The Fear Gap (1)

There are many things that I’m good at, but sport isn’t one of them.  I used to hate PE lessons at school, especially when playing games.  You see, I wasn’t the only one in the class aware of my lack of sporting proficiency.  So, inevitably, I would be among the last picked by the reluctant team captains.  Even though I had long before made peace with my sporting failures – still it’s hurtful to not be wanted!

As human beings we have deep needs to be liked and appreciated.  Most of us fear being rejected or judged by others in life.   That’s also true in evangelism.  Just as old theologian Augustine in his pre-conversion hedonistic days prayed “Lord make me continent [chaste/pure], but not yet” –sometimes (perhaps before the visit to the hairdresser or jumping in the taxi or going out for the night with your friends) our secret prayer might be: “Lord, open doors for the gospel, but not tonight”.  That evangelistic reluctance very often stems from fear.

There are two fears I want to address in this article: The Fear of Being Rejected and The Fear of Being Unequipped.  We’ll answer them from the little New Testament letter of 1 Peter, in which we find the famous apologetics / evangelistic text: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

(1) The Fear of Being Rejected

Many of us know what it is like to struggle with nagging questions of self-doubt like: what do other people think about me?  We wonder if I speak out as a Christian, how would that change peoples’ perceptions of me?  Our social media profiles are carefully curated to present ourselves in the most favourable light and our best angles.  But we’re not the first to worry about what others think of us…

Peter begins his letter to “the elect exiles” – to these Christians scattered throughout the Roman world, who are tempted to feel ashamed about the gospel.  They are so small in the eyes of the world, and their churches which feel so insignificant compared to the power of the Roman Empire – by reminding them of who they really are.  Yes you are “exiles” and strangers in this world… but you are “elect” and embraced by the Living God: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood”.

Peter tells us that from before the foundation of the world, we have been “foreknown”.  The background of this word in the Bible is not simply an intellectual knowing in abstract, but an intimate knowing in relationship.  God the Father has freely and gladly set His love upon us – wishing to draw us close to Him and lavish upon us His goodness and love.

This love of God the Father has been brought into effect in our lives by the “sanctification of the Spirit”.  The goal is “for obedience to Jesus…for sprinkling with His blood”.  There were three times in the OT that blood was sprinkled: for making a covenant, for cleansing a leper and commissioning a priest.  And through faith in Jesus, we enter into a covenant relationship with God, we receive cleansing for our sin, guilt and shame, and we receive a commission as His ambassadors in this world.

The gospel tells us of the loving Father who has given all He has to draw us back into His arms of love: His Son to die for us and His Spirit to live in us.  These realities are the things that truly define us.  Our culture tells us to base our identity on our performance and popularity, on what we do and what people think of us.  However, the gospel sets us free by telling us that God – the ultimate authority and the final opinion maker – accepts us on the basis of what Jesus has done and not all that we have failed to do!

All of that means that when you are in a gospel conversation – you need to remember that your performance cannot change what God thinks of you or how He feels about you.  You live for an audience of one – there is no one whose opinion could count more – and His mind is already made up about His children!  You have nothing to prove to Him.  So you can speak from a place of safety and security in the knowledge of His eternal and unchanging love.

If you’ll forgive the extension of the sporting analogy: you’re already on God’s team – you’re already on the pitch – so go play under His watchful smile.

(2) The Fear of Being Unequipped

If you’ve never been forced to do door to door witnessing, then count your blessings!  I’m not knocking (no pun intended) that form of evangelism – instead I greatly admire some of my friends who do it courageously and effectively.  It’s just that I don’t rate myself at being very good at it – after all, I start with the handicap of being an introvert at the best of times!

However, old theologian John Calvin famously began the Institutes by saying that godliness consists in two things: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self.  We’ve already thought about how growing in our knowledge of God and His approval can help us overcome our fears of rejection.  Now I want to consider how growing in our knowledge of our self can help when we think of evangelism as a team sport.  Perhaps there are omni-competent people who can perform well in any role on a team – but I’m not one of them.  I play well to my strengths and need team mates to compensate for my weaknesses.  That’s why I’ve found it liberating in recent years to think of evangelism as a team sport and my church friends and family as my team members.  I have my own “evangelism / mission style” but it is complemented and enhanced by the styles of others around me.

We see that in the New Testament too.  In 1 Peter 4:9-11 we read: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

It’s a common mistake to imagine the apostle Paul as a lone-ranger super-evangelist.  Rather always Paul worked in teams and mission bands – and was at his lowest when alone.  The book “Becoming a Contagious Christian” pulls out six profiles of different evangelism styles in the NT:

  • Confrontational: Peter (Acts 2) – perhaps you are bold and fearless about proclaiming Christ and calling people to make a response
  • Intellectual: Paul (Acts 17) – perhaps you enjoy a discussion or debate around the hard questions
  • Testimonial: Blind Man (John 9) – perhaps you find it easy to talk about your own experience of God working in your life and bringing you to faith in Christ
  • Invitational: Woman at the Well (John 4) – perhaps you find it easy to invite people along to things where they can see and hear more about Jesus
  • Inter-personal: Matthew (Luke 5) – perhaps you make friends easily and want to share the good news of Jesus with those you are close to
  • Practical: Dorcas (Acts 9) – perhaps you have a passion for serving those in need and through showing your love it makes it easy to talk about Christ whose love you are sharing

If you’re not sure, you can try an “Evangelism Styles Questionnaire” online to discern your primary evangelism style(s).

Therefore, you don’t have to be afraid that there is one size fits all evangelism – that God enjoys squeezing square pegs into round pegs – or making everyone go door to door.  Instead, you need to find the evangelism style that fits you, so you then can go and fit into God’s great mission in this world.