When it comes to evangelism, pay attention to the heart first. That’s where the real barriers lie.
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Corinthians 4:5-7
REASON TO HOPE
Personal evangelism begins on the inside. The essence of what we are doing by sharing our faith, person-to-person, is to let people see and hear about Christ through us. The gospel we share is not a package we take down from the shelf and hand to someone else. Rather, the gospel first comes to reside in us — Christ himself moving in and beginning the process of spiritual transformation (Ephesians 3:17).
This should give us a lot of encouragement. Our greatest hope for fruit in our outreach is not being more than ordinary human beings, but Christ himself, shining out from within our ordinary “clay pot” lives — and the proclaimed gospel about Christ. We don’t put hope for the salvation of others in anything but Christ — not in our evangelistic tools, training sessions, outreach programs — and not in ourselves.
But if our hope is in Christ, and not ourselves, we still may not neglect the matters of our heart. If Christ is the treasure that shines out from our inner being, then it is our inner being that we need to pay closest attention to. This is where the greatest barriers to fruitful evangelism lie.
WATCHING OUR HEART
We often discuss barriers to outreach: fear, people-pleasing, lack of knowledge, rejection, cultural disconnects, etc. These are indeed real barriers to people speaking about Jesus. And there are more. But the deeper barriers to fruitful outreach are what hinder the glory of Christ from shining out from our hearts: willful, unconfessed sin, and broken relationships between Christians in the church. If the gospel is fundamentally a heart issue for us all, then it stands to reason that that’s where the battle will be — in our hearts.
If we are at odds with the Holy Spirit, by consciously allowing sin to fester in our hearts, we will be out of step with the Spirit and not seeing his fruit. In other words, we will not be abiding in Christ. John 15:5 says “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
I’m not suggesting that we need to be sinlessly perfect before we can share the good news about Jesus with a friend. Not even close. But we have to understand that there is a direct link between our heart’s relationship with God, and our hope for fruitfulness and power in our outreach. And if we are deliberately feeding sin in our hearts, then it will affect our outreach.
The other barrier is disunity among Christians. This, too, is a heart issue. But how does my non-Christian co-worker know that I’m not getting along with my friend at church? I’m not saying that he will know (though word gets around when Christians have problems!) But we do know that Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). And this: “I do not ask for these only but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me“ (John 17:20-21).
God has designed it so that Christian unity is one of the most powerful testimonies to the work of the gospel in the world. We can’t overlook this issue as we “go out.”
If you are launching an outreach activity at your church, or renewing evangelism in some way, begin by bringing this up. Deal first with matters of the heart. Call for a time of confession. Encourage conversations of forgiveness and restoration if possible. Read and highlight 2 Corinthians 4:5-7, John 13:34-35 and John 17:20-21. Then move on to the strategy and the activities. Outreach begins inside.