Obstacles to Evangelism

Obstacles to Evangelism – Part VIII (Lack of Hospitality)

Thabiti M. Anyabwile

One of the most common hindrances to evangelism today is the simple fact that too many believers have little or no significant contact with unbelievers.

Sure, many of us work side-by-side with them for hours at a time on a regular basis, but what about after that?  Do we spend any time with them socially?  Do we have any meaningful friendships with unbelievers?

It seems that, over the course of our lives as believers in Jesus Christ, our circle of friends often becomes more and more narrow in at least one very important sense – we for whatever reason end up having fewer and fewer unbelieving friends.  And because of that, our opportunities for evangelism are then fewer and fewer as well.

Thabiti M. Anyabwile writes,

Perhaps our failure to be hospitable explains why so many Christians have few non-Christian friends and find themselves far removed from evangelistic opportunities. We cannot share the gospel with a person we fail to greet, or speak to a person with whom we refuse to spend time. Apart from being hospitable on some level, sharing the good news becomes close to impossible. (Finding Faithful Elders And Deacons, p.72)

Many of us (present company included!) need to work at reversing this trend.  We need to resist the urge to isolate and insulate ourselves from others.  We need to actively look for ways to get involved in the lives of others, and to allow them to be involved in ours as well.

If we do that, things may get a little messy and uncomfortable at times. But we will eventually find that, over time, one of the biggest obstacles to evangelism has been removed.  It really is much easier to share the good news if we cultivate the grace of hospitality.

Obstacles to Evangelism Part VII – Laziness?

MH900422823

Some convicting words from Richard Phillips:

Many of us are ineffective evangelists simply because we are too lazy and self-centered. We are not willing to cross the street to meet people. We do not care enough for the eternal destiny of friends, family members, and co-workers to risk the social hazard of talking about the Lord. (Jesus the Evangelist, p.111)

Sadly, this might be one of the primary reasons behind our lack of evangelism & outreach.

We might well be pleasantly surprised by what the Lord would do through us if we would just step out in faith by reaching out to someone with the gospel or even just a simple invitation to worship with us at church on Sunday.

As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15,

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

May more and more of us have such beautiful feet!  And may the Lord Jesus be glorified in the making of many disciples in his name!

Obstacles to Evangelism – Part VI (Division)

In John 17 Jesus prayed for the unity of the church.  His prayer clearly shows us the critical importance of unity in the church – that we be one.

And one of the primary reasons that he gives us for the vital importance of unity has to do with our witness or testimony to truth of the gospel.  In v.20-23 He says,

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

So our unity (or lack of it) makes a huge difference because the world is watching.

A watching world takes notice whether or not we are one.  We are either demonstrating the reality of the gospel through our unity, or we are giving the world more ammo for their skepticism and unbelief by our lack of unity (or outright division).

No wonder the Lord Jesus told us that the distinguishing mark of His disciples would be that we love one another (John 13:35).

So remember that our relationship with one other in the church also has an impact on our relationship with those outside of the church.  It even affects our ability to share the gospel effectively.

May we be one, that the world may know that Jesus is Savior and Lord!

Obstacles to Evangelism – Part V (Fear)

So far most of the obstacles that we have considered have had a distinctly theological edge to them (or at least the solutions to those obstacles were theological in nature).

This one is a bit simpler (although the solution no doubt will end up being theological, no doubt).  Fear.

We start out with the best of intentions to talk with a neighbor, co-worker, classmate, or stranger, but then we simply chicken out.  I have done it numerous times.  Maybe you have too.

Evangelism (like prayer) is one of those subjects that can easily lend itself toward producing a guilt complex.  Why?  We know that we should be doing it, or doing a better job of it than we are.  We know it is critically important. (Lives are at stake.)  And yet we often struggle at making even the most meager attempts at it.

Why are we so afraid?

