Originally posted at richnathan.org
One survey said that 95 percent of Christians have never led another person to Christ. I know there are people who live and breathe evangelism. But the vast majority of Christians do not share our faith with others on a regular basis. In Matthew 28:18-20 we read Jesus’ words that have been labeled the Great Commission: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The truth of the matter is that we have to talk about our faith because of this Great Commission. Jesus’ call on the church to make disciples of all nations is not merely a suggestion. It is not just a good idea or a recommendation. It is a command!
If we truly believe the things that we claim to believe as Christians, if we really do believe in this good news, then why is it that we don’t share it with others? Why is it that we shy away from evangelism? Here is what some people have said to me when I asked them these questions. One person said, “For me, the hardest thing about evangelism is not having all the answers or being confident enough to say what I think.” Another person said, “For me, the hardest thing about evangelism is overcoming my fear of sounding like an idiot and knowing how, what and when to start talking.” And another person said, “For me, the hardest thing about evangelism is thinking that I am responsible for whether or not the one I’m witnessing to accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior.”
I’m sure most of us can relate to these responses, and we can probably add a bunch more to that list. We all agree with the need for people to be pointed to Christ. We just struggle with how to get it done. I’m sure many of us have tried sharing our faith with a classmate, a friend or a co-worker, but it didn’t go quite the way that we had hoped. So, we say, “I’m obviously not gifted in evangelism. I’ll leave evangelism for Billy Graham.” But the way the gospel spread in the early church was not primarily through gifted evangelists, but through ordinary men and women, like you and me, who shared their faith with friends and family.
Partnering With God
Evangelism is not solely a human effort. Rather, evangelism is something that we human beings do in partnership with God. Part of the overwhelming reluctance that Christians have regarding sharing our faith is that we wrongly think that we are responsible to bring God to a godless person. That’s a pretty daunting task: to bring Almighty God to another human being.
But what if we changed the paradigm altogether? What if our job was not to bring God to people and places where we thought God was not already active?
What if our job was to partner with God? In other words, to join together with God concerning what God was already doing with a person and in a place.
The great founder of the Methodist church, John Wesley, used the term “Prevenient Grace” in asserting the wonderfully liberating doctrine that the Holy Spirit “goes before” the preaching of the gospel, readying individual hearts to hear and to respond. In other words, we don’t bring God to anyone. The Holy Spirit operates everywhere to prepare and move people so that they may decide for Christ.
I personally find it much less burdensome to ask myself the question, “What is God already doing in this person’s life that I may contribute to?” rather than, “How can I start the work of God in another person’s life?” When I assume that God is the Savior (which He is) and I also assume that God is up to something in every person’s life (which He also is), then I have the exciting job of trying to trace over the lines that God is already drawing.
The Pastor of Evangelism at our church, Stephen Van Dop, did a study of why people came to Christ at our church for his seminary dissertation. He literally spent hundreds of hours meeting with focus groups which were made up of people who had come to Christ over the previous couple of years. He carefully recorded people’s stories and after listening to the tapes, one major theme emerged: people came to Christ at our church because of life crisis.
Pastor Van Dop then subdivided life crisis into three types: intra-personal, inter-personal and circumstantial. Intrapersonal crises had to do with issues within an individual such as addictions, depression, thoughts of suicide and troubling memories. This was the most reported category of crisis of the three identified, accounting for 63 percent of all reports of life crisis. Interpersonal crises were those dealing with broken or severely strained relationships with spouses, children, friends or parents, and 53 percent of the crises mentioned were in this category. Separation and divorce easily stood out as the most reported interpersonal crisis accounting for 63 percent of this sub-category. Situational crises, such as a loss of a job or love one, a pregnancy out of wedlock, a legal matter, or academic/athletic problems, accounted for 34 percent of the total crisis responses. (Note: Some people obviously mentioned more than one type of crisis. That’s why the percentages total over 100 percent.)
So, when we meet a person who is in crisis, we may assume that the person may have exhausted their own resources for humanly solving their own problems and that the Holy Spirit is at work preparing that person to receive the gospel.
This Autumn I am going to do a series titled “The Gospel of God.” This will be a 16-week series from Romans 1-8. I’m hoping through this series to encourage both a deeper experience and understanding of the gospel by our church, how it affects our everyday lives, as well as develop a deeper desire to share the gospel with others in the world. Alongside this series, Vineyard Columbus staff members have prepared several great resources to encourage your own embrace of the gospel and your ability to share the gospel with others:
- We’ve created a nine-week small group study titled “How the Gospel Changes Everything” that we are encouraging all of our small groups to use during this series. And if you aren’t already in a small group, this is a great time to join one! Visit our Small Groups Area at the Connect Counter in the Lobby or visit Small Groups at Vineyard Columbus to use our Small Group Finder.
- There are several seminars that we’ll offer throughout the fall including “Be My Witnesses,” a training class by Stephen Van Dop on sharing our faith; “The Art of Neighboring,” a seminar on how the gospel affects your neighborhood taught by Jay Pathak; and “Naturally Supernatural,” a conference with Steve Nicholson about how the Holy Spirit empowers us to share Jesus in everyday life.
All of the information concerning this series including videos, blogs, articles and upcoming events can be found at vineyardcolumbus.org/gospelofgod.