusing on evangelism in a world filled with distractions.
What were you doing before you started reading this article? Did you intentionally set aside time to read it, or were you distracted from what you were doing? How many distractions will interrupt you before you finish reading it?
We live in a world of distraction. Most of the time these distractions are harmless, but sometimes they are deadly. The No. 1 reason for driving accidents is distraction. Eating, drinking, grooming, daydreaming, talking or texting all contribute to the rise in distraction-related crashes, which according to the Governors Highway Safety Association increased 10% between 2018 and 2019.
We can’t really remember a time when we weren’t “switched on” constantly through our smartphones. The Guardian cites one study that showed persistent interruptions and distractions from email and phone calls caused a 10-point drop in IQ, double that of smoking marijuana. The Guardian went on to note: “Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.”
The new normal today is distraction, which impacts our ability to concentrate on things that matter. One report on Medium.com noted five critical facts about distractions:
1. Distractions are the No. 1 cause of road accidents in the U.S.
2. The internet is the most common source of distraction for all age groups.
3. Social media and email are the most popular online distractions.
4. Distraction costs U.S. companies $650 billion per year on average.
5. Millennials are the most distracted generation.
“It’s hard to keep focused on reaching people when we are distracted, even by good things.”
Distraction is a key tool of our Enemy. In his remarkable work, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis recognized distraction as an effective method of temptation:
“You will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. …You can make him do nothing at all for long periods.”
I am convinced our distracted world has had a chilling effect on something more vital than productivity at the office or our driving performance. Evangelism has reached a low point among far too many churches, leaders and believers in our day. I believe the distractions all around us have stolen our devotion from Christ to the issues around us today.
It’s hard to keep focused on reaching people when we are distracted, even by good things. Here are some ways I think we are distracted from sharing Christ:
1. Drama. With 24-hour news, Google accessibility and social media trending a new crisis constantly, we face real drama constantly. Much of it is important and real; a lot of it is fake news, conspiracy theories or hyperbole. Regardless, we must keep our attention focused on the mission to share Christ with every person. Paul warned the Corinthians, “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). The great drama of Scripture, the story of redemption, should be our focus always.
2. Division. We live in deeply divided times, both in society and in the church. Our default has become the ways we disagree rather than our common humanity. Those who believe differently are judged and condemned, while we too easily ignore the fact that all are created in the image of God.
According to Lifeway Research, the top concern for pastors at the height of the pandemic in 2020 was maintaining unity. In pursuit of unity, Paul implored the Philippian church to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
“It’s time for believers and churches to say a firm no to distractions and a strong yes to a renewed devotion to Jesus that leads to a fervent witness.”
Paul also told the Colossians our focus toward those outside the faith should be to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6).
A shared focus on reaching people is key to unity in the church, and a resolve to share the gospel with the unchurched keeps our hearts tender toward those who believe differently from us.
3. Diversions. Add to drama and division a level of political strife that is exhausting and frustrating. Then, throw on top of all of this a global pandemic, and it’s easy to see how we can become so distracted. But even our response during COVID-19 to care for the hurting and serve the needy has at times had the unintended consequence of focusing so much on showing the love of Jesus that we have forgotten to share the message of hope.
4. Drained. The end result of all of this is an epidemic of drained pastors and church leaders. More are leaving the ministry today, while the rising issues of mental health affect them as well. It’s really hard to focus on reaching out when you are trying hard just to hold on.
Devotion Brings Direction
When we face a crisis, we must focus on returning to our devotion to Christ, and out of that a renewed passion for sharing Christ. Paul had plenty of ways to be distracted: persecution and prison, the weariness of travel, working while preaching Christ and planting churches, the care for all the churches and more. Yet he had the capacity to continually return to the simplicity of focus on sharing Christ.
Writing to a church with its own share of distractions at Corinth, Paul reminded them: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1–5).
The number of reasons we can be distracted from sharing Christ are legion today; the list I provided is far from exhaustive. It’s time for believers and churches to say a firm no to distractions and a strong yes to a renewed devotion to Jesus that leads to a fervent witness. Here are four ways to do that:
1. Stop obvious distractions. Identify and eliminate, or at least reduce, the things that distract you. If it’s social media, take a break or limit your phone usage. If it’s 24-hour cable news, turn off the television except for set times to watch (and limit those). You know that one of the best ways to avoid eating unhealthy food is to eliminate it from your pantry. In the same way we can eliminate the things that easily sidetrack us.
2. Share the gospel more. Distracted times bring with them more anxiety and depression. An article in Psychology Today tells us that serving others is a key to overcoming these stresses. There is no greater way we as believers can serve others than by sharing the good news of Jesus with them. Arthur Blessitt, an early leader in the Jesus People Movement, shared the gospel constantly. He had a saying that witnessing is the cure for anything. That’s an overstatement, but not by a lot.
“There is no greater way we as believers can serve others than by sharing the good news of Jesus with them.”
Sharing the good news has a powerful effect on us for several reasons. We experience the joy of knowing we are walking in obedience with our Lord. We can be sure when we share Christ that we aren’t serving the world, the flesh or the Devil. We are experiencing the Great Commandment and the Great Commission by loving God and loving people. We are loving God by obeying him, and loving people by telling them of the greatest love known to man. We make a positive impact in a world filled with negatives. We have less time to be distracted by unnecessary or untimely things because we have a focus for our lives.
3. Stay focused in prayer. Seek the Lord’s help in building relationships with others, in developing the compassion of Christ for the lost and in effectiveness in ministry as you reach out.
4. See the harvest continually. In August 2018, a report from Ofcom in the U.K. revealed that people there check their smartphones about every 12 minutes during waking hours. That’s probably about the same with us in the U.S. It also found 55% said they never turn off their phone and 40% check their phones within five minutes of waking.
What if we were as in tune with the harvest as that? What if the lostness of humanity filled our minds more? What if we dreamed of ways to share Christ and thought several times an hour about those we know who are without Christ? And, what if our waking moments were consumed with our affections for God and our burden for people? We might see a shift from distraction to devotion that could spread to those around us.
We need more focus, more fervency and more frequency in our evangelism. May God grant it to us in this distracted world.