I hate to admit it, but the word "evangelism" sends me into a full-body shudder. I hear the word and vivid images scroll through my imagination: fake million-dollar bills with "how to get to heaven" printed on the back. Sandwich boards and billboards that ask questions like "Do you know where you're going?" in ominous, Twilight-Zone font. Little booklets that reduce this huge thing called "faith" to a four-page to-do list. I don't know when the word evangelism was hijacked in my mind, but I want it back.
As much as I might hate my stereotypical "evangelism," I know that I can't ignore the fact that introducing my friends to Jesus is a crucial part of my faith. But the evangelism I remember from my childhood feels more like an obligation than a privilege—more like a program or a prescription and less like . . . well, an introduction. So how can we recapture the Great Commission—God's chosen medium for glorifying his name—without feeling like door-to-door saleswomen for Jesus?
What is evangelism?
People who encountered Jesus in the Bible were changed. They were set free. And when they were changed and freed, they were compelled to talk about it. They couldn't stop talking about him once they encountered him because he was that amazing. In John 9, the blind man can't even explain who Jesus is, but he still can't shut up. He tells the religious leaders who blast him with questions, "I don't know whether he is a sinner," the man replied. "But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!" (John 9:25).
This is the evangelism I want to know. This is the Jesus I want to talk about, sing about, think about, and share. This is the essence of Jesus' own description about the future of evangelism—not a program but a compelling movement: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). You will be empowered to tell people about me everywhere—what an incredible mandate! But how would that look for you—tomorrow at the bus stop? Today with your neighbor? Next week with the coworker at lunch? Here are a few things to consider:
1. What your friend thinks about Jesus is okay.
If we were really honest, most of us would admit that we are a little scared to talk about our faith with unbelieving friends. We might decide we don't know enough. We might worry that our own faith will be shaken by unanswerable questions or doubts about Christianity that we ourselves haven't reconciled yet. We might think that our own lives aren't shining brightly enough to qualify as witnesses. Yet if you play those concerns forward, you see where they lead. They lead to us playing it safe and keeping our faith private.
But Jesus never commanded anyone to play it safe. He called Peter out in faith to walk on water and he called Zacchaeus out in truth to come out of a tree and change. He smeared mud on a blind man to make him see, and he wrote in the dirt in front of an adulterer to make her free. Jesus willingly met a skeptical Pharisee in the night, and he met a scandalous woman at a well in the middle of the day. Jesus never played it safe, and he doesn't want you to either. So if you decide that you are okay with your unanswered questions and you are okay with wherever she is on her faith journey—knowing that God is in control of her life—then you'll be more likely to have the conversation. You can decide that no matter how far your friend may seem from God, God is not far from her.
2. Faith is a journey.
I have a friend who once taught that faith is like a treadmill. We all get on the treadmill and can be moving at different speeds and distances—but no matter where we are on the treadmill, at one point, we all had to hit the "start" button. As believers in Christ, we've all hit the start button—crossed over from death to life. Some of our friends might be standing on the treadmill but need to be encouraged to start. Hitting the start button means going from nothing to something—even if we doubt, even if we have questions, even if we aren't 100 percent sure—we can still hit "start."
After Jesus had a conversation with the woman at the well, she immediately went back to tell everyone she knew what Jesus had told her. Did she have it all figured out? Would she have called herself a "Christian"? Probably not, but I do know that the Bible says many Samaritans from that village believed in Jesus as the Messiah because of the woman's testimony (John 4:39). Before she even knew what was happening, she had hit the start button, because she started talking to Jesus and started talking about Jesus. We can encourage our friends that they don't have to have it all figured out before they join our Bible study, come to church, or start praying. They can just hit start and we can trust that Christ will meet them there. "Come close to God, and God will come close to you" (James 4:8).
3. Are you in love with Jesus?
Rick Warren once tweeted, "We naturally evangelize anything we love." When I consider that, I know I evangelize all the time. I passionately evangelize my favorite websites, smart phone apps, clothing lines, and shoe brands. I evangelize restaurants and kitchen tools and, of course, Target. I don't need any of those stores or products to force me to talk about them; I just do because they're awesome. And to think that I struggle to share my faith! To talk about Jesus, who came into my life, saved me from my sin, and freed me to tell others about him! There can never be something more important to share.
You don't have to have all the answers—you just have to be in love with Jesus. Because we women can spot someone in love from a mile away. And we always want to hear that story.