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Q&A: Why am I afraid to evangelise?

If all were a head, where would the body be?
Question: If I truly believe the good news of hope in Christ, why am I afraid to tell other people about it?

The curse of Canaan

There is always a risk that vocally representing the faith (especially in an artificial or clumsy way) will cause others to scorn or avoid you. I think it is normal and valid to feel anxious about that. Any person who is likely to start talking about something embarrassing or confrontational and then to try to get others to join their group is a liability at social events. No one likes the “I’m passionate about raising awareness of sexually-transmitted diseases and come join my STD club” guy. Christianity is actually not like that at all, but, from an outsider’s perspective, it totally seems like it is.

In other words, there is absolutely nothing wrong with correctly reading the social cues that tell you it is unwelcome to break into an unprompted presentation of “the four spiritual laws” at a braai. I’m not about to invite Amway brand ambassadors to my house for dinner either, because they’re instantly going to try to get me to buy cookware, join a pyramid scheme, and sacrifice my children to Moloch. No one wants that.

Some people have a way about them that mysteriously allows them to start talking about awkward subjects and everybody lets them get away with it. Some people are great at inviting people to stuff, even slightly cringy religious stuff, and their friends will be keen. I am neither of those things. I don’t know how to initiate conversations or how to chit-chat. I don’t know how to be that kind of evangelist. And that’s fine. I have other gifts. We’re part of a body. It takes all kinds.

Being ready to answer for the hope that you have (1 Pet 3:15) is something that all of us should aim for. People should know that we follow Jesus, and when they ask us about it, we should be able to have a sensible conversation about it. But “doing evangelism” is not for everyone, at least not as we usually conceive of it. Not all of us are spiritually gifted in the same way. So our representation of Christ in public should be done according to how we are gifted. You should draw people to Jesus in ways that feel natural to you. I encouraged another friend who was struggling to know how to evangelise his friends to set up an explicit forum in which to have deeper conversations with them. I suggested that he plan get-togethers over a series of three or four weekends, maybe over a meal, where he would invite his friends to come and discuss topics related to faith, religion, social responsibility, etc. (whatever he thought would work in that group of people). Everyone discusses the topic or talks about what they believe and why. It’s in an environment that is enjoyable enough, but most importantly, the friends know what they’re in for before they sign up for it (so it’s not weird), there is a time limit to it, and friends don’t have to come if they don’t want to. That’s an example of out-and-out evangelism that I would happily do, and it doesn’t involve walking up to someone cold and saying “Can I tell you about my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?”

In short, don’t beat yourself up about being afraid of launching into an altar call around your friends. Almost nobody can do that effectively. You can make a helpful start by getting to know the faith better (you shouldn’t try to persuade anyone of something that you don’t understand or aren’t sold on yourself) and working out what excites you about the gospel (because this is likely to excite others too). But then think about how you can represent the faith in your relationships in a way that is natural to you. Maybe it’s doing social service, or writing songs, or making paintings, or running a book club, or being good at networking. Our commission is to make disciples, and that is a complex thing; getting others started on this road (evangelism) and encouraging existing disciples to continue on the road (discipleship) requires different gifts. Take up your part in disciple-making according to how you’ve been gifted and honour Christ in how you do it. Be intentional in looking outwards, and be an evangelist if you find that you’re good at it, but don’t condemn yourself if your gifts lie elsewhere.