March 2, 2022

Why is Evangelism Hard? If you Want the Real Answer, Don’t Ask a Pastor

Every so often on good evangelical websites that I read I come across an article that asks the question (before answering it in three points), as to why we find evangelism so hard.

The answers are usually along the lines of;

  1. We don’t see the danger
  2. We don’t see the value
  3. We don’t see the joy.

This morning someone (not a pastor) sent this article to me from The Gospel Coalition in the US. He sent it from his workplace where he’s just setting up the day, having a crack at negotiating the increasingly frantic, complex, and often hostile-to-his-faith office.

And when I say hostile, I don’t just mean hostile in an angry sorta way towards the message of the faith, but in that wearing, long-term grinding down way that life in the modern cubicled workplace does to people. The sorta way that enervates you and has you pouring yourself onto the train way too early in the morning, before pouring yourself back onto it to come home, way too late in the evening. The sorta way that most pastors who write such articles never experience, or if they did, it was for two years in their early twenties before they had kids and a mortgage.

The article, written by a pastor, posited three reasons why we find evangelism so hard. It may come as a surprise to you, but those three were:

  1. We don’t see the danger
  2. We don’t see the value
  3. We don’t see the joy.

My friend fits none of those categories. He sees the danger, the value and the joy available. He even dismisses the idea that somehow he would lose credibility as a person if he shared the gospel. Heck, he said, I’m a nerd, I’m used to rejection all my life, this has nothing to do with it.

His primary concern is not that what the pastor said in that article is not right, at one level, but that it isn’t the reason most people in his own situation; working jobs, paying mortgages, navigating HR in companies that are always seeking to keep minority groups “safe” and “celebrated”, aren’t evangelising.

They aren’t evangelising because the relational network in which they are involved is a complex beast that belies the “just do it” mantra of many a church pastor. And this is not to pick on the pastor who wrote the article. The longer you have been in paid ministry, the harder it is to see beyond the hermetically sealed borders of your own building.

The evangelism project you are most concerned with is the one that gets people into your building eventually to hear the gospel and respond to it in repentance and faith. In the movie Free Guy (a cute take on The Truman Show), the “free” characters created to be the extras inside the online video game being played cannot move beyond the boundaries of the game into the real world. It’s as if that world does not exist to them.

For most pastors it is not so much that world outside does not exist in reality, but it doesn’t exist in their daily experience. Which is why pastors can write an article, without pressing the issue deeper, that says the three main reasons we are not evangelising is that we don’t see the danger of hell to the unbeliever (most Christians do and are concerned about it); they don’t see the value (the article stated: “The Pharisees who heard Jesus’s message didn’t value people the way he did or share his desire to build God’s family.”), and they don’t see the joy (most Christians would be over the moon to be able to share Jesus with someone and they come to faith).

I just don’t think those are the primary reasons we don’t evangelise in our modern setting. Why do I think many people don’t evangelise in our modern setting? Well don’t ask me, I’m a pastor. Let people who are not pastors speak for themselves:

I like talking about Jesus. A lot. One of my most fun and joyful things I’ve ever done is run the Bible overview course. I totally nerd out, explaining all the ways in which Jesus is the fulfilment of our deepest longings, [and which are so pithily captured by the Psalms, the Lamentations, the angry Prophets and.the books of Moses]. But I have babies and small children to feed, whom Jesus entrusted to my care, and that lost sheep will end my ability to provide for them if I am not super cautious in how I present the good news that can save them. and furthermore, the odds of actually saving them are [in most cases] very, very low.

Or this:

I don’t fear rejection… I’m a nerd, I don’t get enough acceptance in the first place to be much bothered by losing something I [don’t feel I] have in the first place. I fear throwing my livelihood away [and with it my ability to provide for my family], for a forlorn hope – for a chance so absurdly small as to be essentially nonexistent.

And there is plenty more where that came from. Last year in the church in which I am interim lead pastor, I mentioned that the primary way we equip people for the Christian life is to help them navigate Monday to Friday (and often Saturday) in a meaningful way in their workplace or significant other setting, whatever that looks like, so that what they do glorifies God.

At that point I casually mentioned that the office is perhaps the hardest place to negotiate one’s faith due to the strictures, structures, and almost stultifying culture that is the modern workplace, replete with shibboleths, and relational and vocational pitfalls. A few people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for mentioning the value of their workplace, as if that was something that had not happened in the past. Turns out it hadn’t. The primary aim of their job seemed to be to get people evangelised and into church. At least that’s how it was coming across to them.

Pastors, your average congregant is not not evangelising because they don’t see the danger, the value or the joy. They aren’t evangelising because the church they belong to has not equipped them for what the rest of the week looks like, simply because what that week looks like is a completely foreign world to most pastoral staff members. Too many pastors are “free guys” living inside the hermetically sealed world of church and church culture. And every time I write something like this I get public push back from pastors, and private kudos from their church members that begin with “Don’t tell my pastor I said this, but…”

As my friend wrote from his office this morning:

many people seem to go into the ministry quite young [they do their engineering degree or whatever before switching tracks and going off to bible college]… but don’t ever really spend a decade or two in the secular workplace… so they don’t get to live in it – with mortgages and kids etc. so they get to keep their youthful naïveté into their 40’s and 50’s when they’re a senior minister somewhere and can write for TGC.

That’s not casting aspersions at the particular minister who wrote the article, it’s just stating what, in my experience, is the norm. It’s time for pastors to stop writing about what they think stops their people sharing the gospel, and listening to what their people say is putting a brake on it. Another article that intimates that our people don’t evangelise because they may have a pharisaical heart towards the lost is unhelpful.

Oh, and just to encourage you, here’s another TGC article, this one from my homeland of Australia, which does a good job of pointing out how an evangelistic opportunity can be taken well, even in the face of complex circumstances. Perhaps because it’s been written from thoroughly secular Australia, but it resonates with reality. And most of all it takes seriously the complexities of life outside the Free Guy church walls.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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