During one of Jesus last opportunities to instruct His disciples, He
commanded them to 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 (Matthew 28:19, 20, NIV). When
studying this passage, its essential to note Jesus promise in the next verse:
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20,
There is an assumption throughout the New Testament that the witness of
believers will be used by the Holy Spirit to draw others to faith in Jesus
Christ. The apostle Paul wrote to his dear friend and fellow worker, Philemon:
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have
a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ (Philemon 1:6,
NIV). Paul encouraged Philemon to participate in this process and promised
that his own experience with the Lord would grow deeper and richer.
Two millennia after Paul penned those words, the need is still great. And
Jesus still promises to be with us as we share our faith.
North America is one of the largest mission fields in the world. Researcher
George Barna estimates that there are 187 million people in the United States
who dont profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Canada has one of
the worlds lowest rates of church attendance, with only 5.2 percent of the
population attending worship services regularly, according to information
compiled by Outreach Canada. There are literally millions of unchurched and
nominally churched adults who are actively searching for a meaningful religious
experience, writes Barna.
The question is: why do Christians remain silent in the face of such
opportunity and blessing, especially when our Lord commanded us to lead others
The battlefieldBarna provides a sobering way to
consider our need to share Jesus: This year, 2.2 million people will die in
America. Their passing will lead to months of grieving by tens of thousands of
family members and friends. To them, the death of 2.2 million people will be a
Although Barna admits that determining the spiritual condition of a persons
heart is less than an exact science, his research suggests that more than a
million of those people who die will go to hell. He adds: Every day, thousands
of people leave this planet for a known and permanently agonizing eternity.
The numbers are staggering, because its news from the front lines in the
battle for souls. It reminds me of what the military calls tolerable losses as
they plan wars and create possible battle scenarios. Using statistics, war
planners can determine the probability of victory by projecting the number of
deaths likely to occur in each scenario. A certain number of lives lost is
considered by such planners and statisticians to be tolerable losses.
I wonder if we Christians have defaulted into a mindset that people who die
without having trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord are simply tolerable
Whether we realize or intend it, our neglect in sharing Christ implies this
attitude: I will tolerate people dying without Christ as Savior in order to
achieve my goal of not being embarrassed, uncomfortable, or taking the risk of
rejection. Our thinking doesnt mean that we dont regret that some will be lost
for eternity, but their loss is tolerable such that we wont make an effort to
lead them to faith in Jesus.
However, unlike military planners who calculate the number of deaths that
are probable in battle, God has given us a direct role in reducing spiritual
casualties. Jesus said, according to Matthew 9:37: The harvest is plentiful
but the workers are few (NIV).
People active in sharing their faith with friends and strangers know that
many will open their hearts to Christif they learn the truth. The proper
question is Does the truth change hearts? not How difficult are people to
reach? We know that the answer to the former question is yes, because the Holy
Spirit is at work in the lives of people.
How many share Christ?Opinions vary widely as to the
percentage of people who share Jesus with others.
Montia Setzler, pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist in Riverside, California,
says: My guess would be less than 5 percent. I have heard estimates of 2
percent. Based on the evangelistic activity we see in our churches, it could
not be very high.
Jack Smith, Soul-Winning Evangelism Associate for the North American Mission
Board, surveyed 1,000 pastors and asked: How many of your church members do you
know who have led someone to Christ? Results revealed that only 3.1 percent of
the members of those churches had personally led a person to faith in Jesus.
(Jacks personal estimate, based on his years of experience, was 5 percent.)
Some research is encouraging. According to the Barna Report: Participation
in personal evangelism has increased. Currently, nearly six out of 10
Christians claim that they have shared their faith with a non-Christian during
the past year. Most remarkable is the fact that Christian men were more likely
to have shared their faith in Christ with a non-believer than were women. This
finding may indicate the beginning of a change in a long-standing trend of
women being the primary evangelizers in the church.
An accurate assessment of how many believers share Christ is probably not
possible. However, research shows that the number increases when church leaders
model and encourage evangelism and provide training.
