I want you to imagine a conversation between Jesus and the archangel Gabriel just after Jesus ascended to heaven. Gabriel approached Jesus and said,
“Master, you must have suffered terribly for mankind down there.”
“I have,” Jesus said.
“And …” continued Gabriel, “do they all know about how much You loved them and saved them and made it possible for them to live with you forever?”
“Oh, no,” said Jesus, “not yet, only a handful of people in Palestine know.”
Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what have you done to make sure that everyone knows about Your love for them?”
Jesus said, “I’ve asked Peter, James, John and a few more friends to wait for the Holy Spirit to empower them and then go and tell others about Me. Those who are told will in turn tell others and My story will be spread to the farthest reaches of the earth. Ultimately, all of mankind will have heard about My life and what I have done for them.”
Gabriel frowned and looked rather sceptical. He knew only too well what poor stuff humans were made of.“But what if Peter, James and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? What if two thousand years from now, people are no longer telling others about You? Please tell me you have another plan.”
Jesus answered, “I have no other plan. I’m counting on them.”
Twenty centuries later, Jesus still has no other plan. He was counting on His early disciples and they delivered. He is still counting on His disciples today – that’s you and me. So how are we going? Well before we succumb to another guilt trip, I want us to consider some reasons why we may appear ineffective in evangelism when compared to the early disciples. My purpose here is not to offer excuses for us to hide behind, but rather make some observations of the things which can seriously hinder our effectiveness, things from within and without, things which we can overcome if we have the desire.
1. Too many people …
We live in a world where most of us come face to face with more people than we can easily relate to. A casual stroll down the street or through a store brings us face to face with dozens of people every minute. Every day most of us come in contact with far more people than we would ever form relationships with in any meaningful way. This fact alone can easily cripple our ability to relate to anyone. Since we cannot possibly make quality connections with everyone we encounter, we may be tempted to relate to no one. Before long, we begin to adopt an attitude of isolation and eventually, we lose the ability to effectively carry on meaningful relationships outside the Church. This will obviously have an adverse effect on evangelism because a meaningful relationship is by far the most successful vehicle for the gospel (which is the essence of this teaching series). However, many Christians just don’t have any significant interaction with people outside the Church and are therefore not able to make the necessary connections. We need to overcome this barrier and we will look at ways to do that in the coming weeks.
2. Life is too fast and complicated …
Despite inventions which save us heaps of time, we seem to be busier than ever before! The pace of life is breathtaking at times. Jobs change; people move; congestion grows; traffic jams; our phones ring constantly; the TV drones on and on; we are held captive by schedules and the demands of others and the many distractions of modern life. We soon find ourselves unable to slow our world down. Living like this can convince us that there is simply no room to add ‘another task’ even if it’s as noble and important as evangelism. We might feel that to add one more responsibility may even be ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back’. So evangelism of any sort may miss our agenda completely.
3. Exposure to limited evangelism models …
Even when we do feel motivated to do something, we are often given only limited options such as just inviting people to Church services; going around the neighbourhood knocking on the doors of complete strangers; or leading Christianity Explained or Alpha meetings. I am not devaluing any of those methods, but clearly they are not being utilised by the majority of Christians. Those not suited for these approaches can get easily discouraged as they try and try, only to find themselves failing to be something they are not. So unless they find some other way, many just quit making any effort to share the gospel and lead people to Christ.
4. Misunderstanding of ‘separation’ …
Many Christians misunderstand the principle of separation. We are meant to be ‘separate’ from the world (see 2 Cor. 6:14-18), but this kind of separation does not equate to ‘isolation’ (1 Cor. 5:9-13). Yet I fear that many Christians tend to deliberately isolate themselves from the world in the name of ‘separation’. There is a way to influence people without adopting their values or lifestyle. Remember the principle of being ‘salt’? Salt must get out of the container and mix with food to be effective. Without engaging in sin, we can still connect with a sinful world. Jesus and Paul showed us how:
Matthew 9:10-13; 11:19 “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” … The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
1 Corinthians 9:20-23 “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
5. The credibility gap …
In some cases there is an imbalance between the ‘verbalisation’ and the ‘incarnation’ of the Gospel. By that I mean that the lifestyle of the Christian is inconsistent with the message being presented. When this happens, people are likely to think: “What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” When this happens a credibility gap is formed. To overcome this gap, Christians must BE good news before they can SHARE good news. That is, we must be sure to live out the gospel in our lives before preaching it to others. (See Ezra 7:10; 1 Peter 3:1-2). To put it another way, when love is seen, the message is heard. Conversely, when love is not seen, the message is not taken seriously. American Author and close friend of C.S. Lewis, Sheldon Vanauken, put it this way:
“The best argument for Christianity is Christians; their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians – when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous, smug and complacent, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”
So there are five of the forces which hinder our ability to engage in relationship evangelism. But now I want to get more personal and look at five more attitudes or weaknesses within our own hearts and lives which can work against us showing any interest in or commitment to evangelism. These are certainly not the only barriers, but they are the main ones from my experience.
6. Apathy and indifference …
The curse of our age is: “I don’t care.” Whilst very few of us would ever admit it, by our actions we can manifest this attitude to a lot of things in life – particularly evangelism. There is an ‘I’m alright Jack’ approach to life which can be seen in the workplace, on the roads, in the Church and in society generally. As long we have what we need, we tend not to be concerned about those who are yet to have their needs met. Whether it’s the starving children in the TV advertisements; the lady at work you saw in tears the other day; the homeless person you walked around down town; the ministry of our Church or the unsaved thousands around us each day – there is a growing disease of indifference spreading through our communities. The only known cure for this problem is to replace indifference with action. It is not a difficult disease to cure but it seems very difficult for most of us to accept the diagnosis in the first place! If you refuse to admit you have a disease, it will never be cured.
