Moving Past Evangelism Sweats into Spiritual Conversations
I had my first evangelism-induced sweats when I was in seventh grade.
A friend found out that my dad was a missionary. When he asked me what that was I told him that my dad was a Christian and had traveled to Eastern Europe in order to tell other people what it meant to be a Christian. My friend considered this for a second before asking:
“Are you a Christian, then?”
Here, dropped into my lap, was an opportunity to share my faith. My friend was curious about my life and my relationship with God. I could have told him that yes, I believed in Jesus. I could have told him that, even though I was young, I honestly thought Jesus was pretty great and found a lot of fulfillment following him. Heck, I could have just said, “Yes.”
Instead, I started sweating. A lot. And babbling too. “Uh, sort of, I guess, you know, my parents are, so . . .”
Seeing my discomfort, my friend changed the subject and we were on to talking about who was the best SNL character.
It Still Happens
Sound familiar? It does to me. Because over two decades later I still do it. Spiritual conversations can still freak me out. They feel awkward and scary and intrusive. I find myself looking for ways out. Even when people ask me about my faith directly, I can clam up—and start sweating.
The good news is that I have actually gotten a little better at sharing my faith. This has partly came about from vows I’ve made at certain times in my life to stop saying no to sharing about Jesus when opportunities drop into my lap. (You’d be surprised how effective not saying no can be.) But it’s also been helpful for me to identify the two main reasons why I don’t share my faith.
Excuse 1: I feel inadequate.
Do I have enough biblical knowledge? Have I learned the correct chart, graph, or diagram that most adequately describes the intricacies of the gospel? How many people have I led to the Lord? Do I have an answer to every question that might come up? Have I received the gift of evangelism through the laying on of hands? Is there someone in the room who could do a better job explaining Jesus’ death and resurrection?
All these questions, often hammering through my brain all at once, boil down to two: Am I adequate for this job? And who am I to tell someone else about Jesus? It is so easy, even natural, to believe that I am not good enough and not called to do this important work of leading someone closer to Jesus. So I keep my mouth shut. I say no when opportunities come.
Excuse 2: I’m scared.
Yes, the prospect of having a spiritual conversation in which I invite someone to consider Jesus scares me—though I’m hard-pressed to tell you what, exactly, I’m scared of.
Am I scared of losing a relationship? Most of the time these conversations happen with a friend who trusts me, so there’s very little chance that they will stop being my friend due to an open, honest conversation.
Am I scared of ridicule? While this can happen, rarely has someone made fun of me to my face when they find out I have intelligent reasons for believing what I do.
Am I afraid of physical harm? No, it’s not that either. There’s absolutely no way my neighbor would take a swing at me if I told him how Jesus has changed my life. (And I’m pretty sure I could take him, even if he did.)
Not having anything rational to be afraid of, however, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with fear in the face of evangelism. And so when the opportunity arises, I keep my mouth shut. I say no.
The Good News About Sharing the Good News
But Jesus has something to say about my excuses:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28)
Jesus’ command to go and teach and make disciples and baptize and draw all nations closer to him is a scary one—one that can make us feel inadequate for the task. But he does something amazing here. He couches the Great Commission in two promises that address my two big excuses.
I say, “I feel inadequate.” So Jesus says, “You know what? You are inadequate. But all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” I may be inadequate, but his power, which is available to me, is more than adequate.
I say, “I’m scared.” So Jesus says, “I get it. But I am with you to the end.” My fear dissipates when I remember that he is there, next to me, during my most terrifying moments.
Jesus wants us to share him with our friends, our family, our coworkers, our classmates and roommates and housemates. And so he promises us his power to replace our inadequacy and his presence to ease our fears. That was enough for me to start saying fewer “nos” in the face of evangelistic opportunities and a lot more “yeses.”
And since I’ve started saying yes, I’ve seen friends and neighbors say yes to Jesus too.
Steven Grahmann is the Area Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Arizona and has been on staff for 13 years. He lives in Flagstaff with his wife, Jessica, and two boys.