How much do you talk about Jesus? Not with your family, or with your fellow church-goers, or the close Christian friends you’ve made through church groups and activities. How much do you talk about Jesus out in the world? With people who don’t already share your beliefs? Who might be hostile to them? In other words, with the people who might really need to hear about Him?
Odds are, sadly not often enough.
Data analysis organization LifeWay Research recently released a study that casts an unfortunately bleak spotlight on modern evangelism. Entitled the "Discipleship Pathway Assessment”, the study polled thousands of Christians on questions ranging from their thoughts about the church, their goals as Christians, and their everyday behavior. While fascinating in many ways, the results show a very real disconnect in what many seem to want from their church and themselves as Christians, and what they do.
One of the most glaring areas this disconnect manifests is when it comes to outreach. While 56% of those polled said they regularly (meaning at least once a week) pray for opportunities to share the gospel with non-Christians, a scant 55% percent of respondents have actually participated in any kind of spiritual conversation with anyone outside the faith in more than "the last six months” (IE, six months at least, possibly years).
That is a tragic figure. So many of us are praying for something we seemingly have no real intention of following through with. That alone should give us pause.
But why are people hesitant to talk about faith? What is preventing these people who seem to want to share the Good News from actually doing it? The study itself hints at a few reasons. For example, 47% of millennials polled (people born in the early 80’s to mid-90’s) "agree at least somewhat” that it is impolite to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith. It’s considered a gaffe, something you wouldn’t want to be seen doing.
The number of people who identify as religious as a whole is on the decline in the West, and those who are religious now face increasing social pressure to "stay in their lane” as it were when it comes to sharing those beliefs. This creates a vicious cycle. People are afraid to speak up about what they believe because they don’t see anyone else doing it, creating an inescapable silence.
But spreading the gospel is one of our most important duties as Christians. It’s what Jesus came into this world to do and why He made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. In no uncertain terms, Jesus commands His followers to spread His word. From Mark 16:15 "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” He makes it clear that this needs to be a priority for every Christian.
There is good reason for this emphasis on spreading the word. For starters, what greater expression of loving your neighbour could there be than letting them know about the Lord? In what way could you more positively impact another person’s life than putting them on the path to eternal salvation? For all the good works you may do in your life, they will always come in second to this most important duty.
And it is a duty. Jesus charges us to spread his word. From James 4:17 "To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” How can we know His mercy and then selfishly keep it to ourselves? That is not what God wants from us, we are meant to spread it far and wide!
Sharing the word with others isn’t just good for them, it’s good for you too. It will lead you to a fuller, more developed understanding of the gospel and your relationship with the Lord. The more you discuss the details of your faith, the more you need to understand to be able to answer questions (yes, even pointed ones) about the Bible and Jesus’ gospel, the more you will grow as a Christian as well.
It may seem like keeping your faith to yourself is the smart thing to do. To keep it on the down low, not make waves, to keep your mouth shut and not say something that will make your friends and co-workers look at you differently. And maybe that is the smart play, the shrewdest maneuver. But Jesus never asked for us to be shrewd, He asked us to love our neighbours. To be bold. To do the right thing, not the smart thing.