7. Fear and anxiety …
There are many people who are not apathetic towards those who do not know Jesus. They genuinely care and want to reach them. However their problem is fear. Fear can come in many forms and prevent us from fulfilling our calling in a many areas. It paralyses us and renders us ineffective. Our rational mind can tell us that there is nothing to fear about evangelism. In our nation at present it is not a life-threatening task. The worst that people can do is ignore you or ridicule your faith, but that is all. Fear may be unwarranted, but it can still cripple us. People can be afraid of what others think of them. They can be afraid of ruining a relationship by sharing Jesus. They may be afraid of losing their job if the boss thinks they are trying to convert people. They may be afraid that they will get it wrong or mislead people or not say it the right way. The only cure for fear is to draw nearer to God and allow His love to cast it out. God has never asked us to convert people or change them or do anything beyond our ability. He just wants us to tell our story, which is really His story. There’s nothing to fear. God will take our lives and our words and use them for His Kingdom purposes. He calls us to be real and live like we are glad to know Jesus and not like we are ashamed of Him. God will do the rest. People have testified to the amazing things God has done when they finally relaxed and let go of the responsibility for bringing people into the Kingdom – that was never our job in the first place! Our job is much simpler: live and talk in such a way that people can see, hear and encounter Jesus through our life. Fear can cripple us, but we can and we must overcome it.
8. ‘Not my job’ syndrome …
One common reason why many Christians fail to commit to any form of evangelistic ministry is because they believe it is someone else’s responsibility. They have been taught to think that the Pastor will do it or an Evangelist or some other gifted and qualified person. It’s true that some people are more gifted and called to evangelistic ministry. However to even suggest that we are not all called to witness and share our faith in deed and word is preposterous. People must be reading a different Bible (or not reading it at all) to come to such a conclusion. There are certain tasks within the Church which are not the responsibility of all people and God gifts individuals accordingly. However, every last one of us are called to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in a needy world. The degree to which we engage in evangelism may vary to others, but there is absolutely no room for the view that some of us may be called to show Jesus to the world around us and some of us are called to something else. In essence, there is no ‘something else’ – because it’s all about Jesus!
9. Relationship dysfunction …
It’s a real challenge for many of us to form meaningful relationships with people outside the Church, however it is near impossible for those whose current relationships are in tatters. Sadly, there are many people in the Church who have difficulty in forming and maintaining any kind of relationship – even among like-minded friends. To expect such people to form relationships with strangers outside the Church is unreasonable. Some of these relationship tensions are the result of poor attitudes and in such cases sin just needs to be dealt with and reconciliation sought. However, other issues are more complicated and some people will need to seek some help from experienced Christian counsellors. It is neither fair nor wise to encourage people to pursue new relationships when their current ones are struggling or failing. Once they get help and deal with the issues or behaviour patterns which led to the tensions, they will find it so much easier to build quality relationships with others.
10. A stranger to Jesus …
I touched on this last week and it really needs to be understood clearly. One of the greatest reasons why Christians find it hard to commit to any evangelistic ministry is because their own connection to Jesus is flimsy at best. The whole thrust and essence of relationship evangelism is “Let me introduce you to my Friend.” For many believers, that is simply not possible because they have not been discipled well and they do not have a relationship of intimacy with Jesus. They relate to Him through the Bible and through Church activities and through music and other people but not directly or personally. If Jesus is not real; if He is not walking with you and talking with you and sharing your daily life and experience, then you have nothing but shallow words to offer anyone else. Without a living, moment by moment, dynamic relationship with the risen Lord Jesus, we have no testimony and nothing to share with anyone! People don’t want our Bible knowledge. People don’t want Church doctrine. People don’t want a morality lesson. People don’t want a list of things to do and not do. Some of those things may interest them later as they mature in Christ, but not initially. First and foremost they need a real encounter with a living God and there is no way you can help that happen for them unless you have had, and are having, a real, daily encounter with God yourself.
That is why in my last sermon I stressed the fundamental importance of discipleship as an essential pre-requisite and foundation to relationship evangelism. If you are not personally encountering the Lord Jesus on a day-to-day basis then you will have nothing to say to those who need Him – absolutely nothing. Anything you attempt to say will be shallow, hollow and the product of an insincere life which lacks integrity. People don’t want religion, they want Jesus. They need Jesus and unless you have Jesus then don’t even try to form a relationship with them yet because you have nothing to give them but shallow words about a person whom you don’t really know personally.
So there are ten of the main barriers I can see which prevent us from committing to the advancement of the kingdom of God. Whether they are pressures from outside or attitudes within our own heart, we have control over each and every one of them. They are only barriers because we allow them to be barriers. I guarantee that if you download this sermon and sit down this week with God and ask Him to reveal those things which have your name on them and then let Him empower you to make different choices from now on, you will see amazing things happen in your life and in time, wonderful opportunities will open up for you to lead others towards Jesus. If God reveals all ten as problems for you – that’s OK – just tackle them one at a time and let God help you overcome each one. There are thousands of people out there who are desperately waiting for us to show them the way and if we don’t do it, no one else will. God does not have a ‘Plan B’ if the Church fails to do our job! If you have any desire whatsoever to fulfil your primary purpose on this planet, then this is where it starts, by being honest about those issues and attitudes which hinder you from being the person God called you to be. If you tackle them one by one, with faith and determination, God will take you through them and empower you to be all He called you to be.
How then shall we live? By His grace and for His glory. Amen.