Bernie Diaz, August 1, 2017
Shark Week just concluded its annual cable television campaign and I couldn’t help but catch more than one documentary episode of this typical, late July series that not only aims to educate viewers, but scare them more than half to death from swimming in the ocean with these man-eating machines, as they’re portrayed on screen.
These creatures- the Great White shark in particular, are big, strong and fast – even faster than Olympic Gold-Medal swimmer Michael Phelps, as I learned by watching one program, which prevents most of us from even the thought of fishing for one in the deep blue sea. There may be benefits in catching such a show to learn more about these predators, but who would be willing to actually take the risk of physically catching one, marine biologists aside?
I must admit that even if I tried to fish for a shark, I’d fail miserably. I would flunk Shark Fishing 101, even standing or sitting in a boat. So ‘flunking’ is probably a good word to also use in summarizing how many if not most of us have done in obeying the call to evangelize the lost among us, or “make disciples” as Jesus commanded his church of existing disciples to do in his Great Commission.
Jesus has been calling people to be fishers of men for over two millennia now, delaying his second coming for that last gentile to enter the kingdom, but we still prefer to watch, as I was doing taking in Shark Week on the Discovery channel. The apostle Peter said we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have, but we are not. Solomon says he who wins souls is wise, but we flunk.
But if you’re anything like me, you’re probably not quite so blunt about your failures in evangelism. As Pastor and author Mark Dever, director of the 9Marks church ministry wrote, “In fact, even at the time you’re not witnessing, you’re busy spinning, justifying, rationalizing, and explaining to your conscience why it was really wise and faithful and kind and obedient not to share the gospel with a particular person at that time and in that situation.”
We know that public speaking is secular man’s greatest fear according to virtually every study that tracks such attitudes and gospel speaking is probably spiritual man’s (Christian’s) greatest fear. Is that fear legitimate or just the most commonly held excuse we go to, to justify our non-evangelism?
As ‘back to church’ time begins for many ministries this fall, now may be a good time to explore some of these evangelism curtailing excuses, at least some of the particularly popular ones as listed in Dever’s book, The Gospel And Personal Evangelism.
Excuse 1: “I don’t know their language.”
Dever writes, Now, a language barrier is an impressive excuse. If you’re sitting next to people who only speak Chinese or French, you don’t have much of an opportunity to share any news with them, let alone news about Christ and their own soul.
As my church’s leadership team has learned well this summer, preaching a series on the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophesying, preaching and teaching the gospel or anything else in church with unintelligible words is useless according to the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 14:10–11, 16, 23). After all, the whole point of our using words is to be understood!
Hint: in South Florida, communicating in Spanish and to an extent creole, for our Haitian friends and neighbors are cultural realities and advantages to life and kingdom work.
Excuse 2: “Evangelism could cause problems at work.”
Again, Dever adds; Even in countries where evangelism is legally allowed, many of us have jobs for which employers are paying us to get a certain amount of work done, and they have a legitimate expectation. During those work hours, it may be that our evangelism distracts people, or reduces our productivity, or does other things that can cause our employers valid concern.
We certainly don’t want to undermine our credibility as workers and citizens in the workplace by spending an inordinate amount of time evangelizing, but while utilizing wisdom, most workplaces are amenable to Christians showing and sharing Christ and God’s gospel with how we work, walk and talk, as opportunities present themselves (lunch or break time, pre and post shift or scheduled hours) to receptive ears.
Excuse 3: “Other things seem more urgent.”
Dever: There is so much else to do in any given day. We’ve got to care for our families and plan for our weekend. The job has to be done, and the bills have to be paid. Studies, cooking, cleaning, shopping, returning calls, writing emails, reading, praying—I could go on and on about all the good things we need to do.
And many of these things are time-sensitive. If I have a misunderstanding with my wife, I need to take care of that immediately. If the baby is crying, I need to get her home now. If the paper is due tomorrow, I’ve got to get the writing done right away. If we’ve got no food for tonight, I’ve got to do some shopping and cooking now.
