3 Reasons We Avoid Evangelism – Matt Smethurst

It’s not easy to initiate gospel conversations in a secular age. There can be various reasons: perhaps unhurried interactions are rare, or the vibe isn’t conducive to serious moments, or we fall into relational and conversational ruts that make the thought of going there seem painfully awkward.

But what if the reasons for our silence go deeper?

One way to become reinvigorated for a task is to reflect on what keeps us from doing it in the first place. Here, then, are three common reasons we keep quiet.

1. We ignore our context.

In a post-Christian age, we can’t presume any basic assumptions in those we’re trying to reach with the gospel. So we must take care to lean in and listen well, to climb into our neighbor’s way of seeing and inhabiting the world. Otherwise, we’ll be speaking about terms—even biblical ones—that’ll be simply misunderstood or rejected outright.

“God loves you” is great news, but meaningless if you don’t understand the nature of God (or for that matter, love).
“You are a sinner” is true, but meaningless if you don’t know what sin is or don’t feel that badly about it.
“You need a Savior” is true, but meaningless if you don’t grasp what you need to be saved from.
“The Bible says . . .” is great, unless the Bible is considered an archaic, patriarchal collection of fairy tales.

When it comes to the gospel, we don’t need to dress it up to make it cool. We need to break it down to make it clear. That is the purpose of studying your surrounding culture in light of God’s Word. What are people’s prevailing values, hopes, and fears? How does the gospel story both fulfill their deepest longings and subvert their most cherished idols?

When it comes to the gospel, we don’t need to dress it up to make it cool. We need to break it down to make it clear.

To be effective in our cultural moment, then, we must excel at asking questions. If your main goal in evangelism is to hear yourself talk, especially with highfalutin biblical jargon, then many skeptics will walk—or run—away confused (at best). But if your goal is to be effective, then listen in order to understand, speak in order to be understood, and respectfully engage your neighbor—a fellow image-bearer—with the best news he’ll ever hear.

Otherwise, you’ll just be adding static to the air.

2. We fail to love.

Writing to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul said, “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8, CSB).

Loving the lost isn’t simply a spiritual virtue. It makes practical sense too—because where love isn’t felt, the message is unlikely to be heard. Trust is essential, and it’s downstream from a sense that you care. Failing to love won’t only hinder your own efforts to impart the gospel—it may also harden your listener’s heart toward Christians in general and make the task harder for the next believer who witnesses to her.

But loving the lost must never be limited to the category of practical strategy—indeed, it’s the healthiest litmus test of whether you know the God you profess. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul asserts,

If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (vv. 1–3, CSB)

You may be the most consistent evangelist in the world. You may even see conversions. But if you lack love—don’t miss this—you’re “a noisy gong . . . nothing . . . gain[ing] nothing.” The risks, and the stakes, couldn’t be higher.

One of the most concrete ways to love well is to listen well. That’s not just good advice for struggling romances; it’s Emotional Intelligence 101. Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference. No wonder Scripture exhorts us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19, CSB). How often, though, do we reverse this and risk turning people off to the voice of God because we’re too in love with our own?

We need to speak to others as if we remember what it was like to be lost too. In an age of outrage, a countercultural message will not be compelling without a countercultural tone.

3. We bow to fear.

It’s no secret that one of the main reasons we shrink back from witnessing is because we’re afraid. Perhaps it’s the fear of an awkward interaction, or the fear of outright rejection or embarrassment, or the fear of being unequipped—lacking a ready answer for a skeptic’s objection. The list goes on.

We need to speak to others as if we remember what it was like to be lost too.

Some of our fears may feel wimpy, but they’re real. Only God knows how many gospel opportunities I’ve squandered due to a fear that froze me in my tracks.

But evangelism isn’t complicated: if we wait to share our faith until our fears have completely evaporated, we’ll never share it. And don’t wait for the “perfect” scenario either—it’ll never come. Just resolve to seize, and steward, the one God has given you.

And when the moment arrives—suddenly, you sense, you could redirect the conversation to spiritual things—you may feel physically miserable. Pit in your stomach? That’s normal. Racing heart? Normal again. Shaky voice? Welcome to evangelism. But these unpleasant feelings aren’t a signal to escape, to postpone, to kick the can down the road with a resigned sigh of “Next time.” No, this is the moment to face the fear head on and put it in its place: “Yes, Fear, you’re real and powerful—but you’re not omnipotent. You’re not my king. I don’t answer to you; I answer to King Jesus. I’m going to lean on him and take a step of faith.”

Imagine—especially if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home—if the person who first spoke the gospel to you had instead been frozen by fear. What if he’d concluded, No, Lord, not me! I’m still not equipped, still not ready. Plus, the environment isn’t ideal. Where might you be today?

In Luke 12, Jesus exhorts his disciples not to be anxious, since their heavenly Father is simultaneously great and good. Then he utters one of the most beautiful statements in all the Gospels: “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom” (v. 32).

Did you catch it? Shepherd. Father. King. One tiny verse, three massive truths. The God we meet on the pages of Scripture—and only that God—is the Shepherd who seeks us, the Father who adopts us, and the King who loves us.

And 2,000 years ago, in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Shepherd King became the Lamb slain. As comforting as it is to hear “the LORD is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1), there’s an even better promise: the Lamb is my shepherd (Rev. 7:17). And before he ascended to glory, he left us with this indomitable assurance: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, CSB).

You may be afraid in evangelism, but you’ll never be alone.

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