Evangelism in an Age of Uncertainty
Is the delivery guy healthy? Is the mailman coughing? While we practice social distancing and obey the shelter in place order, we've learned to limit our contact with other people to preserve our own health. We're pretty good at it by this time. Walking to my mailbox the other day reminded me of a four-way-stop-sign intersection as a jogger and I awkwardly paused to determine who had the right of way. We were careful not to break our six-foot distance rule.
But, this isn't the way it's supposed to be.
Our society is ultra concentrated on our physical health while this crisis is also revealing deeper, spiritual problems. Problematic marriages are intensifying discord through the petri-dish of social isolation. Lonely people are further isolated. Our society is crying out for our government to protect the most vulnerable of our communities but is also happy to abdicate our duty to love our neighbors.
How can we effectively meet the spiritual needs of neighbors if we are physically apart from them and they are generally unwilling to engage with us?
Jesus, Himself, gave us the Great Commission. We did not receive it from an angel or another prophet; we were commanded directly from His mouth. "Go and make disciples," He told us. We are to teach and baptize people. Significantly, evangelism is often forgotten in times of crisis because we want to meet practical needs and to be helpful. We don't want to appear as those who offer only spiritual blessing but won't physically help in moments of severe need. Of course, we should be reasonable to help people first and then to try to teach people. But, as we settle in to homebound lives, when is the proper time to say something for God? When should we obey the Lord's command to disciple, teach, and baptize? The answer is: now.
If we don't tell our neighbors the gospel now, we risk exchanging obedience to Christ's commission for the sake of our own comfort.
We should already be demonstrating the gospel by helping our neighbors practically. As ambassadors for His Kingdom in our neighborhoods, we should be serving others and taking godly responsibility for our physical neighbors, knowing that God has sovereignly placed them next to us. Our speech and actions must reveal our hope in God that supersedes our fears. This hope should be evident in the manner in which we talk everyday and reveal to our neighbors that we are God's people. This way, when we utilize an opportunity to tell others the good news of salvation through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, they will see that our lifestyle lines up with our beliefs.
The key is that we are actually looking for an opening to tell them about Jesus. The world is dying to know Christ. Our neighbors need righteousness, peace, and joy in their lives. Our whole world is out of balance and feeling the stress of the coronavirus crisis. Just as God uses major life events like births, deaths, and marriages to soften people's hearts toward Himself, He is using these uncertain times.
Every time we simply nod and look away when someone says, "it's crazy out there," we miss the moment to bring someone to Christ and to witness God save one of His elect.
We are praying for the Lord's deliverance from this virus and we are trusting that the Lord will heal and preserve everyone. But we also have an opportunity to answer the deep longings and questions of the world brought to the surface through uncertainty. We are not capitalizing on peoples' fear; rather, we are refusing to leave people in spiritual darkness wondering where God is in the midst of the crisis. We need to be quick to respond with the reason for the hope that we have. We should be prepared to actually minister God's peace by directing any who are anxious to Christ. We should be the first to pray for anyone sick and, just as we are already practically serving our neighbors' needs, we must meet their spiritual needs by bringing them to the Good Shepard.
How? Start with your own neighbors.
Take a moment, from six feet away, to pray for your neighbors - out loud - right there at the end of your driveway when you happen to see each other. Call and text to check on them and also to take take a moment to encourage them that God has not forgotten us. Use the Easter season to remind them that Christ's resurrection from the dead means victory for God's people. Tell them what it means to trust Jesus through this crisis. Watch for any opportunity in a conversation, call, note, email, or whatever to tell them the gospel so that they know how to come to Christ. Discipleship is about bringing people to God through the gospel, not convincing them by great arguments or fixing all their fears.
Invite them to join us online for Easter.
Here is an invitation to make it easy. Click on the image for a downloadable pdf. Print it out and write a little note on it like, "this is my church - you should watch with us." Put it on their front door.
Other than your immediate neighbors, who has God put in your life to whom you should tell the gospel? To answer this question, fill out the below Evangelism Chart (click title for downloadable pdf):
- Make of list of 3-10 people you personally know, who are not saved.
- Of those, check the Relationship box if you have a relationship deeper than mere acquaintances. (ex. they recognize you on their caller ID and are not shocked or suspicious that you are calling)
- Check the Experience box if you have ever been through a life experience with the person (ex. visited after birth of child, consoled after death of loved one, attended wedding)
- Check the Conversation box if you have ever talked with the person about anything spiritual (ex. "do you think my dog's in heaven?")
- Anyone on your chart with all three boxes checked is someone that God has providentially placed in your life to tell them the Good News of Jesus!
- If you don't have anybody in your chart with three boxes checked then it is time to make some unchurched friends outside your inner circle. You can't be an ambassador for Christ from within the safety of the embassy (church building). Jesus told us to, "Go, therefore."
What do I say?
Start with your testimony. Tell them about Jesus and what He has done in your life. Tell them what God has done for us all.You've just told them the gospel.
Then, say, "I want you to know Jesus and to receive God's salvation. The Bible says that if
you believe in Jesus you will have eternal life. Why don't you pray right now that God will save you and fill you with His presence?" When they pray with you, rejoice because God is the one doing all the work. Plan on talking to them a lot about God as you begin to disciple them, teaching them all about Jesus. Remember the goal is discipleship revealed by changed lives. Somebody praying with us is just the first step. Call an elder and get us in touch with your new convert so that we can help.
This is the time to act.
In some cases, COVID-19 is a mortal virus. Are you willing to let this virus potentially kill our friends and neighbors without telling them about Jesus? That's not a guilt tactic, it is the unsaid truth of any crisis. Life is fragile, and we assume that God will give us more time to do what He has called us to accomplish. Now is the time to act and to proclaim the gospel rather than succomb to the temptation that this moment isn't good to proclaim God's salvation.
Know this, it is socially dangerous to stand up and say something for Jesus.
That danger is not worth disobeying our King, and God has equipped and promised us that He will give us the words to say in the moment. Trust God that He will not only protect us through this crisis, but use it to bring those we love closer to Himself. May the Lord wipe every tear from every eye and may He save all those on our lists and in our neighborhoods! I pray that God will use us all through the relationships that He has already given us to reap a harvest of righteousness not just by our actions but by our deliberate evangelism so that Jesus is glorified in every way. God's work of restoration and saving people is not stopped by social distancing. In fact, He is ever moving us closer to Himself that we might glorify Him in everything.