Why don’t people heartily engage in mission?
This is not a new question and I won’t propose any new answers. However, the question remains important to ask and answer. When I say “mission” I mean the mission of the church, specifically, the making and training of disciples (Mt. 28.19-21).
Why is there disengagement with and ambivalence towards mission? The answer is simple: selfishness. Selfish people do not give themselves away for the purpose of others. Selfish people do not serve, they want to be served. Selfish people will not open their homes, mouths, or lives for the sake of others. The enemy of mission is me.
This reminds me of a powerful verse in the back third of our Bibles. The Apostle John writes 3rd John to commend the church towards a gospel-driven hospitality. A “gospel-tality” if you will. He does this by highlighting the faithfulness of Gaius and Demetrius in contrast to the mission-sabotaging rebellion of Diotrephes. He could also be known as “me first guy.”
But we do not fight this war, this spiritual battle on our own. We fight it together with other Christians in the church and under the leadership and command of Christ. And we fight it with powerful weapons that God has provided for us. Prayer connects us with the unlimited resources of our Father in Heaven.
In evangelism we clearly see the need for prayer for this spiritual battle. When we read the Bible we see that prayer and evangelism are inextricably linked. This is because prayer fuels mission. Evangelism is a spiritual work, so we must pray for the Holy Spirit to open doors and hearts.
But how do we pray for evangelism? What do we pray for?
“It’s not that complicated.” How many times have you said this to someone? How many times has someone said it to you? If we’re honest–too many to count (on both accounts). Our ability to overthink and over-complicate our tasks is like spam for our productivity. Consider how free you feel when a task is simplified, steps are outlined, and a plan is in place.
Let’s remember that our clutter is not limited to the task lists of business or the home. We often overcomplicate our most basic responsibilities as a Christian. Consider evangelism for example. Here are some of the things we say and do to complicate this:
Go ahead and think about the person whom you think is the most unlikely to become a Christian. Now, ask yourself why you think this. Odds are you are looking at the way they order their life and in particular their blatant distaste and disregard for God. But you need to correct this thinking. It’s unbiblical to look at what you have to work with and think, “I could see them becoming a Christian” or “There is no way they could become a Christian.” In both cases grace is neglected.
Let me give you an example. In Acts chapter 6 we read: ”And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
Let that sink in.
Have you become discouraged in evangelism? Have your eyes grown weary from looking for fruit? Are you wondering if the problem is more with you than them?
Let me tell you a true story.
Nearly 20 years ago I was an unbelieving, angry guy. I hadn’t previously been exposed to “Bible-thumping” guys but, now that I was, I utterly despised them. I hated their smiles, humility, hopefulness, charity, and confidence. Oh, how I hated their confidence. I would mock, insult, and try to get them to “sin” or blush. They just kept on like they understood me better than I understood myself.
Christians approach evangelism a lot like dieting. We are comfortable doing what we are comfortable with. Occasionally, someone will say something that unsettles us.
In terms of our physical health, we go on a diet, join a gym, or pledge to be more fit. I think of this analogy whenever I see a guy getting abused by a trainer. They look like they are going to die. It’s obvious they won’t continue.
In the spiritual realm, specifically with regard to evangelism, people are convicted after they hear a sermon, read a book, or talk with a Christian friend. They pledge to be more active in evangelism. They grab some tracts, set some witnessing goals, and get set to “do-evangelism.” Then, after a few weeks they fizzle. They slide back into the posture of evangelistic passivity. Like the red-cheeked, exhausted fella at the gym: they are ready to throw in the towel.
But what if faithful evangelism didn’t involve anything extra but simply intentionally doing what you already do?
“I will become a Christian once I get my life together.”
I have heard this phrase too many times to count while talking to people about Jesus. People believe that they need to clean up to become a Christian.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the thing that qualified someone to become a Christian is their filth. Jesus did not say, “I came to affirm the moral.” Or “I came to congratulate the righteous.” Never! Give Jesus the mic and hear him clearly:
“And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Mark 2:17, ESV)
We all know that kids, particularly little kids say surprising and funny things, but sometimes they are refreshingly precise. They can cut through the boundaries erected by the mature.
This was the case last night as I was putting my daughter (4) to bed. We were talking about how I was going to visit a family member. She asked me if this person loved Jesus. I told her that I do not think that she is a Christian. Then I invited her to pray with me for her salvation. She complied. Then she sat up, pushed her curly hair back and said, “You know what, you should also go and tell her about Jesus right away. Prayers are good but you need to tell her about Jesus Daddy.” I told her that she was exactly right and that I would.
Here we are reminded about the simplicity of a child and perhaps some of the things that Jesus would have been aiming at when he reminded us of being like a child. She doesn’t have all of the hangups that we often have about evangelism. She hasn’t been rejected, argued with, or belittled. She doesn’t entertain the quiet, embarrassing doubts about the sufficiency and power of the gospel. She just understands, in her young mind, the need for us as Christians to tell unbelievers about Jesus. And she is exactly right.
I share this story because it was so encouraging to me and I think it would be for you also. Further, …
Evangelism is hard. I can’t think of anyone that I have met over the last 15-plus years of being a Christian who did not struggle with evangelism. Even the people who seem to excel and have the gift of evangelism readily confess their weakness.
So, why is it so universally difficult?
Some common answers include such things as not knowing enough Bible, fear of rejection, or not being sure how to bring up the gospel. I am more convinced then ever that these are symptoms of bigger issues. I’ve distilled my answer to evangelistic struggles into three areas: my view of God, my view of others, and my view of the gospel. I am convinced if we get these 3 down then we will be well on our way to diagnosing unfaithfulness and demonstrating faithfulness.
There are many factors that make evangelism difficult. There is the internal spiritual alienation from God that renders the unbeliever unimpressed by God and therefore unresponsive to him in worship (Col. 1:21; 2 Cor. 4:4-6). Then there is the fog of worldliness that reinforces the heart’s unsubmissiveness to God and his Word (1 Jn. 2:16-17). We see this with the ongoing marketing of personal autonomy, self-discovery, and satisfaction in created things.
But there is another contributor to the fog that is very unhelpful. I am talking about the authority of personal experience. Today our personal experience and personal interpretation of that experience is the unquestionable authority that all must submit to.
Earlier this week I was talking to a number of unbelievers about Jesus. In the midst of the conversation one told me that he can see the future. He said that he has, on a few occasions, been able to see what was going to happen. He pointed to his buddy for confirmation and, as you’d expect, got the requisite head nod. I know that in this conversation I cannot slash the tires of his experience. If I even pull out the knife of reason or testing he will shut me down. Personal experience and our interpretation of it is the authority. We might call it Sola Experiencia.