Written By Rachel Raja, Singapore
After a few years of attending campus ministry at my university, I became increasingly gripped by the gospel, and evangelizing to my friends quickly took a front seat in life. I started spending time planning and meeting my non-Christian friends and thinking hard about who in my life could benefit from hearing the gospel. These meetups which resulted in dinners, games or exercising were easy to organize and quite enjoyable for my friends and I.
But often, I’d be on the train home after such a meetup, wondering if I had truly been effective in sharing Christ with my friends.
Why did the actual act of sharing Christ seem so hard? It was far easier to portray myself as a good person who cared about my friends and their lives, and it was far easier to look like a loving Christian, than it was to speak of Jesus. I always secretly wish that my actions could magically lead them to knowing Christ, without ever having to do the hard stuff like explaining the gospel and possibly offending my friend by telling them that they are sinful and need Christ.
I can’t help but wonder why exactly I feel this way when it comes to evangelizing. Here are some reasons I’ve come up with:
1. I don’t know why I should evangelize
I’ve always known that evangelism is important, probably because the church that I grew up in taught me that it was central to the Christian life. So, I invited my friends for evangelistic meetings and built deep relationships with them where possible. My friends knew where I was going with this, that I wanted them to hear and believe the message of Jesus Christ. Sometimes they were receptive, sometimes not. And when they were not, I acted like my job was done and resigned myself to the fate that I was not the person to lead them to Christ.
Actually, if I had really sat down and thought about why I was doing what I was doing, I had no concrete answer. I just did it because everyone else was doing it. It seemed the right thing to do, and it seemed like something I could do mindlessly.
Recently, as I was reading Jim Elliot’s diary entries from 1952 in the book The Shadow of the Almighty, I was struck by his fervor for evangelism. He commented that though there were only about 100 people in a particular group of untouched people in South America, Elliot wanted to find a way to them because “we [Christians] have orders of such.”
I think he was right. In Luke 24:46-47, Jesus explained the Scriptures to the disciples and told them that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in His name to all nations. So why do we evangelize? Because the Lord Jesus Himself tells us to.
And why wouldn’t we want to obey Christ? If we have tasted and seen how good the gospel is, and know that we have the special privilege of sharing that good news, wouldn’t we want to share it with everyone and glorify the work of Christ? Perhaps, in looking at what the gospel means for ourselves, sharing the gospel may become more natural and less of a “chore”.
What then happens when we evangelize? In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus foretells the end days, and in Matthew 24:14 specifically, He says that when the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed to all nations, the end will come, meaning that Jesus will come back!
Every time we evangelize, we realize that it’s that much closer to the day that the Lord Jesus Himself comes back. This is exciting! And it pushes me to share the good news of forgiveness and the glorious news of the Christ that I can spend eternity with—the same eternity described in Revelation 20, where God Himself will be with Christians, will wipe away every tear; death will be no more, and neither will there be mourning, crying or pain.
But even knowing this doesn’t translate to actually doing, sometimes. . .
2. I don’t know when is the right time to share the gospel
In my meetups with friends, I usually spend some time warming up and catching up with them first. The moment the first hour mark is up, the whole thing turns into something of a ticking time bomb.
I’m waiting for the perfect moment to slip the gospel in, but we could spend hours talking about something else. When everyone’s having such a good time, I’d be the one ruining the day by bringing up a serious topic. What if I get blank stares? What if they stop inviting me to things?
It’s not uncommon for Christians to feel this way. In fact, because you’ve worked really hard to build a friendship with someone, you are afraid that the gospel could undo all of that.
I’ve always found it easier to ask questions about life and religion when I am in a big group of friends. This could really start with anything or any topic and quickly funnel into the differing views each one in the group might have. When it comes to my turn, I have an opportunity to share what I think and why I think that way. I find that it is helpful to let my friends know from the very start that I am a Christian. This way, they have an avenue for questions, and sometimes, they even ask you what you think as a Christian.
There is also a time for one-on-one sharing. Sometimes I feel that the time is right—when a friend is going through a really hard break-up, when they are fighting depression, or when a friend’s parent has a terminal illness—these are times when my friends are looking for more than just mere company, and are actually pondering life’s bigger questions. But at these opportune times, I’m still fighting in my head what question to ask.
Should I ask a simple question about what the other person believes in? Or how the person is doing spiritually? Some days I end up asking and sharing, though sometimes it goes nowhere (and that’s okay), but other days I choke on my words and stay silent.
On those days where I stay silent, I have to remind myself of something a staff worker at my campus ministry said once. In a bid to encourage students to evangelize, she told us, “What you are doing for [your friend] is a REALLY GOOD thing for them.”
Sometimes sharing the gospel might feel intrusive, disruptive, or uncomfortable for our friends in the moment. But what a Christian has to share is eternally loving for our friends. It is eternally loving, because though it may seem offensive, it is definitely more loving to care for a friend’s life and well-being in eternity than merely their comfort on this Earth. With the right balances in mind, I am more encouraged to try again.
But when I do share the gospel or my friend warms up to the idea of finding out more, I start to realize that. . .
3. I forget who is the One who moves the hearts of men
Sometimes we succeed in having more serious and open conversations with friends who are willing to hear us out. But where do we go from there?
My friends usually smile politely at what I say, and sometimes they probe a little further. Typically, the conversation ends at dinner, and then I stop talking about the subject altogether. I end up going home thinking that I’ve tried, and sometimes even pat myself on the back for it.
In the weeks that follow, I either completely ignore my friend or see very little need for follow-up. This is because trying once and hoping for the best is way easier than asking my friend to come for an evangelistic talk, or to read the Bible with me, or to discuss questions.
Also, follow-ups are hard because often, I meet my friends as I run on empty. I think that my knowledge of the gospel and of the Bible can quickly turn them to Christ. Only sometimes do I even say a quick prayer on public transport, for things to go well. But I never really commit my friends in prayer, either in preparation or post meetups. What a shame, because prayer is truly a privilege given to us by our heavenly Father. It reminds us that this is God’s work, not ours.
At the end of the day, if I’m on that train ride thinking of all the things I messed up in my attempts to share the gospel, I’d probably feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. I might feel like I am totally responsible for my friend’s salvation, and that when I fail or my friend doesn’t receive Christ, it’s because I was incompetent or didn’t try hard enough.
But take heart! In John 10:27, Jesus Himself says that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. In fact, all we have to do is tell people about Him. Jesus is the one in charge of softening people’s hearts and helping them believe.
So yes, evangelism is hard work, but keep at it. Sometimes we learn things that make sharing the gospel easier; but more importantly, we need to remember the privilege we have as God’s people. Christ is using us in His grand plan to eventually unite all things in Him, things in heaven, and things on earth (Ephesians 1: 9-10).