Over 20 years ago in Northern Ireland, I was responsible for running a course for our church called Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult. It wasn’t my title (I’d borrowed it from Nick Pollard’s really useful book), but I was pretty proud of it nonetheless. However, the wind was taken from my sails slightly when John Chapman, the Sydney evangelist, arrived to take the final session. When he saw the title, he gave me a mischievous yet disapproving smile and said ‘How marvellous—I’ve been looking for something to make evangelism less difficult for the past 50 years!’ That typical ‘Chappo moment’ taught me something really important: Evangelism is hard, and there isn’t really anything we can do about it!
That typical ‘Chappo moment’ taught me something really important: Evangelism is hard, and there isn’t really anything we can do about it!
At the end of the day, evangelism is proclaiming the truth of what God has done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ to people who are in terrible danger. When they get what we’re saying, some people will believe us and embrace the message, and lots of others will be glibly unaffected, deeply offended and/or will shoot the messenger. Of course, we can always learn more about how to be personally sensitive, loving and relational. Of course, we can always think harder about the cultural moment (or moments?) we live in. Of course, we can always communicate the fulness and richness of the gospel more effectively. But when push comes to shove, the gospel remains the gospel, and it’s hard to tell people good news which they may insist on interpreting as very bad news indeed! That’s why we have to be a little bit careful about our evangelism training.
When we are attempting to equip people to share the marvellous news of all that God has done, is doing and will do in and through the Lord Jesus, we have to remember that we are dealing with at least 5 groups of people:
1. People who have been doing evangelism (well) and are discouraged
These people don’t actually need trained particularly (although of course, we always have more to learn about expressing the gospel simply and richly). They just need to be cheered on, reassured that it is God who changes people’s lives and reminded that God really does bring people to life through his word.
2. People who have been doing evangelism and have been going about it in unhelpful ways
In a way, this is the group that we are best placed to serve. They don’t need to be motivated or pushed—if anything, they need to be told to calm down! And that’s the problem—in a sense, these people need the opposite message to those in the first group (often training courses or books on evangelism fall down here—either by implying that we all need to calm down and be relational (which eventually kills proclamation) or to get out there and get proclaiming (which may be the worst thing to tell someone who is already being insensitive!)
3. People who think they should have been doing evangelism and feel terribly guilty about the fact that they haven’t
To state the obvious, this group of people needs a completely different approach. There is almost certainly something wrong at a heart level with their motivation, and we need to help them address that. But there is also the guilt to deal with, and the inertia that quickly sets in when we’re not sharing the gospel.
4. People who think they should have been doing evangelism but gave up on it a long time ago, and no longer feel guilty about it at all
I suspect that this may actually be the biggest group of people in our churches—and if that’s the case, the challenge is that they don’t really need training—they need God to change their hearts!
5. People who don’t really think evangelism is for them at all and would prefer that the people who are paid to do it would shut up about and just get on with it
Sometimes I wonder if we are up against this far more often than we realise. But, however prevalent this is, it’s clear there is significant groundwork to be done before these people can be freed up and equipped to get the message of Jesus out.
In a way, I am simply stating the obvious. Equipping people means starting where they are, not where we really wish they were! It also means thinking and working hard to make sure that our training doesn’t undermine the very thing we are trying to promote!
In Australia just now, we really do need to recover our evangelistic ‘mojo’. We may not be able to make evangelism any less difficult, but the challenge for us is working out, as God enables us, how to ensure that proclaiming the gospel to anyone who will listen is at the very core of the life of the church.