Writing of the sufferings of the Apostle Paul as detailed in the book of Acts, John Stott writes,

Witness to Christ involves suffering for Christ. It is not an accident that the Greek word for witness (martys) came to be associated with martyrdom. ‘Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship’, wrote Bonhoeffer. (The Message of Acts, p.179)

So we must be prepared for the possibility of suffering in some way if we are going to be faithful in testifying to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And that should not be all that surprising, as the message of the gospel itself centers on the suffering & death of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners.

But while we must be prepared for the possibility of suffering for the sake of the gospel, we should also (perhaps even more so) be prepared to see the risen & ascended Lord Jesus do marvelous things through the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

Why?  The book of Acts teaches this lesson to us over & over again.  Luke (the writer) is very frank about the terrible sufferings that the church endured for the sake of the gospel.  But he also makes it abundantly clear throughout the book that the Lord Jesus Christ used all of that to further advance the spread of the gospel.

We may suffer along the way for our witness to the gospel, but we can be sure that the One who is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty will bless that same witness unto the salvation of many sinners.  Disciples will be made unto the glory of God.

Obstacles to Evangelism – Part IV (Self-Righteousness)

So far in our examination of the things that commonly keep us from sharing the gospel, we have seen that there are all kinds of things that get in our way – a wrong view of evangelism, a deficient view of the gospel, and a distorted view of pastoral ministry.

Now we come to what may be the most common obstacle to evangelism: Self-righteousness

Why do I say that?

Look at Paul’s words in a letter that he wrote to his young protege pastor:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17)

In other words, Paul considered himself to be the worst sinner of all.  And yet the Lord Jesus Christ saved him.  God gave him mercy in Jesus Christ.  And if God would save a sinner like Paul, is there anyone beyond the reach of God’s grace in the gospel?  No!

No wonder Paul was so eager to preach the gospel to all men (Romans 1:15-16)!  Since the Lord saved him, Paul despaired of the salvation of no man!

Sometimes we fail to share the gospel because we think too highly of ourselves and therefore too lowly of others (or of God’s ability or willingness to save them).

We forget that our salvation is nothing but the sheer love, mercy & grace of God that He lavished upon us in Christ.  We forget that are nothing more than sinners, saved by grace.

Self-righteousness sometimes keeps us from sharing the gospel with those who need to hear it, and it can also keep those who need to hear it from listening to us.

May our Lord Jesus Christ pour out His Spirit upon us and change our hearts.  May He give us the humility, meekness, and love of Christ that will compel us to share the gospel!

May He cause us to have a right estimation of ourselves, of the lost all around us, and of the amazing grace of God who sent His Son to save sinners, of whom we are foremost!

Obstacles to Evangelism – Part III (An Improper View of the Pastorate)

Here is another obstacle to evangelism that is often inwardly assumed even if not outwardly articulated:

“That’s my pastor’s job.”

We often simply don’t evangelize because we think that it is someone else’s job to do so.

Church members often assume that evangelism is one of the things that they pay their pastor(s) to do.  And that is correct as far as it goes.  But it doesn’t go far enough.

While a church does pay their pastor to (among other things) evangelize, they do not pay their pastor to evangelize for them.  At least that is not the biblical model.  In other words, fulfilling the Great Commission is still the whole church’s responsibility, not just the responsibility of pastors.

Consider Paul’s words in his epistle to the Ephesians:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)

So our pastors are there to equip the saints (the whole church) for the work of ministry, not to do the work of ministry for them.  And not only that, but he clearly emphasizes “each part” (i.e. every member of the body) doing his or her part in the building up of the body of Christ.

So what about evangelism?  Look at the book of Acts.  While the apostles and ordained servants (i.e. Stephen, Philip, etc.) are certainly front & center in the work of making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, that particular work is by no means limited to them.

In Acts chapter 8 we read about a great persecution that broke out against the Christian church in Jerusalem (v.1).  It was so bad that everyone but the apostles fled for their lives (ibid).  And what do we see those scattered Christians doing?  Sharing the gospel!  In Acts 8:4 Luke writes,

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

Those were not just the church officers – those were ordinary believers, not necessarily gifted in evangelism.  And they did this while fleeing for their lives! (I dare say that most of us allow far lesser concerns to keep us from sharing the gospel.)

