UMNS Photo by Kathleen Barry
I sometimes have the happy occasion to train first-time mission team leaders. People who take mission trips are some of my favorite people, and so I always enjoy our time together. We talk about what to bring (double the money and half the clothes!), how to be culturally sensitive (watch what you do with your hands!), and how to deal with conflict in the team (be the boss!). We talk through logistics, travel health, team selection, and anything else that might help these brave leaders once they step onto the mission field. There is a lot to cover! Mission work is complicated. The training session takes the better part of a day.
For everything else we cover, the thing we inevitably talk about the most is evangelism, and I have learned to block off a good chunk of time for this discussion. The team leaders never bring it up on their own, not really sure how to broach it. But as soon as I say the word “evangelism,” it can take us an hour to talk through the issue.
When I first started doing these trainings, I would wonder how adult Christians—many of whom have grown up in the church—could have no idea about how to share their faith. It is not simply that many of us have questions about how to do evangelism in a new culture: it is that we are often unsure how to share our faith, in any culture, including our own. We feel inadequate in the responsibility of bearing the message of Christ.
To put it bluntly: we are excited about mission but petrified of Jesus.
Now, this formulation probably sounds strange to you, and if I am honest, I will admit that it sounds strange to me, too. Nobody should be afraid of Jesus, least of all faithful churchgoers who attend worship twice, three times weekly, and who are now preparing for mission service. But it is true. We are afraid of sharing their faith in places with which we are not familiar. Many of us are afraid of sharing our faith at all.
I should tell you that I totally understand the fear.
We are afraid of sharing their faith in places with which we are not familiar. Many of us are afraid of sharing our faith at all.
There was a time in my life when “evangelism” was a dirty word, and I rejected it completely. You could hardly blame me, with all the awful things I had seen done in the name of the Gospel. Perhaps you have seen some of these tactics, too. I have had more than one person tell me I was going to hell because of this or that belief, but my experience is nothing compared to some of the horrendous ways that Christians “evangelize.”