Evangelism in Scary Territory

conversationalist - not so muchWe have some middle-eastern brothers in our church. Listening to their stories and thinking about evangelizing where they are from is not stuff for the faint of heart. Recently, we’ve listened to eye-popping stories of evangelism with some dear friends and readers of this blog in Naples with mafia problems, in the UK with human trafficking & severe domestic abuse, and also in the Scotland projects (schemes) of Edinburgh with crime, laziness, and addiction — all scary. Listening to some of the same brothers pronounce Italian words — even scarier.

For most believers, however, it’s not the thought of having to move to any of the aforementioned places, but rather, the scariest territory to share the Good News is simply next door, down the street, at the park, and in the workplace.

So, we often assuage our fears and bottle-up the Bible’s wonderful truth into safe houses (aka. church buildings). But there’s an inherent problem we encounter, our safe-houses are only safe to us. Take a think about the following quote and see if it doesn’t ring true:

Church is where Christians feel safe and comfortable. Church is where non-Christians feel embarrassed and awkward. We offer people the gospel, but on our terms and on our turf. [Porterbrook Learning, FY-P1, Evangelism, Unit 3]

Small groups can become and often are safe, Bible clubs; huddles of the foto-copied.
What fear keeps us from being the neighbor that everybody wants to have? What fear keeps us from learning how to cook a different kind of food just to honor and kindly surprise the foreigners around our cities? What fear keeps us from humbly telling people how it was Jesus who has transformed our lives?

But can we reduce it to fear alone? My initial opinion is that fear does play a significant role (fear of man, rejection, awkwardness, disbelief etc.). However, I would also go a bit farther for Western believers and add what we have experienced in post-catholic, secular Italy. We are not in a Christian majority, people don’t generally know what we’re talking about, and we are terribly slow to realize that fact that we just say “God” and move on while wondering how come they don’t get it? One of the missing elements, therefore, is developing a whole new way to converse with “auto-contented” secularists that shows how the Story we live by has so radically transformed our lives that it’s worth sharing with others.

And that is both the rub and the fear, isn’t it?

Numerous “Christians” cannot talk about heart-rending transformation and life-supporting community because there just hasn’t been much of any to share. As Jesus put it, He who has been forgiven much, loves much. And in the very moment we get to the heart of that truth is when the Gospel isn’t scary at all.


6 thoughts on “Evangelism in Scary Territory

  1. This is a great challenge for sure…we fear because we have so little to say! In the book, “Gospel Centered Church” by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, I have been reading through their references to 1 Peter 3…being ready to answer every man…the inference is that the believer is being asked by the unbeliever concerning his faith. What would cause him to ask? The previous verses in chapter 2 and 3 answer this clearly…the believer’s life is so distinct because of his transformation in Christ that the unbelieving world cannot help but see that something is different. To be sure this is not a plug for just living Christ and never having to speak out for Christ, but rather it is quite the opposite. Too often our words about Christ fall flat because our lives speak so little about Christ. I fear that someone may actually find out that what I am saying is not really what I say I am.
    I am challenged by this article again! Thanks.

    • Hey Mike, I thought I had responded to your comment here, but realized in all of the busy-ness of the holidays that I hadn’t. Brothers Tim & Steve have a longer book based on 1 Peter called, “Everyday Church”. I highly recommend the book if you haven’t read it yet. Last week, I was listening to Steve and he mentioned the book would be the second (after Total Church) in what they hoped would be a trilogy.
      Your comment is spot-on by the way. Thanks for sharing it with us. By the time we get to 1 Peter 3:15, the apostle is calling us to live “provocative lives” — a life that would provoke questions about why we live that way. This takes gospel intentionality. Do I commend Jesus to others? This is sharing the gospel. What is the gospel? It is God’s total answer to humanity in Jesus Christ. Every question, longing, trouble, and system of disbelief is answered in the fullness of Jesus. As we are captured by that good news, we enjoy grace; I mean, we revel in it! That doesn’t make it too difficult at that point to provoke questions from others.
      I think so often we miss that distinct and magnetic intimacy with Jesus.

      Again, just want to say thanks for reading and sharing some thoughts… catch up with you soon. R

  2. Rob, you done quit preaching and started meddling with this one. I get along so well, and have such a good relationship with my immediate neighbors, why should I mess it up by bringing the gospel into the conversation? After all, they haven’t asked me to “give a reason.” Maybe I should find a friend to “evangelize” my neighbors while I go to his. Then we’d both avoid alienation in our close neighborhood and still present our neighbors with the gospel. Nah, somehow I don’t think that is how Jesus designed it to be done. Guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and do it myself. Good post, Rob, really drives home the point of how we intimidate ourselves.

    • Hi Franklin, I concur that we often scare ourselves when it’s just not necessary. Since God will draw those whom he has elected to his truth, then we are to be heralds with all of our energies. We don’t change the message, we share it and demonstrate it. Therefore, evangelism has a 100% success rate. It accomplishes what God desires it to — and I can rest in that as I labor. Paul talked about pouring out all of his energy to win some (Col. 1 & 1 Cor. 9). As we also live a cruciform life, our evangelism brings the Kingdom to bear on all of our relationships. This is called gospel intentionality which is what I was striving to describe in this article. Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment!

  3. so convicting. thanks for sharing this, rob. I am unsure how to even begin to talk to my neighbors….they know we are chrstians and have invied them to church, but that quote you included about telling them about Jesus on THEIR turf not in ours (church) is such an obvious answer — that’s awesome. And the gospel is GOOD NEWS, I wish i weren’t so afraid to share it sometimes.

    • You’re welcome, Tiff. Your illustration is so true to life for all of us. And it is sad that we just don’t see the Good News as all that good. Here are a few encouragements that we seek to practice to really allow God to do his work in our friends and neighbors. We’ve been challenging ourselves to pray a lot more than we do. Prayer is the ordained means by which God changes the world around us and we just don’t knit our hearts to the Lord’s and then his to our neighbors enough. Second, in learning how to speak to them on their turf, we need to converse about their idea of good and bad news. What is good news to them? Everybody believes in some system, some type of good news. Once we can identify that, Jesus is always always greater in every way and we can commend him in so many practical ways. Third, we have to remind ourselves that the Gospel is not a set of facts to memorize and a prayer to say and we’re done with it. Rather, it’s the means of sanctification. I need the gospel again and again to know how to live this life. Therefore, we have a gospel to live and it becomes our very nature which makes it SO much easier to express in a gracious, serving, and humble way. Finally, asking people to come to church is not really sharing the Gospel in our relationships with them. I understand the sincerity of the intentions, however, it’s often too early. People should be welcomed into contact with our community of gospel-people so they can see Jesus first-hand and feel included. This often begins to open the door for their sincere questions. I think we often get scared because we don’t have enough of a shared life with people to bring the good news in intentionally and it not be unnatural or awkward… just some additional thoughts that you got me stirring into the pot. Thanks again, Tiffani!

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