The Tension of Evangelism (for Send Network)
The following blog was published by the Send Network.
May 19, 2014 | By D.A. Horton
In my life, I’ve noticed two realties that come with evangelism—awkward pauses and agonizing pain. To be blunt, I don’t like either one, yet I’ve come to realize that living on mission causes me to deal with these realities daily. I pray that my transparency about my inner struggle provides you with encouragement as you navigate through sharing the gospel in your context.
AN AWKWARD PAUSE VS. AGONIZING PAIN
Awkward pauses in conversations have always intimidated me. In them exists a tension between two extremes. At one end it seems as if the silence could last for eternity and at the other end the silence could come to an abrupt end by an emotional explosion that I don’t know how to prepare or bounce back from. Yet, it’s inevitable. When I inject the gospel into a conversation I’m almost always guaranteed to be the recipient of blank stares coupled with awkward pauses.
As weird as an awkward pause may be, I’d rather push through and finish the conversation than sit silent in agonizing pain assuming the person next to me knows and understands the gospel. There have been times too numerous to count when I’ve sat silent, paralyzed by the agony of assumption and tortured myself wishing I had maximized the moment and shared Christ with someone before they walked away.
In the moments when my heart is filled with fear and my flesh wants to look through every app on my phone, the Holy Spirit often brings to my remembrance a dangerous prayer I prayed years ago.
AN AWARENESS OF PEOPLE
Living in Atlanta, every day I find myself surrounded by people. Whether I’m sitting next to them in an office environment, on an airplane or in the bleachers watching our kids’ at gymnastics practice, people are present. Their presence guarantees me an opportunity to feel the tension of living on mission. In each unique setting I have two choices: I can choose to ignore people by ‘staying busy’ or I can be intentional about engaging them in conversation.
In the moments when my heart is filled with fear and my flesh wants to look through every app on my phone, the Holy Spirit often brings to my remembrance a dangerous prayer I prayed years ago. It was a simple prayer asking God to make me aware of the people around me and give me His grief for those who are lost. Daily the Lord holds my feet to the fire of that prayer as He makes me aware of the people who surround me and replaces the fear in my heart with a grief for those who don’t know Him.
AN APPROACH TO THE PROBLEM
It was a simple prayer asking God to make me aware of the people around me and give me His grief for those who are lost.
In the times when I know God wants me to strike up a cold-conversation or when He’s lobbed a softball by placing me next to a talker, I’ve found three cues from Acts 17:22-31 that have helped me naturally navigate the conversation towards the gospel.
1. Understand their story. As Paul walked through Athens he observed the city’s idols. The city of Athens held nothing back regarding its worldview, and, most often, people do the same when you ask them about their life. They will put their worldview on display as they share their story. We should take time to hear their story and work to understand it while we’re hearing them use their heart language.
2. Utilize their story. Paul used the language and cultural cues of the Athenians to establish a rhythm in the conversation. Like Paul, we too should highlight and utilize parts of the person’s narrative to point back to the sovereignty of God over the affairs in their lives.
3. Unpack our Savior. Paul masterfully navigated the conversation towards the gospel by being bold with the facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It will do us well to remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in order to present our case for the gospel. Remember, all throughout the book of Acts, one of the major evidences of Spirit-filled Christians was the boldness they displayed when presenting the gospel message.
One final truth that carries me through both the awkward pauses and the agonizing pain is the fact that I know my place when it comes to evangelism. Since I’m not called to save anyone’s soul, because the supernatural work of regeneration is reserved for God alone (John 3:3-8 and 2 Corinthians 5:17), I know my role is one of two realities—planting or watering (1 Corinthians 3:6). The fact that the increase comes from God alone allows me to exhale a breath of relief so that I can focus on being available for Him to use me as He pleases. It’s so liberating to know that even if I get stuck with an awkward pause or, because of fear, endure the agonizing pain of a missed opportunity, God is still working in spite of my efforts or lack thereof.