So why are so many Christians today neglecting or denying the need to evangelize others? Here are some thoughts:
- There is a rejection of the “fire and brimstone” preaching of yesteryear. As I’ve said, this is a dangerous pendulum swing. Not unexpected, but dangerous. We don’t solve anything by going from one extreme to another. We’ve got to get back to a middle ground where our people (our leaders!) feel confident in sharing Jesus in a healthy way.
- An age of tolerance makes evangelism seem old-fashioned. Evangelism isn’t tolerant. It doesn’t say, “This is my idea, but yours is just as valid.” Evangelism makes claims of exclusivity. Evangelism calls for an embrace of one set of ideals and a rejection of all others. The spirit of tolerance and a zeal for evangelism don’t go together well.
- Evangelism creates conflict. It’s easy to hold forth kingdom values that society in general applauds. Few people openly advocate injustice. It’s rare that someone will argue against helping the needy. So many of the kingdom values that our church today wants to promote are values that society in general is in agreement with. It’s undeniably true that more churches began preaching gender justice when Western culture embraced women’s rights; many assume the same thing will happen with homosexuality.
But evangelism is counter-cultural. If someone suggests that a Muslim needs Jesus, they’re criticized for their intolerance. If we tell our neighbor that they need to live a Christian lifestyle, we’re seen as judgmental. Evangelism creates conflict.
- Evangelistic results are hard to predict and hard to quantify. If it takes $100 to dig a water well, you know that $1000 will dig ten. Predictable. Quantifiable. Easy to fit into a budget. Easy to report on afterward.
There are no formulas for predicting evangelistic success. Conversions can take years. We know that the more people we talk to, the more likely it will be that some will respond to Jesus. But for people who live by numbers and statistics, relief work is always going to be more attractive.
- Theological shifts have left church leaders without motivation to reach out. Here’s where we see a divide between many church leaders and your average church members. Many leaders no longer see the atonement as past generations did. Many choose an emphasis on “bringing heaven to earth” over “helping people get to heaven.” Others embrace a universalism that denies that any will be ultimately lost. These shifts and others have left many church leaders looking to spend their time, energy, and resources in other areas rather than evangelism.
We could name many more factors. Maybe you’ll help me. Why do you think so many church leaders today are hesitant to talk about evangelism and reaching out to the lost?