One of the Biggest Deterrents to Personal Evangelism
Recently, I published a book titled Words in Season: On Sharing the Hope that is Within Us. It is an introduction to sharing the good news of Christ that was birthed out of a Sunday school series. The book not only focuses on our individual privilege to witness of the person and work of Jesus but it also emphasizes the centrality of the local church. You can read more about it here.
In chapter 3, I focus on some of the common hindrances to personal evangelism. There are ethnic and cultural barriers; sometimes we wonder if our Bible knowledge is adequate; we are, perhaps, overly concerned about our reputation; we don't want to lose friends; we are nervous. I believe, in time, these concerns can be reduced or completely overcome. However, one of the biggest deterrents, which I only briefly mentioned elsewhere in the book, is one that is difficult to overcome. We cannot eliminate it. We cannot reduce it; it is there when you go to sleep; it is there when you awake; no matter where you go, it always follows you--time.
I've sometimes remarked the older I get, the faster time seems to move. Yet that is exactly what is required for personal evangelism, which is the very thing that it seems we often do not have--time. Our schedules are packed with many so-called obligations--children's sports activities, church meetings, personal hobbies and interests, writing blogs or other literature, spending time on Facebook, employment, sermon preparation, family vacation, education. With our massive to-do lists, where is the time to share Jesus Christ and him crucified?
It takes time to talk to others about Jesus. It takes more time to invite these people, with whom you share Christ, into your life so that they might see the realities of your faith (Col. 4:5-6).
Although time seems to move faster the older we get, we can change. We can be more aware of this great privilege to talk about Christ and invite others into our lives. It is much like our finances. Once we realize we are overspending in a certain area, we rearrange our budget to more accurately reflect what is important to us. Similarly, if sharing the good news of Christ and inviting unbelievers in to your life is important, you will rearrange your busy schedule in order to accommodate those priorities.
Jesus spent time w/ people; he entered their homes; he walked with them; he talked with them; he repeatedly answered their concerns and objections. I do not believe the point of the Gospels is help us calculate the amount of time Christ spent with unbelievers so that we might enumerate how much we should spend with them; nevertheless, the point is clear--Christ spent time with unbelievers. We should, too.
However, be mindful. There is a popularized phrase floating around called, "Friendship evangelism." The emphasis is on building relationships with unbelievers as a means to share Christ with them. (That is my understanding). This is dangerous. First, while it a fantastic idea to erect relationships with unbelievers, if we are developing those relationships for the expressed purpose to share the gospel, the friendship is simply a means to an end. We do not really care about them. We are not in awe that they are made in the image and after the likeness of God. We are simply befriending them to reduce our fears. Our underlying purpose in developing a friendship with unbelievers is to soften the impact of that initial conversation about religious matters.
Is that true friendship?
This is one of the reasons I share the gospel with unbelievers almost as soon as I meet them. That way, when the topic is approached in the future, it is no surprise. There are instances, though, when we cannot share the gospel immediately. Providence seems to prohibit it. In that case, what do we do?
Chapter 8 in Words in Season is titled, "Hospitality: "One-Anothering" with the Stranger." It provides some practical tips on spending time with your unbelieving neighbors and those in the broader community.
God can save people immediately. He has done it in the past and he will continue to do so. However, there are times when he chooses to plant seeds over an extended period of time. It may take months, even years--it requires time. Are you willing to spend the time it takes to befriend unbelievers, plant the seed of the gospel, answer their concerns, and invite them to church? You may have to rearrange your schedule, but it is more than worth it.
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).