When it comes to sharing the gospel, many of us pray—a lot. We know that if God doesn’t open the sinful human heart to the gospel, then it will remain closed as tightly as a clam. As J.I. Packer has said, “The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helpless dependence…. what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty.”
Many pastors make praying for the lost a priority. According to the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, the Assemblies of God, and 10 other denominations, a whopping 96 percent of the most evangelistic pastors of small churches pray weekly for non-believers by name. Even among the least evangelistic pastors, 90 percent pray for non-Christians by name every week.
But a somewhat less impressive 87 percent of the most evangelistic pastors actually evangelize the lost. Among the least evangelistic, the number is far more concerning—just 65 percent. And as Paul told Timothy, pastors need to, among their other responsibilities, “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).
How about those of us in the pews? Are we “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us] … with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15)?
LifeWay Research, unfortunately, found a similar gap between beliefs and practice. Among believers between the ages of 18 and 29, 85 percent acknowledge their responsibility to share the gospel with non-Christians, with 69 percent feeling comfortable sharing their faith. But only 25 percent of this group looks for ways to share the gospel, with just 27 percent of them intentionally building friendships with non-believers to do so.
(However, Barna reports some rare good news in the evangelism practices of Millennials, who are the only generation among whom evangelism is significantly on the rise. Nearly two-thirds (65%) have presented the gospel to another within the past year, in contrast to the national average of about half (52%) of born again Christians.)
So why don’t more of us back up our praying for the lost with evangelism? “Part of the answer is fear,” Ed Stetzer of the BGCE writes in Influence Magazine. “Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has used fear as a motivator for evil action or evil inaction.”
Maybe we fear that we won’t know what to say to our unsaved neighbors and will end up looking stupid. Well, let’s be frank: The Christian belief in a holy, loving God who sent His only Son to die for our sins is stupid in the eyes of the world—foolishness to the Greeks, as the Bible says.
But you don’t have to be a theological rocket scientist to tell others what the Lord has done for you—you’re just, as the old saying goes, one beggar telling another beggar where to find spiritual bread. As Billy Graham said, “The message I preach hasn’t changed. Circumstances have changed. Problems have changed, but deep inside man has not changed, and the gospel hasn’t changed.”
There are plenty of easy-to-read resources to help us tell others the gospel in our largely post-Christin culture. One is “The Story of Reality,” by Gregory Koukl. Another is “The Sacrament of Evangelism,” by Jerry Root and yours truly.
But let me be honest. Though I helped write a book on sharing the good news, it has never come easily for me. Like many, at times I’ve shrunk back from saying what I should out of fear of what others might think, instead of concern for what He thinks. May God forgive me and grant me increasing boldness and opportunities to share His love with the lost.
Let me be more like Kathie Lee Gifford, who boldly said to Megyn Kelly on the “Today Show” the morning Billy Graham died, “If you had the cure for cancer, would you keep it quiet, … hold it, and keep it a secret? I always say, I have a cure for the malignancy of the soul, and He has a name, and it’s Jesus.”
In a helpful article in Christianity Today, Stetzer offers some suggestions to help us get to know our neighbors and share the hope we have: host a community event; meet people where they work, eat, study, and play; and weave the gospel into as many conversations as we can. It’s not easy, but the best things in life rarely are. And I expect that we’ll have ample opportunities to make new friends as the pandemic recedes from our collective consciousness.
So, let’s all practice what we pray, pastors and laity. Because when it comes to evangelism, the problem isn’t prayer. It’s prayer alone. As Stetzer says, “Don’t stop praying. Just make sure you also start going.”
First published at BreakPoint.