Saddleback findingsGary Kingsbury, leader of the
seeker ministry at Saddleback Valley Community Church in California, co-teaches
a personal evangelism workshop and Contagious Christian class. Known as the
fastest-growing Southern Baptist church, Saddleback baptized more than 1,400
new Christians in 1997. Garys ministry may have the opportunity to share Jesus
with more people than any church-based ministry in the world. He shared with
On Mission his insights into why many Christians do not share
1. Christians feel inferior to people like Billy Graham and dont understand
the various personal styles of evangelism.
My wife, Sheri, didnt understand that her serving style could bring others
to Christ until she went through the Contagious Christian class, said
2. Christians get comfortable in their holy huddle.
I asked one member to assist at a seeker event. He asked me if we start the
program with prayer. I said that we do not, because we want the seekers to get
comfortable with our environment. We do pray before the event and ask others to
pray during the event. He told me that he doesnt help with any event that
doesnt start with prayer, and refused my invitation.
3. Many mature Christians take for granted their salvation and lack the
passion to attract others to Christ.
In [Saddlebacks] personal evangelism class, I bring in a new believer to
talk about the last months of his or her journey to Christ. It is the most
impactful part of the class, because the new believer is so appreciative to
Christ for his or her salvation and to the Christians who served as Christs
hands. For many mature believers, it is an eye opener.
4. Some Christians become indifferent to nonbelievers. It becomes less
important than their career or leisure time or simply looking politically
correct to neighbors, friends and associates.
5. Often Christians seek to reduce their personal risk and burden. They see
evangelism as something they do in Mexico or Russia or Africa, not as a daily
activity in their communities. It is easier to limit it to a specific time in a
far away place.
Kingsbury says that his biggest challenge is how to get Christians to see
sharing their faith as routine.
Number one reason: fearBill Fay, co-author of
Share Jesus Without Fear, created a way to respond to any opportunity
to lead a person to Christ by asking a series of questions. In his studies, he
has found four fears which seem to silence many believers who dont speak to
others about Christ: 1) fear of being rejected, 2) fear of not knowing enough,
3) fear of offending and 4) fear of being embarrassed.
Charles Draper, a layman who is outreach director for Nassau Bay Baptist in
Houston, leads training sessions to help people share Jesus.
He finds many Christians: 1) resist confronting others, 2) dont feel trained
to share, 3) dont feel their life is an effective witness and 4) often arent as
concerned about others as they should be.
Draper says he overcame his reluctance to talk about Jesus by taking a
course, Share Jesus Without Fear (see Resource Review, page 60).
It helped me realize that I am successful and obedient just by sharing and
that it is not up to me to do the winning and convicting or convincing. [I
learned] a simple, straightforward way of sharing the gospel message which lets
it speak for itself without an argument, said Draper.
Rick Hatley, minister of education at Central Baptist Church in Winchester,
Kentucky, agrees that fear is an underlying cause of silence. He estimates that
15 to 20 percent of his church members share Christ with others.
I think the best way to turn a conversation toward sharing Jesus is by
building a relationship over time to where we can ask those important questions
about eternity, he says. I have overcome barriers to sharing Jesus by [visiting
people] with someone else, so I can share Christ by myself and have a silent
partner with me for support and prayer, Hatley said.
Focusing on the processTo tap into the reasons for
the silence of non-vocational Christians I logged into Internet chat rooms.
Naturally the responses given in that setting were more blunt and, necessarily,
anonymous. To summarize, most of them wrote to me that sharing Christ is not
politically correct and that they thought it would be offensive to be so
I also randomly asked conference attendees if they ever share their faith.
Of those who responded no, the major reason was what I call misbelief
believing, but believing the wrong thing about the right thing. This is
different from unbelief, which is not believing at all.
Consider the truth that sharing Jesus successfully is living the Christian
life day by day, sharing the gospel, and trusting God for the results. Success
should not be defined strictly as bringing someone to Christ; this is a focus
on the result, not the process.
Many told me they were silent because, when they once tried to share Christ,
it hadnt worked. Thus, they decided they didnt know how, werent cut out to
discuss their faith or just didnt feel committed to do something they werent
successful at accomplishing.
The truth is that success is being obedient and responsive to opportunities
that God has created for us. It is essential to understand that God desires
that all come to Christ. He is at work creating opportunities.
