Monday, June 30, 2008

Guilt and Evangelism

I'd like to make a couple of observations about the feelings of guilt that most Christians have regarding evangelism. Having done full time evangelism\evangelism training ministry for about 3 1\2 years and having been in full time Christian ministry for the most part of 15 years, I feel like I'm qualified to speak to this issue. These observations aren't based on any theological degrees, just human observation.

My first and main observation is that the conscience of the Christian is keenly aware of his need to share the Gospel with the lost. The best proof of this is the physical reactions of guilt that Christians have when they hear a message that has to do with evangelism. Whenever a speaker or preacher talks about evangelism, I like to look around the room and observe the reactions of the listeners to the message. Almost without exception, the listeners react in much the same way that lost sinners react when they are taken through the Ten Commandments. They hang their heads, their brows are knit in concern, sometimes there are tears, sometimes there is anger, and almost always there are looks of resolve on their faces. They must be thinking, "I will do better. I WILL witness to my ____________ (fill in the blank: neighbor, co-worker, spouse, friend, etc.) this week." Chances are, these resolutions are left undone because the same cycle is repeated the next time someone speaks on evangelism.

As someone who does evangelism on a regular basis, I experience the "fall-out" of this guilt on a personal level. Recently, a friend of mine from my church who has come out with me to do evangelism in the past confided that he had been avoiding me because every time he sees me he feels guilty because he has not been evangelizing. I must confess that at first, I didn't understand this. I'm not a mean guy. I don't try to use guilt to motivate people to evangelize in my church. In fact, I think I've been careful NOT to use guilt as a motivator. However, the fact that I do evangelize somehow works on the conscience of my friend. He knows that my life is pretty well lived for the sake of the Gospel; I do full time evangelism ministry. Somehow the fact that he has not been as consistent evangelizing rebukes him every time he sees me. I'm not sure whether to view this as good or bad.

As I began to think about my friend, I have to wonder if there are others who feel the same way. I suspect that there are others. In a way, this is sad because I'm not just a one-dimensional person. Have I given the impression that I am one-dimensional? After all, I read, sell used books on the internet, teach adult Sunday School, have a great family, like to fish, etc.

In the end, I think that this is a matter of the conscience. Not because I have used guilt to motivate or inspire. It is a matter of the conscience because of the fact that the Law, perfectly summed up, is that we should love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength and then love our neighbors as ourselves. Romans 2:14-15 says that this Law is written on our hearts and our consciences bear witness of its truth. The command to evangelize has been given throughout the Gospels. When believers refuse to obey this command, they break the first command. They don't love God; the proof is they don't obey. And they don't love their neighbors enough to share the Gospel with them. And their conscience bears witness that they are guilty.

So, I have come to understand that it's not me, it's them. I will continue to be gracious and continue to do what I know I am supposed to do as an unprofitable servant. They, in turn, will continue to feel guilt until they repent and start sharing the Gospel. They don't need to do it in conjunction with my ministry or on the streets. If they start sharing it with their friends, families, neighbors and co-workers, their consciences will be assuaged and they will have confidence before God and men. May the Lord raise up laborers for the harvest.

6 comments:

christianincollege.com said...

Nice post - so true.

I saw your website and thought it was nice. I am a Christian blogger in college (Leavell College of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) who believes in Biblical evangelism. I was hoping you would consider linking to my website at http://christianincollege.com.

Jon Speed said...

I'll check it out and link it if I can. Thanks for dropping a note.

Jon

dwheel said...

sometimes I wonder, the bible says all we need to do is repent and believe in Jesus to be saved. Then there are these groups of people that make it seem like you need to share the gospel every second to be saved.

Jon Speed said...

dwheel,

I hope you don't get the impression that I'm insinuating that salvation is based on works. I don't believe or teach that heresy.

I do believe that if someone is saved, there will be a radical change in their lives (2 Cor. 5:17; Book of James and 1 John). With that change comes obedience. The commands of Christ are not optional for the believing Christian. They're not something we take or leave based on our own convenience or comfort level.

Where some in the Biblical evangelism community falter is that they consider "evangelism" to be the sum total of the Christian experience. I disagree with that thinking.

I agree with A.B. Bruce, who wrote, "Such need to be reminded that there were two religious movements going on in the days of the Lord Jesus. One consisted in rousing the mass out of the stupor of indifference; the other consisted in the careful, exact training of men already in earnest, in the principles and truths of the divine kingdom. Of the one movement the disciples, that is, both the twelve and the seventy, were the agents; of the other movement, they were the subjects."

We are both the agents of the movement of Biblical evangelism and the objects of the movement of
instruction in Biblical doctrine.

Having said that, it's a downright travesty when surveys reveal that only 2% of professing American Christians share their faith on a regular basis. That is not Biblical Christianity.

Hope this provides some balance.

Jon

Jennifer said...

Hey, Jon. I just have to echo dwheel's sentiments. There really are those individuals who consider evangelism a fruit of the Spirit. Yet Galatians 5:22-23 clearly tells us what the fruits of the Spirit are -- and evangelism is not one of them. Yet there are some who will make other Christians feel very guilty, even to the point of questioning their salvation, if they do not meet a minimum weekly witnessing quota. I found your article to be a refreshing look at true guilt that is brought about by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of encouraging a Christian to share their faith, as opposed to the guilt trips many legalists would say passes for legitimate conviction.

Jon Speed said...

Hey Jen. The idea of evangelism being a fruit of the Spirit is a new one on me. Just a small part of the problem with that thinking is the idea that there are "fruits" of the Spirit, when the Scripture makes it plain that the term is singular, "fruit." All of those elements are part of the same fruit, not separate ones. If someone is soundly saved and led by the Spirit, all of the elements are present at the same time.

I understand where dwheel is coming from better than most since I used to be involved in a ministry which mastered guilt to motivate towards evangelism. I've repented of that association. I'm glad that you see where I'm going in this post; the guilt in many instances is, in a sense, self-induced.

There's no need for those of us in evangelistic ministry to use guilt as a motivator because Christians already keenly sense it.

Thanks for commenting.

Jon