The following is a re-post from 2018 that is one of my favorites. The points are ones that I consistently go back to for myself and for others in my evangelism training. I hope the words are meaningful for you as well. [Dave]
Whenever the topic of personal evangelism comes up at church, the response from members can be like a sudden attack of evangelism influenza. Perhaps you have seen or felt its symptoms — queasy stomach, nausea, sweaty palms, or feeling faint. I may have a remedy for faithful believers to consider.
These symptoms are common for people because fear is part of our human nature.
There is the fear of public speaking, fear of being emotionally hurt, fear of heights, fear of snakes, and the fear of being humiliated. And that is the short list.
In a recent blog post by David Sherry, entitled “The Cure for Small Talk,” he talks about how he dreads small talk and avoids it as much as possible. It’s not the fear of people, he wrote, but the dreaded feeling of awkwardness when you don’t know what to say.
What is his cure?
Whenever you are placed in a situation where small talk is inevitable, it is helpful to understand that everybody has hang-ups. Life is tough no matter how hard we try to hide it. His solution is to listen carefully and attentively. When people express a problem that they are having at work or with a family member, always answer, “Wow… that must be tough!”
He suggests that when people place the focus on others instead of themselves, the awkwardness of small talk dissipates. People will come across to others as being engaging and sincere. They will appreciate a person who expresses care and concern by listening to them.
The same fears he expressed about small talk are like the fears people have for verbally proclaiming the gospel.
We hate feeling awkward. And as a result, we tend to avoid witnessing.
Let’s modify some of David’s cures to help us avoid getting sick with evangelism influenza.
- Everybody has fears
Everybody has fears about personal evangelism and that is comforting to know. People who appear to have the gift for evangelism, articulate pastors, and seasoned missionaries all have struggled or continue to struggle with fear. And like everybody else, we sometimes go to great lengths to hide our fears through excuses, being too busy, or completely avoiding it.
I struggle with fear also.
It has taken me a thousand doors and hundreds of attempts before I finally reached a point where the symptoms of evangelism influenza don’t affect me as much.
It’s comforting to know that it’s perfectly natural to fear personal evangelism because personal evangelism is perfectly unnatural. That’s why we need to hold on to Christ’s promises.
Many faithful Christians have a desire to share their faith with others. But, they can easily fall into a trap when they start focusing entirely on learning what to say while ignoring other components that are equally as important.
A person can learn every possible answer to every possible question from an unbeliever. They can memorize hundreds of Bible verses, but it will still not be enough to cure evangelism influenza.
Learning how to verbally proclaim the gospel starts with taking the focus off of ourselves. That can happen in two ways.
First, instead of flailing like Peter who tried to walk on water, we fix our eyes on Christ and his promises. When we step out into the scary waters of the world to share our faith, we keep our eyes on Christ to walk and stay afloat.
Second, when we fix our eyes on Christ we can see what Christ sees. His eyes are fixed on those who are lost. They are focused on furrowed fields ready to be planted with his Word. When we see what Jesus sees a potential mission field suddenly embraces Jesus words when he says, “The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.”
People in today’s world are not going to want to hear an answer for the hope we have in Christ until they know that we sincerely care about them. The eternal consequences of sin prompted the Apostle Paul to be all things to all people to win as many as possible. Evangelism starts with empathy for the lost and the ghastly eternal consequences of hell.
How can we overcome the fear of awkwardness of not knowing what to say?
Listen first, talk later.
To receive an audience, you must first gain an audience.
To gain an audience, you must first be an audience.
Evangelism is about using our eyes and ears before we use our tongue. We look for opportunities and God delivers. We listen first to what a person is concerned about, then provide answers based on God’s Word to address those specific concerns.
Faithful Christians already know the gospel. They know Jesus and what he has already done for them. People want to hear about your faith and why Jesus is real to you. When a Christian initially engages an unbeliever, they don’t want to hear a canned presentation or be bombarded with Bible verses. Be who you are in Christ.
Evangelism influenza is highly contagious because proclaiming the gospel is 100% contrary to our human nature. For that reason, proclaiming the gospel is far more God working in us and through us instead of us working for God. The cure is Christ. Out of deep love for him, we become willing messengers of the sacrificial and costly work God has already done for us through Christ.
Let’s keep our eyes fixed on him.