Growing up in the Bible Belt, I would from time to time feel pressure from my well intentioned Christian friends. “You need to be more aggressive in evangelism.” “There are lost souls all about us” “Jesus calls all his disciples to evangelism, it’s a matter of obedience.”
Freely, I admit that I resented such pressure. I felt (and still feel) that the church was called to many other things as well: heartfelt worship, service to the poor and needy, the fellowship of the saints, the study of God’s word. When I was pressured to evangelism, I felt like I was being sucked into a multilevel marketing program where my worth was determined by how many notches I had on my belt.
I was also avoiding discomfort. It can be uncomfortable to talk about things of faith. It can be painfully awkward to come face to face with differences that we have with loved ones on matters of eternal significance. It can be heartwrenching to experience rejection because we hold to our faith. And yet I have become more and more convinced that evangelism is a calling upon each individual Christian, not just the province of a few gifted specialists.
Where I’ve changed, though, is in my inward understanding of what evangelism is. When evangelism was presented to me in my teenage years, I understood it to be about “winning people to Christ.” I understand now that we don’t do any of the winning. We present Christ, we honestly talk about our relationship with him, we suit our presentation to the needs of the conversation, but make no mistake, we convert no-one. Hearts are ultimately changed by the inward work of the Holy Spirit, not by clever arguments and high pressure invitations to commit.
Paul, in addressing divisions in the church, touches on this truth: “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (I Corinthians 3:5-7). We are instruments in God’s hands, and each of us has been designed differently. We’ve been shaped to communicate differently and play different roles in how God works out His kingdom.
I find this truth takes the pressure off. If I don’t have to cleverly win someone, then I don’t have to argue with them. I’m not wired to be a great debater or a gifted salesperson, and the truth of God’s sovereign power is that I don’t have to be wired those ways. He will use my gifting and my personality to plant some seeds and water others. My job is to be alert to opportunities and take them as they come.
It’s the same for all of us. We’re not called to lethargy in evangelism. Rather, we’re to keep open to the opportunities that God drops in our laps, and we’re to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as we talk about our faith.
Soli Deo Gloria
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of The Covenant Courier
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