So the task of making disciples is our job.  That is how each and every one of us in the church should think of it.

You may not think that you are particularly gifted at evangelism.  You may be painfully shy or introverted.  But remember that our Lord still delights to use you to share His gospel.

Obstacles to Evangelism – Part II (An Improper View of the Gospel)

What are some of the more common obstacles to evangelism?  Sadly, there are any number of things that can hold us back from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost,

In this series, we are examining a number of things (in no particular order) that all-too-commonly keep us from faithfully and obediently doing our part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

A second obstacle that many of us need to learn to overcome is simply a lack of confidence in the power of the gospel.

In other words, we often (even usually?) have very low expectations in evangelism.

Or better yet, we don’t just have low expectations – we have negative expectations!  We think not only that nothing good will come of it (i.e. God being glorified in the salvation of sinners), but rather that (if anything) something bad will result.  Not just unbelief, but rejection, mocking, ridicule, etc.

Last time we looked at Paul’s words in the opening chapter of Romans.  Those words bear repeating here:

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:14-17, ESV)

Paul tells us that not only was he “under obligation” (v.14) to preach the gospel, but he was “eager” (v.15) to do so as well.   Most of us are probably able to identify with the former (i.e. the “supposed to” nature of evangelism), but how many of us are ever truly “eager” to share the gospel?

So what was Paul’s secret?  How can we, like Paul, not be ashamed of the gospel (v.16), but rather be eager to share the good news?

The first obstacle that we looked at (available here) was an improper view of the task of evangelism.  The second obstacle that we often find ourselves confronted with is an improper view of the message of our evangelism – the gospel.

What I mean by this (at least in this installment of our series) is not so much confusion about the content of our message (although that is often a problem as well), but rather the nature of our message.  Paul tells us that he was eager to preach the gospel (not ashamed) because he knew that the gospel of Christ is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (v.16).

The gospel is not just powerful – it is the power of God!  In other words, God Himself works through the gospel for the salvation of sinners.

Do we want to see God at work in the lives of sinners, bringing them to new life in Christ by faith, saving them from sin, and transforming their lives by His Spirit?  Then there is one place (and only one place!) where that can be found – the message of the gospel.

God works through the gospel of His Son.  So we have every reason to be eager to share the good news.  That is where we will see God at work!

Obstacles to Evangelism – Part I

What are some of the more common obstacles to evangelism?  What keeps us from sharing the message of the gospel with the lost?

We will be examining a number of things (in no particular order) that all-too-commonly keep us from faithfully and obediently doing our part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

The first obstacle that many of us need to overcome is an improper view evangelism.  How we think of the gospel and evangelism will have an enormous affect on how we approach evangelism.

But what does the Bible have to say about that?

Let’s look at the example of the Apostle Paul.  He was a man of God who was bold in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.  And he preached the gospel regardless of the consequences (i.e. stoning, beatings, prison, even death).

How was he able to do that?  Was it just because he was an apostle?  (Was he just a “super-Christian”?)  Certainly he was uniquely called by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit, but that does not explain it.  All believers are gifted by the Holy Spirit (even if not specifically in evangelism) and are called in some way to evangelize.

Then what was it?  There are a lot of reasons why Paul was so bold in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, but he mentions one that we might be quick to overlook in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans. He writes,

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans: 1:14-17, ESV)

The first thing that he mentions is that he was “under obligation” to preach the gospel.  The Greek word there in v.14 has the idea of being is someone’s debt – that he owed something to someone.

He viewed the gospel of Jesus Christ as something that he had no right to hide or keep private.  It was as if the good news belonged to everyone else and he had to make it known to them.  Do we fail to evangelize because we fail to grasp that we owe it to the lost to share the gospel with them?

The gospel message is something that we owe to those around us.  It is as if we would be keeping something from its rightful owner if we were to keep silent.  That is how Paul thought of the gospel, and that is how we must learn to think of it as well.

The gospel is not our private property, so evangelism is not optional.