Evangelism: more prayed for than practiced
Most Protestant churchgoers say they are eager to talk to others about Jesus, and are praying for opportunities to share their faith. But most say they have not had any evangelistic conversations in the past six months.
This is according to the 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The research shows that whilst a majority of churchgoers (56%) say they pray for opportunities to tell others about Jesus at least once a week, more than half (55%) of those who attend church at least once a month say they have not shared with someone how to become a Christian in the past six months.
Evangelistic stage fright is nothing new but the rapid changes in the place of church and the Christian faith in contemporary Western culture has only served to increase angst about sharing our faith. For many believers notions (and fear) of debate and confrontation in connection to evangelism loom large and are a disincentive to faith sharing.
One thing Christians shouldn’t struggle with at all is asking questions. In the Gospels Jesus asks many more questions than he answers. To be precise, Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 of which he only answers 3. Asking questions was central to Jesus’ life and teachings.
In the foreword to Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered (Martin Copenhaver) Lauren Winner writes:
“What does it mean that Jesus asks so many questions? I don’t think it means that Jesus is vague or ambivalent. I don’t think it means that Jesus is wishy-washy. I think Jesus’s questions mean something else altogether.
Linguists tell us that questions have many different functions in conversation:
Questions elicit information.
Questions inspire people to discover something new, to unearth new knowledge. Questions also persuade: this is how hotshot courtroom attorney’s win their cases. They ask questions of a witness, but those questions make an argument, and ultimately the chain of questions persuades the jury.
Questions stimulate thought. That’s why good teachers ask questions of their students rather than just lecture them.
And questions forge intimacy…We feel that sense of connection because the questions have bespoken (or sparked) mutual curiosity.”
It seems as if generations of believers have come to believe that evangelism is a presentation, and a barnstorming one at that. And most Christians aren’t capable of that.
Australian culture doesn’t take to kindly to ‘preachy’ people, no matter whether that is religious or not. Our culture is open however to conversations conducted on level ground.
Somehow, not only have Christians come to believe that evangelism is conducted through presentations, but also that any conversation that does not explicitly involve a thorough gospel presentation isn’t evangelism. The Apostle Paul was of the view that everything we do witnesses to Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3).
Anyone can take a genuine interest in others and ask questions. It’s clear from the particular research done in this survey that there isn’t a lack of desire among Christians to share their faith. Somehow there is a break down between the motivation (and subsequent prayers) and action. Christians often feel confused about how to introduce spiritual topics of conversation. So do I, it just doesn’t feel natural most of the time. Asking people questions though isn’t a big issue for me and it leads to natural exchanges of opinion about a range of issues. Often, as a result of these conversations, permission is granted to talk about spiritual matters by way of return questions.
Many Christians probably need to ‘unlearn’ previous methodologies of evangelism and move towards a more natural, relational way of engaging in conversation about matters spiritual, and even more explicitly: the gospel. Lauren Winner points out that questions forge intimacy: “we feel that sense of connection because the questions have bespoken (or sparked) mutual curiosity”.
We underestimate the degree to which people are interested in spiritual matters. Quite often what we think is a reluctance to engage in spiritual conversations or contemplation of the life and ministry of Jesus, may well be a rejection of the institution that we represent or the manner in which people feel they are being communicated with.
Stan Fetting, Crossover Operations Manager