I gave up on evangelism.
I don’t remember exactly when, but it was a long, long time ago. I can’t put my finger on the exact date, but somewhere along the line, my passion for souls took a detour.
It wasn’t always that way. I actually remember a time when I looked for opportunities to witness. “You’re a Christian,” people said. “You’ll automatically want to lead people to Christ.” I knew evangelism was important. I knew the value of it. I even took classes, looked for chances to share, and prayed for opportunities.
Occasionally, I found a stranger to share with. Those were the best opportunities—the ones that felt like “real” evangelism. I would start the conversation, move quickly into presenting the gospel, and end as quickly as I had started. The person usually didn’t make a commitment to Christ, but I had done my part.
For the weeks and months that followed, I would bask in the afterglow of my encounter for Christ. The pressure was off; I had witnessed. I had fulfilled my Christian responsibility, and God was pleased. Of course, I also didn’t feel much of a need to share again for a while. Like a smoker after a cigarette, the encounter had temporarily satisfied. But over time the need to share began to grow.
The pattern repeated itself year after year. Share with someone, feel satisfied, let time pass, feel the need to share again.
I heard at least a hundred sermons on the Great Commission and our responsibility to carry it out. I even considered foreign missions at one point after hearing missionaries share stories about people coming to Christ like overripe fruit falling from a tree.
I knew the verses about the fields being “white unto harvest” and heard guest speakers telling us to pray for laborers—then to be willing to go ourselves. I also had heard the passages about what would happen if I didn’t share with someone: their blood would be on my head, meaning I would be responsible for those who died in their sins if I didn’t share with them. I wasn’t sure what that meant; I just knew I would be in trouble.
I attended a small evangelical Bible college. Once each semester, classes were canceled and we attended a mandatory “day of visitation.” We were each paired with a partner and then assigned to an evangelistic team for the morning—the mall team, the door-to-door team, the skid row team, and so forth. I dreaded those days and even managed to find myself ill a few times—too sick to participate. On the days I did participate, I tried to get on the skid row team. Somehow, sharing my faith felt less threatening when I could do it with a homeless person who was obviously needy. After a couple of hours, we returned to campus and shared stories about what had happened. Occasionally, someone actually reported praying with someone to receive Christ. I wondered why those stories never happened to me.
One year in the ’70s, our church took part in the “I Found It” campaign. It was a nationwide effort to reach every household in America with the gospel. The premise was simple. Christians around the country put bumper stickers on their cars that read “I Found It” with no explanation—presumably to attract interest from nonbelievers. Similar billboards followed. Then, during a two-week period, a coordinated telephone effort took place in churches around the country. Each church secured phone directories that listed people by address. A church was responsible for several blocks in their neighborhood. A phone bank was established in each church, and members assembled to make scripted calls. It was a high-tech (at the time) effort to do door-to-door evangelism without knocking. Every home in the nation received a call within a two-week period, surveying residents about their spiritual interests and trying to get an opportunity to share the gospel.
I felt like it was a noble effort—but I hated it, personally. I remember sitting at the phone, working my way around the block I had been assigned, feeling like a sanctified telemarketer. I was relieved when each person told me he or she wasn’t interested. I knew the campaign must be doing some good and some people around the country would come to faith through the effort. Philippians 1:18 says, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” I knew God was going to use the effort—but I wasn’t so sure he was going to use me. I followed the script, asking people questions about their lives, but inside I felt like asking, “I’m really bothering you, aren’t I? You really find this irritating and intrusive, don’t you? You probably feel worse about Christianity now than you did before I called, right?” Because that’s how I would feel if someone called me.
The nagging questions continued: If God wanted me to evangelize, why was it so hard? Why was it so foreign to my introvert personality? I felt like it wasn’t fair. God made some people noisier than others, and it seemed easy for them. But I wasn’t noisy, and I felt inferior, even displeasing to God.
One night in high school, some friends and I attended an evangelism training seminar. On Friday night, we learned the basics of sharing our faith, practicing on each other during the session. Our assignment was to share our testimony with someone before we came back the next day.
Two of us left the meeting praying for an opportunity to share with someone that night. We cruised Central Avenue in Phoenix, looking for a likely candidate. We found him at McDonalds—a young employee on his break. He was sitting on one of the outdoor tables, smoking a cigarette. (Since he was smoking, we figured he was probably an unbeliever.)
We parked the car, approached him from behind, and sat on either side of him. After asking the appropriate questions, it was time to move into our presentation. I remember rushing to begin so my friend wouldn’t do it first, leaving me with the necessity of finding still another person. I didn’t stop until I was done. Finally I asked if he would like to pray to receive Christ. He responded, “Well, I gotta get back to work. Thanks for preaching.”
I felt great. I had witnessed. I could tell people I had witnessed. If someone asked me, “When was the last time you talked to someone about Christ?” I had an answer. In fact, I could use that answer for months now. I could even drop it into casual conversations with friends: “Well, last week when I was witnessing to a guy at McDonalds . . .”
But something didn’t make sense. I knew God wanted me to witness—but I always dreaded it. I knew God was supposed to give us power and boldness if we asked for it, but it never seemed to help.