Yes it is appropriate for us to make and keep those commitments and fulfill responsibilities in life other than evangelism. But do we do so much that we at least sub-consciously leave little or no time for outreach and evangelistically minded interaction with people? If we are too busy for that, what things are we making more time for?
Or as J. Wilbur Chapman so eloquently put it: “If today is the day of salvation, if tomorrow may never come, and if life is equally uncertain, how can we eat, drink and be merry when those who live with us, work with us, walk with us and love us are unprepared for eternity because they are unprepared for time?”
Or, “If I am to stand at the judgment seat of Christ to render an account for the deeds done in the body, what shall I say to him if my children are missing, if my friends are not saved, or if my employer or employee should miss the way because I have been faithless?”
If we can’t say amen, shall we say, ‘ouch?!’
Excuse 4: “I don’t know non-Christians.”
Dever writes, Isolation from unbelievers may be the most common excuse for a lack of evangelism. This is the excuse of choice for mature Christians.
I must say this one can work really well for me if I let it, because I realistically have fairly few significant relationships with non-Christians. I’m a pastor and elder at my church and most of my time and labor is spent with or about the business of shepherding and church ministry. Most of my time is spent studying to write sermons or Bible studies, counseling, planning, training other Christians, returning phone calls, texts and emails — and yes, even blogging ‘Captive Thoughts’ in an effort to sharpen the Christian worldview of others.
I make myself generally unavailable to most people other than my blood family and church family, both day and night. That’s what I’m called to do. Can’t I just blame God then for my failure to evangelize more?
Nope! I can still go fishing for men running errands at the store, the bank, social occasions with extended family and friends (birthday parties, weddings) and neighborhood walks with my dog as I’ve been attempting to do more of lately. By that I don’t mean walking the dog more, but greeting and trying to strike more conversations with neighbors when I do.
What about you? Are you baiting that man hook and dropping in a line for souls? If you’re a young mother at home with her children, or an older Christian, retired and not very mobile or easily able to build new relationships, then you, too, know something of this challenge.
Hint: If you’re a Christian, I’m exhorting you to get to know and build new, friendships with unbelievers as you build your most significant ones with believers.
Excuse 5: “People won’t listen, much less believe.”
From Dever: “People don’t want to hear.” “They won’t be interested.” “They probably already know the gospel.” “It probably won’t work. I doubt they’ll believe.” I don’t think about how powerful the gospel is. I get myself in a wrongly hopeless mindset.
Thankfully my soteriology or my biblical, theological understanding of salvation is that although I’m not mighty to save, as the song goes, ‘God is.’ Evangelism and the sovereignty of God in salvation are not mutually exclusive.
I whole-heartily believe that the Bible teaches that God initiates and accomplishes salvation, as Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, and God uses his children as the means to his ends of kingdom growth by our faithfulness to his commands to be witnesses that give testimony, preach and teach the new-life and light giving gospel to the lost, dying and darkness-dwelling among us.
Why do we think that we would respond to the gospel, but someone else wouldn’t (2 Cor. 4:7)? Don’t you know that God saves some of the most unlikely of converts? If you aren’t sure about this, consider some friends you’ve seen converted, as I think of my now 85 year-old father-in-law who turned to God and trusted in Christ in my kitchen just two years ago, after more than two decades of our praying, crying and testifying for that to happen. Consider your own conversion. Dever notes that the great Jonathan Edwards called one account of the Great Awakening, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions.
Of course, as I think about miracles, signs and wonders ‘continuing’ in the church age today as per the series we’ve been preaching this summer, is there any one more surprising and miraculous than your own conversion? That plain fact should encourage us in our evangelism. God can save anyone and is still in the business of making miracles.
Dive in the water to catch a shark? Maybe not me, but shall we join our Jesus in dropping a line into our water world and become better fishers of men? Count me in. How about you?