Uncovering the biggest error in evangelism
Jesus promises to show up when we talk about him, so why don’t more churches encourage Christians to talk about him? | CGM Staff
Ever since Paul penned the words “Do the work of an evangelist,” Christians seem to have been freaked out. Evangelists are one of the offices of the church, right? People have a gift of evangelism, don’t they? Some people are just wired to tell the waiter about Jesus, regardless of how much it might embarrass the people eating with them, aren’t they? After all, what did Paul mean…exactly?
To start, consider J.R.R. Tolkien, arguably one of the greatest English writers and thinkers of the last century. Famed for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was a literary and linguistic genius. Yes, you can learn to speak Elvish, either Quenya or Sindarin, because there are actually two versions of this language that he invented for his magnum opus. And yes, Tolkien was one of the translators of the Jerusalem Bible, published in 1966.
But was Tolkien a Christian as well? He went to Catholic mass, but his books were not overtly Christian. He didn’t even believe in writing metaphorical Christian tales. But was Tolkien Christian enough..even if not a very good one? By Paul’s standards, Tolkien could have been not just a literary and linguistic genius, and not just an ordinary believer in Jesus, but possibly one of the most significant evangelists of the last century.
Think about it. Paul said to his protégé, “do the work of”—not necessarily “be”—an evangelist. Tolkien never conducted evangelistic crusades and may have never even led a Bible study. He didn’t share Christ with every waiter, that we know of, much less every student he taught at Oxford. But Tolkien did the one thing necessary to the work of an evangelist: he talked about Jesus to his friends.
Isn’t that what evangelism is? Just talking about Jesus.
If you’ve ever been privileged to be around the affable John Sorensen, who has led Evangelism Explosion (EE) since before the homegoing of D. James Kennedy, you know he is possibly one of the greatest “talkers about Jesus” today. (Yes, he does share Christ with every waiter, regardless of who is sitting at the table.) Yet despite the success of evangelistic techniques like EE or the Roman Road or the Five Spiritual Laws or the latest and greatest tools making the rounds, evangelism comes down to one thing: action.
In fact, the nouns “evangelism” and “evangelist,” cannot even exist without the action word—”evangelize.” Evangelism is something Paul told Timothy to do. He urged Timothy to take action.
How did Paul’s encouragement mess us all up so badly? Here’s a compiled list taken from the top ten websites on a cursory search for “Why we don’t evangelize”:
- Fear of the unknown halts our efforts.
- The fear of man
- Bad past experience
- Don’t know their language.
- Evangelism could cause problems at work.
- They’ve bought into political correctness.
- We’ve “gotten over” our salvation.
- We’ve lost our wonder.
- I don’t know non-Christians.
- No relationships with unbelievers
- They don’t know many non-believers anyway.
- We don’t really know many lost people anyway.
- People won’t listen, much less believe.
- Some church members aren’t convinced about “lostness.”
- We don’t care about non-believers.
- We’ve lost our love for our neighbor.
- Selfishness and a lack of love for others
- Some churches have provided no evangelism training.
- They see no need theologically.
- They do not know the gospel well.
- Bad theology
- People don’t know what “evangelism” is.
- The church quenched their zeal.
- We have few evangelistic role models.
- Pastors aren’t taking the lead in evangelism
- Failure to make evangelism a discipline
- No one has ever told them it’s their responsibility.
- Little to no prayer given to evangelism
- Mistaken idea of what’s needed for evangelism
- We’ve forgotten our source of power.
- Other things seem more urgent.
- They’re bound up in the struggles of life.
- Love of comfort and ease
- They’re caught in their own sin.
- They’re not really believers.
- Not genuinely saved
Ouch. Reading this list is like taking forty lashes minus one. The bottom line about evangelism in our churches could just as well be…we don’t do it because we don’t do it. Instead of getting all worked up about what Paul meant exactly(whew!), what if we just look at what Jesus said…exactly.
Luke recorded Jesus saying: “Whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” Jesus said, in essence, “Open your mouth and talk about me, and guess what: I’ll open my mouth and talk about you!”
Then he said, “Go, make disciples, teaching them everything I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” “Lo” is a pretty interesting word right there. It can be translated, “see,” as in, “do this and SEE, I’ll be with you.” It can also be translated, “…teach them, and when you do this, I will be with you and I’ll also be at the end of the age.”
In other words, when we talk about Jesus, it is a solemn promise he’ll be with us. Just like his promise to forgive us when we confess our sin, he promises to show up when we open our mouths to tell others about him.
For pastors, it’s important not to make evangelism too difficult. It comes down to two simple points:
If you want to grow a church, evangelize.
If you don’t evangelize, your church won’t grow.
Talking is easy. All of us learned how to form sounds even before we learned how to walk. Instead of worrying about how to fill the church during a pandemic or when half the church is staying home, just start talking about Jesus. And inspire your people to talk about Jesus. You can do this.
So, here’s the rest of the story and your reward for finishing the article. That significant thing that happened when Tolkien talked to his friends about Jesus? Maybe dozens believed in Jesus for salvation. Maybe hundreds did. Who knows? What we do know for certain is that one man believed: C. S. Lewis. And C. S. Lewis became one of the great apologists and writers of our Christian faith. What pastor has not been influenced by Lewis?
It’s possible that Tolkien targeted Lewis, thinking he’d be a “great catch” for Christianity. But if that’s what Tolkien thought, he was sorely disappointed. Lewis joined the Church of England against Tolkien’s advice. No, it’s much more likely that Tolkien simply opened his mouth, and when he did, Jesus showed up.
That’s what Jesus does. He shows up when people talk about him. And that’s how churches grow.
FYI FOR PASTORS WHO ARE FANS:
The J.R.R. Tolkien House is Up for Sale
by CGM Staff
The house of J. R. R. Tolkien, who led C. S. Lewis toward a faith in Christ, is the subject of an international campaign by the British Christian author, Julia Golding. Golding and a number of actors from the “Lord of the Rings” movies are raising funds to purchase the house at 20 Northmoor Road.
From 1930 to 1947, Tolkien lived in the house and, while teaching at nearby Oxford, penned his classic, The Hobbit, and the world-renowned trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Drawing from his Christian faith, Tolkien made memorable points in his books, such as, “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish,” and “Where there’s life there’s hope.”
The goal of the campaign is to create a literary or retreat center of some kind, allowing people to roam the grounds of one of the most famous Christian authors of the last century.