Some years ago, before I was a pastor and church-planter, I managed to invite my friend Rachel to come to a guest service at my church in London. When I phoned to remind her to come, her flatmate Sarah explained Rachel had gone away for the weekend with friends.
“Why, what were you inviting her to?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing much,” I replied, feeling embarrassed.
“No really,” she insisted. “Where were you going?”
“Oh, just church—don’t worry about it,” I mumbled.
“Oh great—can I come instead?” said Sarah brightly.
So she came to church that Sunday, and when the evangelist finished preaching, he asked if those who wanted to become Christians would come to the front of the congregation to be prayed for. To my complete shock, Sarah stood up and walked down to the front to become a Christian! My pathetic evangelistic reluctance was brutally exposed that night.
Maybe you’ve experienced something similar. So why is it that so many of us are reluctant evangelists?
1. Temperamental reluctance
Some of us are painfully aware we’re a little shy, reserved or introverted, and evangelism feels frightening.
2. Cultural reluctance
For others, our reluctance can be put down to learned behavior—we’ve been raised to keep to ourselves and evangelism seems rude.
3. Theological reluctance
For many of us, our reluctance comes down to what we think God is like—we’re just not sure if he wants all Christians to engage in mission, especially if we lack the gifts or “calling” in evangelism that others seem to have.
4. Motivational reluctance
But for most of us, I fear that our reluctance could be desire—we have so many responsibilities and problems to face that we’re not persuaded evangelism should really be an urgent priority for us right now.
Evangelism is not an optional extra.
When Jesus first called His disciples he said, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people”; later He warned them, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory”; and when He left them He commanded, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 4 v 19; Mark 8 v 38; Matthew 28 v 19). So His apostle Peter insists, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3 v 15).
Thankfully, our reluctance is treatable—we really don’t have to find evangelism so hard or frightening. For Almighty God is a compassionate Evangelist, and His Spirit can transform us by His word to share His passion for mission. He really can teach us to find personal evangelism, church-planting and cross-cultural mission exciting—indeed the fulfilling purpose of our lives.
If God can use someone as reluctant and selfish as Jonah to accomplish the greatest urban revival in Bible history (when the whole pagan city of Nineveh turned to the Lord), he can use us, too.
Richard Coekin is Director of the Co-Mission church network and Senior Pastor of Dundonald Church, SW London. A renowned Bible teacher and the author of several books including Our Father and Ephesians For You, Richard is also Chairman of the London Men's Convention. He is married to Sian and they have five children.