Evangelism: the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.
My understanding and context for the word evangelism has expanded and narrowed by the opportunity my family and I have had to live now for 6 years in a Muslim country in North Africa. In our cultural orientation class when we first arrived it was critically stressed that this was not a safe place or legal place to evangelize. There were consequences; potentially harmful ones to either myself, my family, but even more prominently to those you chose to evangelize to. Evangelism has always been one the foundations of my faith, albeit uncomfortable, and unfamiliar in experience, but here it became scary and poignantly important.
Evangelism in Dangerous Places
It was impressed upon us that the way to share in this country was by taking the time to build a true relationship and earning the right to share our beliefs. What this translated to at first was basically it is impossible to evangelize, certainly no public preaching, and personal witness seemed highly out of reach – as in order for it to be legal, one had to wait to be asked about their faith in order to share. We were told it takes time. Which I believed, I just wasn’t sure that was the type of evangelism I wanted to do- coming from a culture with immediate satisfaction at our fingertips- time is precious, and I wanted results immediately.
I heard stories from Muslim converts who recounted their journey to faith. Not one of them mentioned a one-time encounter that changed it all for them. It was year after year of God placing people and events, visions and dreams in their path that turned them towards Him, then after many years of struggling, searching and pursuing, they chose to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. The decision often meant they lost friends, family, jobs, and even were highly persecuted and threatened. It was not a quick easy decision.
The Space for Evangelism Deserves to Be Earned
You see, conversion is not to be taken lightly. It can be literally, a life or death decision. In which case, it should not be made quickly, but over time with great consideration. Therefore, regardless of the location, the space for evangelism deserves to be earned. Certainly, evangelism can take place without relationship or significant time given, but if we really acknowledge the significance of the message we are sharing, it should take time and relationship.
The Muslim converts throughout the world have had some believer in their life who cared about them and invested in them in such a way as to create space for trust and truth. Those evangelists cared enough to go through the uncomfortable, scary, possibly harmful process of sharing Jesus with them, and therefore cared enough to give their time and relationship. It was both the care for the Muslim individually and awareness of the weighty reality of the gospel.
We must acknowledge both of these things when we consider sharing with others, that people are important enough to have their trust earned, and the gospel is worthy and weighty enough to deserve a trusted space.
The decision to follow Christ is a weighty, big decision, and because of that, we cannot expect that with no basis for trust in a relationship, for one to hear our words or truly consider their meaning.
Evangelism in the U.S.
Perhaps we are not all in the same situation as many Muslims around the world, where physical harm or even death is a likely consequence of their faith decisions. But, that does not mean the decision for each individual is not incredibly weighty, incredibly powerful, incredibly life changing, and is still a life and death situation. Following Jesus means we take up our cross too, it does not promise an easy life, it likely produces a challenging, persecuted, yet delightfully full life. Therefore, no matter the person, or the physical consequence to their faith, earning a person’s trust is a worthy investment so they can receive your words in love, and consider their true weight with value.We must not believe that simply because we have the freedom to share our faith in the US that this belittles the importance and weight of our message. Click To Tweet
We must not believe that simply because we have the freedom to share our faith in the U.S. that this belittles the importance and weight of our message. The gospel is life changing. Jesus came to completely free, restore, and save people – each decision to follow Jesus will begin a life-altering journey to find life and life to the fullest. (John 10:10). When Jesus presented the gospel it was with a choice of great consequence. “Sell all you have and follow me.” “Go and sin no more.” “Ask me for living water, and you will never thirst again.” “Be fishers of men.” “Get up and walk.” Each opportunity was life changing and had consequence. Freedom to share the message does not change the importance or life altering consequence of the message. We must not let freedom make us walk passively into evangelism.
Teaching the Weight of the Gospel
Many students in your youth group may not have had the opportunity to live in another country where religious freedom is limited, or absent, but as mentors and guides, we are to exemplify and teach them the weight of the gospel in light of freedom, and the significance of each created individual. If the gospel is not life altering, if it does not cause immense consequence, then it is not a worthy message. Being in a Muslim country has reminded me that the gospel is of great consequence, whether we are free to speak of it or not. Physical death may not always be the result, but a type of death is always necessary for a choice to follow Jesus.
Because the gospel is of great consequence, it deserves time and genuine relationship to develop and earn the space to share.
Evangelism is not a churchy word that only some have the “gift” for – it is an opportunity in every relationship we have to give respect. People around us deserve our time, love and intention; that we might acknowledge the weight of the reality in the decision people have to make. Evangelism of the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be taught to our students as one conversation to have with their friends. It is a lifetime of relationship, an opportunity to be earned. It is so significant in fact, that God has spent all of time crafting the story we must share, and given His very Son for. It is a life and death decision, it is weighty, it is beautiful, it is fulfilling. You may have heard it said, “all good things take time.” Well, this is really, really good. Our time is precious, which is why this precious gift of the gospel deserves our time, it deserves to be earned.
This post was written by a youth worker who is serving as a missionary in a country where his/her faith in Christ and work in the Church could be dangerous for their family. Please join us in praying for this youth worker as he/she continues to follow God’s calling to the country he/she is serving.