Gods work is to create the opportunities, and our part is to be obedient to
share Jesus. The results are Gods responsibility. He never asked us to achieve
a particular number of people who profess faith in Christ. He simply asked us
to Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation (Mark
16:15). That is our part, our mark of success. We are to tell the good
Myths about evangelizingSome believe it is
disrespectful to impose ones faith when there are so many different faiths in
our increasingly pluralistic society.
It is interesting that people in North America consider the variety of
religions a justifiable reason to be silent. The fact is that we are now
approaching the kind of pluralism that is described in the Book of Acts.
Michael Green writes in Acts for Today: First Century Christianity for
Twentieth Century Christians: So many other faiths jostle on the doorstep of
our global village. Whats new? The variety of faiths in antiquity was even
greater than it is today. And the early Christians, making as they did ultimate
claims for Jesus, met the problem interestingly. They did not sit down and
dialogue with others faiths very much, as far as we know. They did not denounce
other faiths. They simply proclaimed Jesus with all the power and
persuasiveness at their disposal.
Many Christians are hindered by misunderstanding the needs of people. For
example, in North America we live in a culture of care. People in the United
States and Canada mobilize to meet the needs of people in disasters such as
fires and floods.
The danger is meeting the lesser while neglecting the greater needs. Among
the lesser needs are food, shelter, medical care and income. The greater need
is purpose or reason for being alive. It has been easier for Christians to join
in the major thrust of the world, which is to provide for the lesser needs
while tending to neglect the greater. The reason is that providing food and
shelter is easier. The greater need is spiritual. People can live with a
minimum of the lesser need. I know people who do. You cant, however, live
without hope. Hopelessness turns into hope through faith in Jesus. He is the
only real hope.
Another myth about sharing Christ is that people have little spiritual
interest. Our society is more like ancient Athens than we may realizea range of
religions and philosophies also influences North Americans. People taking the
spiritual pulse of North America declare a spiritual thirst on the scale of a
spiritual awakening sweeping the world. Our challenge is to understand that we
cant wait for them to come to us. We must find ways to meet them wherever they
are with the courage to share Jesus.
Overcoming personal barriersPeople can overcome
barriers to sharing Jesus. There is a saying that the solution to most problems
requires attention, not brilliance.
Pastor Montia Setzler explains his solution simply: I asked God for
boldness. This boldness does not necessarily mean absence of fear. His prayer
was for courage to do the right thing regardless of how he felt.
His new boldness is fueled by my memory that being lost really does mean
being separated from God in hell. I keep a fresh memory of how good it feels to
see someone born again.
People who are experienced in sharing their faith often speak of the value
of listening more than talking. Asking questions helps us hear. It is
remarkable how often we will see the Holy Spirit touch a persons heart with
conviction even as they may be giving reasons for not believing in Jesus. The
key to effective evangelism is the work of the Holy Spirit.
There is encouraging evidence of believers in greater numbers reaching
through their fears and other barriers.
I recently heard a friend tell of his newfound joy for reaching through his
fear to share Jesus. He had attended a group to learn how to overcome his fear.
Early on, he told the group that he just didnt feel he could ever talk to
anyone about something so personal.
A year after that statement, while getting his hair cut, his barber told him
about attending a funeral the day before, adding that the experience had really
shaken him. The barber said: You know, when someone your own age dies it makes
you really think about your own death. Do you ever worry about things like
My friend thought a moment and responded with a question he had learned a
year before as a way to guide someone into a spiritual discussion about Jesus:
Yes, I have thought about dying. It caused me to settle in my heart Who I
depend on spiritually. Do you have anything that you depend on spiritually? Do
you have a spiritual belief? A deep conversation followed, and the barber
thanked him for the discussion.
My friend told me: You know, I dont know if [my barber] has given his heart
to Jesus. But I really do believe that God will take care of the results. Ive
never felt more certain in my life that I did the right thing. I obeyed Gods
call to speak up in an opportunity that He clearly created.
About our author:
Dr. Ralph Hodge is a discipleship design specialist with the
Discipleship and Family Division of LifeWay Christian Resources. Hodge is
co-author of Share Jesus Without Fear and authored Taking the
Next Step: A Guide for New Church Members. He has been on staff with
LifeWay since 1988.
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