I once heard a quote from a pretty famous atheist that has forever changed the way that I viewed the idea of talking to other people about my experience with Jesus. He writes:
...I've always said, you know, that I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward...HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE TO HATE SOMEBODY to not proselytize? HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE TO HATE SOMEBODY to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn't believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that...
I’ve been a Christian for quite a while now and I can literally count on one hand the amount of time I’ve had a stranger try to capture my attention with the purpose of talking about Jesus. If you’re a Christian, your experience has probably been the same. Why is that? It’s not rocket science. You’ve probably never had that happen to you, because people actually doing that type of stuff (cold-call evangelism) is awkward.
To be honest, as we cast this vision as a church staff to spend a few hours each work day this week trying to create opportunities with strangers to talk about Jesus, I got nervous. (If not for the peer pressure—or the people coming to the church expecting me to lead out because I’m a pastor—I probably would have come up with tons of excuses not to participate.) Tons of thoughts began running through my head. The idea of actually talking to a stranger is something that is very unnatural. People don’t want to be bothered. They have more important things to do. And frankly, we don’t want to be seen as Jehovah’s Witnesses—they’re the only ones that talk to strangers about religion, we’re more savvy than that. That’s a private matter that is better addressed when...
And that’s when I realized that I couldn’t complete that thought. When is the right time to talk about Jesus? How much relational capital needs to be built before we make a segue into what is the most important decision anyone will ever make? That’s when it hit me: my fear of being awkward in striking up a conversation about Jesus with strangers occupied the same space in my heart where, years ago, I had a fear of monsters under my bed. The thought of looking under my bed was terrifying; however, when I actually looked under my bed and saw there were no monsters, it was liberating and I saw just how unwarranted my fears were. This past week, I had the same epiphany with the fear of striking up conversation and quickly shifting to Jesus.
Evangelism to strangers is only awkward….in theory
G.K. Chesterson says, “Christianity hasn’t been tried and found difficult, it has been found difficult and left untried.” This week, I re-learned that evangelism to strangers is more awkward in theory than it actually is in practice. I was amazed how easy and naturally conversation started when I just asked people to tell me their story and then camped out on a point where they highlighted something spiritual.
Here’s the truth: we live in a world where people look more busy than they actually are. You’ve seen it in meetings (or you’ve been guilty of it in meetings). Someone looking so intensely at their phone or their computer screens with beads of sweat dripping down their face. As you navigate around them to see what they’re doing, you see that they’re not agonizing over spreadsheets or balance statements, they’re agonizing over where they are going to play their “V” in Words with Friends. We live in a world where people are filling up their time with things to keep them distracted from the loneliness they’ll undoubtedbly feel if they don’t do anything else. They are longing for meaningful interactions. This past week, I had the opportunity to have conversations about people’s hopes, dreams, aspirations, hang-ups, backstories, frustrations, etc. And every last one of the conversations was a welcomed breath of fresh air.
Clarity and comfort for the obedient
There are two types of people. Those who make excuses and those who actually have experiences. What I’ve come to realize is that both of these groups become a self-fulfilling prophecy to themselves. In evangelism, there are plenty of excuses that you can use to justify your disobedience to 2 Timothy 4:5 (…do the work of an evangelist). Quite frankly, this past week, I heard just about all of them (many of them I said to myself and many of them I heard from other people). What’s funny is that people who make excuses and never get over their initial fear of awkwardness soon start to believe that their fears are realities. Those that never look under their bed will forever be afraid of the boogey man. Those that never proactively share their faith or direct conversations towards the hope of Jesus will forever be afraid of awkwardness.
Here’s the blessing though: those that actually have the experience of talking to someone else about Jesus finally understand that there was nothing to be afraid of. The only way that you’ll ever really know if fear is warranted is to embrace that fear head on. The only way to get over your fear of monsters under your bed is to look under your bed. The only way to get over your fear of evangelism is to evangelize. No sermon is going to do it for you. Clarity and comfort to God’s will comes through obedience. Nothing less than obedience will reaffirm the things God has called you to do.
The funny thing is, you can agree or disagree with my philosophy as you sit here and read this blog. You may or may not be right. However, there is one way to know for certain if I’m right or wrong, and that’s to actually have this experience for yourself.
So, go ahead. Prove me wrong.