Oh you do that evangelism stuff? That’s interesting. How many people have you brought to Christ?
Do you get that sinking feeling too when someone asks that? Don’t let the question fester guiltily inside of you.
As Christians, we’re so good at asking all the wrong questions, often without meaning to. Think about it. When looking for a church we ask what the worship [translation: ‘music’] is like. When thinking about serving God we often ask where [translation: ‘is it exciting?’] not how. When it comes to hard times we often ask why God is being so mean, not what he is teaching us.
When we meet an evangelist we ask how many people he has led to Christ.
Some years ago, we were asked this at SU camp as part of a discussion about telling our friends about Jesus. My answer back then was a pitiful zero. I can still feel the burning blush on my cheeks thinking about it. No doubt you’ve experienced the same feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy at some point.
Years later (a few months ago) I was asked the same question and the answer was so drastically different that I remember grinning at the guy who asked.
Before I give the answer though, I think it’s important to share with you how this question makes believers feel and the reason for it.
Thick Skin But a Tender Heart
I’m blessed with a number of friends who are gifted evangelists and still more who are not but battle on anyway because they desperately want the people around them to know Jesus.
Whether you are involved in friendship evangelism or stranger evangelism (is that even what it’s called?) you will understand the point I’m about to make. If you aren’t involved in either, well, let’s just deal with this point for now, you need to hear this.
It’s not for the faint-hearted.
I’ve joked before that it’s a good job that some of us suffered rejection in our youth or we’d have given up long ago. There’s an element of truth in that though. You need a tender heart but it must be kept beneath a thick skin.
For every ten doors you knock on you might get one person willing to talk and only one in ten of them have any real interest. Of every hundred passers-by, maybe only one will stop to listen and that includes the idly curious and the hecklers. You may spend decades witnessing to and praying for friends and family but to no visible end. This endeavour is not for the result-driven, the human-centred, or the faint-hearted.
Perhaps that’s why it’s so unpopular just now (particularly stranger evangelism).
Bear in mind that your evangelists are your frontline guys. They’re the guys who are actively seeking out lost people and trying to bring them the good news which they will (in their natural state) hate. They’re the guys who faithfully preach the gospel only to have it thrown back in their faces then they go and report back to their churches only to be told that they must be doing something wrong if the only response is negative and no one is being saved.
Of course this is not true of every church (I thank God that there are many churches which aren’t like this) but it is true of far too many.
Here’s another truth about a number of evangelists: they love it and they hate it. The flesh is frustratingly cowardly at times, it doesn’t always recognise the privilege it is to be able to share what God has done. Paul talks about the war between the spirit and the flesh. Well, the flesh isn’t always willing to die a social death but the spirit argues that if you don’t die socially for a little while, these people will die spiritually for eternity. It took a week for me to work up to telling two Mormons the gospel. A guy I know often paces for a good half hour, praying for the courage he really doesn’t feel right now to get up in the street and just preach.
It’s not for the faint-hearted. The motivation for evangelism is something I’d like to touch on another time rather than just skim it for now but basically, it’s not about us. We’re just bit parts in the grand scheme of things which is so freeing to know. Signposts and sowers, remember?
Anyway, that was straying from the point a bit. Basically, you need to understand that evangelism is a hard task and I do not say this to get sympathy, just to state fact.
It is difficult and, on the surface, oftentimes looks and feels really rather unrewarding. I’ll admit that if it wasn’t urgent, I wouldn’t bother. But don’t think that the lack of people coming to Christ doesn’t bother us because it does. Very keenly. Many will never have another chance.
So when you ask how many people we’ve brought to Christ, you’re touching a nerve for all of us. For some it brings a sense of sadness, shame and longing. For others it can stir up frustration because it feels like an accusation of failure (even when it isn’t intended that way) and it shows a lack of understanding of what successful evangelism actually is. It stings because it is the wrong question and, sometimes without knowing it, we’re longing for you to ask the right one.
The Right Answer to the Wrong Question
Let’s face it, there will always be someone who asks so it’s better to try and just get over it and carefully consider the answer we may give instead.
Several years ago, I heard a brother preach. He was talking about the gospel of course (he always is) and he touched upon this very issue. He told of a time when someone asked him about his work as a church planter and an evangelist and proceeded to ask the dreaded question.
‘So how many people have you brought to Christ?’
My ears pricked (more than they were already) because this brother has always been a fount of wisdom and encouragement.
‘Do you know what I replied?’ he continued, his eyebrows raised as he looked out over those of us gathered. I leaned forward a little without thinking.
‘Every. Single. One.’
How many people have you brought to Christ?
Every single one.
I can see the gleam in his eye, hear the flicker of a smile in his voice every time I hear someone ask that question. And I find myself smiling. Because I understand better now.
Every single one.
We lead them to the cross, to the empty tomb, to the risen Christ. We lead every single one there. What happens next is beyond our power. Mary ran and told the disciples what she had seen and she showed them the empty tomb but whether they believed or not was not in her control. Of course we must pray and we must tell but it is between them and God once we have led them to Christ. Our hands are clean no matter the outcome so long as we faithfully deliver the message and commit those souls to God in prayer.
Don’t feel inadequate or ashamed. The gospel is not about keeping count. It is about showing and telling the Truth to the lost, taking them to the cross and leaving them there. You may not see tangible results in this life but, in the words of the same brother, ‘you do not know what good may be done.’
The question is oft asked in innocence but it betrays a slightly squint view of the purpose of the work. All believers should know that everything comes back to Christ in the end. One of the ways to gently remind them is to point them to him by gently and graciously giving the right answer to the wrong question:
Every single one is brought to Christ.
The Right Question
Enough has been said about the wrong question, I think, but I don’t want to leave you there because I worry that you’ll feel berated. Let’s end on encouragement, shall we? Often people only ask this because they don’t know what else to say.
It’s simple really. If you want to find out more about the work of the evangelist, encourage them, or possibly make them cry, ask this:
How can I pray for you?
This means both the work in which they are engaged and the evangelist as a person in their own right. There are many beautiful things in life but one of the most precious is knowing that someone faithfully has your back in prayer. It can make all the difference.
We need to learn to ask the right questions, not the ones that demand proof that we aren’t just wasting our lives but the ones which remind us that we are fighting together towards the same goal, the ones which say ‘I’m with you brother’.
So when you meet an evangelist, encourage him with good questions. And when someone asks you (as I’m sure they shall) how many people you’ve brought to Christ, may you always be able and overjoyed to say every single one.