MINNEAPOLIS, MN – This time of year my yard is littered with awful yellow weed-flowers. Yes, dandelions. As a kid it was great fun to pluck a fuzzy white one, hold it up, and blow. This scattered the fluff into the air, eventually landing again in the grass. At the time, I had no idea I was spreading this wild invasive weed to disturb the carefully manicured grass. Now as a homeowner and the resident gardener, each weekend I toil to pluck up this weed that seems to spread regardless of what I do to stop it.
Dandelions multiply and spread by nature, much like the gospel. Consider for a moment how news of Jesus spread wherever he went (Mark 1:21–28, 40–45; 5:1–20). Despite Jesus’s best efforts to temper the excitement, his fame and healings spread far and wide. It was like the ripe dandelion scattering into the wind, taking root wherever it flies. The gospel travels like that, from person to person, family to family, and community to community.
The word of God takes off like this, with a life of its own, in the story of Acts:
“But the word of God increased and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24)
“And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” (Acts 13:49)
“So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.” (Acts 19:20)
So if the word of God — the good news of Jesus Christ — inherently possesses the power to increase and multiply through the work of the Holy Spirit, then why is evangelism so difficult? Why don’t we share the gospel more than we do? We need to ask if we are a fresh wind that causes the seed of the good news to spread, or instead, obstacles that keep it from moving further and faster. Unfortunately, many of us are more wall than breeze. But why?
Four Obstacles to Evangelism
1. Lack of Gospel Knowledge
How many times have you heard the gospel in a sermon, book, or conversation? If you’ve been a Christian, even for a short time, you have likely heard the gospel hundreds of times. Yet, many of us still struggle to articulate the truths of the gospel in a simple, coherent, and intelligible way. Could you share the essential message of the gospel in sixty seconds, right now?
Some of us just don’t care that much about lost people. We wouldn’t ever say it, but our priorities and lives reveal it. We make no time in our busy schedules to interact and engage with those who don’t know Christ. We have long stopped praying for lost people in our neighborhoods and workplaces. We have no non-Christian friends, and barely any ties. Lost people are a low priority. For instance, when was the last time you invited someone into your home who did not know Christ?
What will others think of me? What if they don’t like me or my family? Some are paralyzed by the thought of being disliked, marginalized, laughed at, or openly mocked. We’re afraid we’ll lose business or get passed up for that promotion. What if they stop inviting my kids to the birthday parties? What if talking about Christ makes seeing my neighbors awkward? What if they lump me together with Ned Flanders or the Westboro Baptist Church-cult?
4. Lack of Compassion
We lack compassion for the lost. We have long forgotten what it was like to live without hope, lost and apart from Christ. We rarely consider that those who do not obey Christ “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). We just don’t care that much. We might say we care, but we rarely cry out to God for the salvation of our lost neighbors, coworkers, and classmates. Paul’s compassion in Romans 9:3 is utterly foreign to us: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.”
We Overcome Obstacles Together, Not Alone
If making disciples is our mission (Matthew 28:18–20), how can followers of Christ overcome these obstacles to be conduits of grace to the lost? One of the primary ways we can overcome our lack of gospel knowledge, apathy, fear, and lack of compassion is by gathering together with fellow believers to remember and cultivate our core calling and convictions.
We are people who have died to ourselves and live for Christ (Galatians 2:20). We have the profound privilege of spurring on fellow believers to love and good works that God has set before us (Hebrews 10:24; Ephesians 2:10). Some of those good works will be giving verbal testimony to the grace of God in our lives and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the lost. Within the context of Christian community, another believer can speak and remind us of the very truths we need to hear. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: “We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way that Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our common destruction. We are gentle and we are severe with one another, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s severity.” (Life Together, 106)
All Christians need fellow believers to help them grow in their understanding of the gospel. We all need others in our lives who spur us on to a greater compassion and zeal to love the lost by sharing the good news of Jesus willingly, winsomely, and boldly. Here are four ways this can work itself out in a community.
Four Steps to Sharing More
1. Pray Together for the Lost
As Christians are gathered together in small groups or missional communities, we ought to make it a priority to pray for the lost in addition to our normal prayer concerns. In Acts 4:23–31, after Peter and John are released from prison, the disciples gather to pray for God to give them boldness to speak his word. If the early church needed to pray for greater evangelistic zeal and boldness, how much more do we need to pray similarly in our gatherings?
One simple way to consistently do this in a Bible study or small group setting is to conclude your study with this question: What truths did we learn about God and who can we share this with in our spheres of influence? This can naturally transition to praying for those who need to know Christ in our lives. As we pray for God to work in the lives of our lost friends, apathy is transformed to an eagerness and readiness to engage others for the sake of Christ.
2. Recall the Gospel Together
In 2 Timothy 2:8–13, Paul reminds Timothy of the truth of the gospel to encourage him to press on and be faithful to the message that has been entrusted to him. If Timothy — a student of Paul, a faithful servant, a pastor, preacher and teacher — needed to be reminded of the truth of the gospel to keep going, how much more do you and I need to be reminded of the eternal truths of the gospel?
Much of this reminding happens in the context of gathering together with fellow believers. As God’s people recall his truths — week to week in homes and gathered together in worship — we combat gospel-amnesia by reminding one another that God’s mission is to save sinners through the work of his Son Jesus. As we re-preach the gospel to ourselves and to one another, we’ll be more prepared to speak it afresh to those without Christ.
3. Apply the Gospel Together
In Galatians 2:11–14, Paul opposes Peter because Peter’s conduct and behavior were not in accord with the gospel. Similarly, we need fellow Christians who will tell us that it’s not okay to not care about the lost. Such attitudes are not in accord with the gospel. When fear and apathy are exposed, it is a fresh opportunity to apply the gospel to our own lives. If we are fearful of what others may think, we are reminded that our identity is in Christ and our lives belong to him. If we lack compassion, we are rebuked as we consider God’s deep compassion for sheep without a shepherd.
Evangelism is one measure of our spiritual maturity. For many, theological knowledge does not translate to fruits of the Spirit — into love for fellow believers, or serving others, or sacrificial giving, or evangelism. Together in community we help one another become more like Christ by being faithful disciple-making disciples.
4. Prove the Power of the Gospel Together
If we do not believe the sufficiency of the gospel, we will never share it boldly and simply. Yet, if we truly believe that God’s word does the work of conversion through the power of his Holy Spirit, we will unabashedly share the simple and unadorned truth of the gospel. A truncated and inadequate gospel will quickly be abandoned and never shared. But a gospel that can save by grace through faith — apart from works — as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) is believed, treasured, and declared boldly.
With fellow believers, we must remind each other of the sufficiency of God’s word to do his work for his purposes. If we are confident in the ability of the gospel to transform lives, we can boldly and indiscriminately proclaim this good news with sacrificial love to the lost in the hope that some will be saved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steven Lee is the lead pastor of the North Campus of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, where he lives with his wife Stephanie and their five children. He is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary.