Throughout my entire life, I have been involved in an evangelical church. One strength of evangelicals is that we take seriously Christ’s admonition to believers to go and share the gospel. It is interesting, though, how people can interpret this commission so differently and how it actually plays out in the life of the average Christian. Even though most evangelical Christians acknowledge that witness is an important element of the Christian life, it is not always seen as a personal admonition.
For instance, some regard Christ’s commission as something the “church” (meaning the professional clergy) should do. They believe that the responsibility of individual members is simply to “support” the professionals in their efforts. Thus, they give their money to keep the lights on in their local organization and hire pastors, church staff and missionaries to “spread the word.” Even those who acknowledge at least a small personal element, tend to do nothing more than perhaps invite people to come to church if an opportunity presents itself.
These support initiatives are not intended to be an indictment against the motives of Christians who are not personally active in sharing their faith. I’m sure that many who think like this really do love the Lord and believe the gospel needs to be spread. But it does indicate a problem within our merry band of believers which diminishes our effectiveness in bringing the gospel to the world.
This is not a “single issue” problem. There are several big picture matters which create this dilemma. Let’s take a moment and look at the major hindrances to our ability to effectively share Christ with the world.
Lack of an Understanding of the Nature of Our Calling
Many Christians believe that there are certain people who are called into ministry and everyone else basically has the duty to support those professionals. While this is a common belief, it is a horribly unbiblical concept. The main problem with this view begins with a misunderstanding of the very concept of calling. There are actually three different ways that the idea of calling is used in the New Testament.
The first calling is the call to enter into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This one is issued to every single human being who is ever born. It is God’s will that every person enter that relationship with him. In fact, this is the very reason God created humanity in the first place. We find this expressed in 2 Peter 3:9 where it is written, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. [NIV] Of course, not everyone responds to God in the way he desires. There are those who never turn to God and, thus, don’t answer the call. Those who do respond enter a personal relationship with him which continues even after death.
The second call is given to every single person who positively responds to the first. God calls every believer into Christian ministry. This is not to be mistaken for a calling into vocational Christian ministry. This call is clearly spelled out in Ephesians 4:11-13 where we read, “(11) It was he (Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, (12) to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (13) until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” [NIV] We clearly see in this passage that it is not the church’s professional leadership who is responsible for all of the church’s ministry. Rather, the leaders are charged to equip all of the other Christians in the church to do the ministry.
This teaching actually puts the “person in the pew” as the primary ministry agent of God in the world. And it should be noted that this calling is not performed merely in a church setting – though many Christians do have an element of their calling which is fulfilled within the church organization. Rather, the primary work of ministry for most Christians is done out in society – on the job, in social circles, in the marketplace and the like. Literally, every believer is called into full time Christian ministry.
The third calling has already been alluded to and is the one most people think about when this topic comes up. That is, the calling into professional church leadership. Of those who respond to the second call, God selects some for a third calling. That third calling is into vocational church leadership. And as we saw above, the work of these professionals is to equip the saints for ministry, not to do all of the work of ministry themselves. There is no way that a small group of church leaders can reach out and touch all of the people God want’s to reach. It is only as the entire body of believers take seriously their call to ministry, and are trained to be effective in that ministry, that the fullness of the work of God can be accomplished.
A second problem that keeps many Christians from being effective in sharing their faith is ignorance, pure and simple. There is a knowledge base that Christians must master in order to effectively share their faith.
This knowledge base begins with an understanding of our own faith. If we are going to share the message of salvation, we have to know the content of the message and how to share it with those who don’t know Christ.
While the knowledge base begins with an understanding of our own faith, it doesn’t end there. We also need to have an understanding of the faith of those we are trying to reach. This is important in every case, but is even more critical when dealing with people who have a worldview foundation that is not Christian.
Too many believers are simply not equipped with the knowledge they need to be effective witnesses. There is no excuse for this. The knowledge is readily available and the call is in place which admonishes us to become equipped for God’s service. The problem of ignorance exists because many Christians simply don’t take their calling seriously and never make the effort to lay the necessary knowledge foundation in themselves.
A third problem in sharing the gospel comes about because of active opposition to the Christian faith. Serious opposition is a relatively new phenomenon in American society, but in the overall scheme of things has existed from the days of Christ. Opposition and persecution put fear into the hearts of many Christians and cause them to keep quiet about their faith.
No one likes to be put down and made to feel stupid or in jeopardy. Much of the opposition that Christians face is literally designed to create just such feelings in order to shut us up. Depending on the particular form of opposition, believers may feel that they are being isolated or might even receive actual physical persecution (like jail or worse).
While we may have no control over the way people oppose our faith, we do have command over how we respond to it. The first action we must take is to equip ourselves to deal with it. There is no oppositional argument that can overcome the truth of the gospel. The bigger question is, “Have we equipped ourselves to deal with the enemies of Christ?” When we have a proper foundation in our lives, we can stand as strong witnesses in the face of any opposition.
Personal Lifestyle Problems
A final reason many Christians struggle in sharing their faith is because their personal lives do not match up to the moral standard that the gospel expresses. The call to be a Christian is also a call to live in holiness. God saved us so that we can overcome sin, not so that we can sin all we want and get forgiven for it. Sin is the one thing that will keep us out of fellowship with God, and overcoming it is the reason Christ died on the cross.
That being said, many Christians want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want their salvation to serve as eternal life insurance while continuing to live in the pleasures of sin during this life. Those in this category want to hold on to such things as using bad language, engaging sexual pleasures outside of marriage, treating other people badly, living for material gain and/or notoriety above all else, and the like.
For those who have this attitude, sharing Christ will be very uncomfortable. It makes one feel like a hypocrite to offer a person a life that demands holy living while personally continuing to live in sin. Because of their refusal to give up their sin, many Christians simply won’t even consider sharing their faith with non-believers.
Sharing Eternal Life
Sharing eternal life with those who do not yet believe in Christ is not that hard. The knowledge necessary to do it is easily accessible. At the same time it is one of the most difficult parts of the Christian life. To pull it off we have to discipline our lives and actively live in our relationship with God. Ultimately, we have to make a decision. Are we going to put our relationship with Christ first or not? Once we make that decision, everything else naturally follows.
The great dilemma of Christian witness can be understood with the mind, but it plays out in daily life. It is expressed in the struggle to be obedient to Christ on a daily basis while living in relationship with him. When we grasp the truth of this concept and make the personal decision to live in our relationship with Christ, the dilemma ends. This does not mean that we will become perfect. But it does put us on the road to fulfilling the very purpose for which we were created.
© 2011 Freddy Davis