Reflections of a Discouraged Evangelist

by Pastor Tanner Stockton

The feeling is all too familiar. The shame that comes from being ineffective in, and fearful of, the command to evangelize is one that I know well. Maybe you can relate. It’s on the front of your mind as you set out for the day, and you know you will find yourself in positions to drip the gospel, but when the time comes, you either dodge the opportunity or just miss it completely. As disciples of Christ, it is the primary mission that we assume after we have tasted and seen, and decided to follow Jesus. And even aside from the direct command in Matt. 28:16-20, the logic is simple: if I truly believe this message has saved my life, it follows that I will zealously share it with those around me! If we need an example, look at the apostles and how they defied the odds and brought the gospel to the far reaches of the world! I see through the lives of faithful disciples in my life who seem to reach people regularly and are being used by the Lord. But I sit here and see no fruit; it seems each time I get the opportunity, fears of what will be thought of me prevail and I fumble on the play; then I walk away all the more discouraged. If you find yourself here, take heart because you are not alone.

As I’ve grown through this process of sanctification, I have taken note of what was wrong with my mindset. At its core, there was comparison, selfishness, and even jealousy. We all must crucify these things at the cross, repent, and live in the light of Christ. But what I have struggled with the most is the notion that if I don’t see fruit, it is because I haven’t tried hard enough, and while there may be some truth in this, it is not the whole truth. This mindset is one that is focused on self, and it has the essence of a works-based gospel, finding worth in the activity and success of our ministry rather than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s saying, “If we don’t see success in our evangelism efforts, we are not worthy to be called Christians.” It is a mindset that is self-focused and not cross-focused, so by God’s help, we should pray this away daily before we step out into the world for another day. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely have an active role in the work of evangelism, but it isn’t the driving force in God’s saving of souls.

The miracle of a lost sinner being called to Christ is solely due to the power and mystery of God.

The most encouraging thing I have learned in the discipline of evangelism is that none of the results I see are due to any effort that I have given. The miracle of a lost sinner being called to Christ is solely due to the power and mystery of God. This thought is counterintuitive in a “pull yourself up by your boot straps” and “you can do anything you set your mind to” culture, but if your mindset makes sense on earth but not in heaven, we should do all we can to flip it. As I have identified this wrong mindset and replaced it with a gospel lens, it has greatly eased the pressure I have put on myself to just get out there and have as many conversations as I can for the purpose of having a gospel conversation. Even though the motivation to get out and do this is a very good thing, above all, God is concerned with your heart while you are doing it. Ask yourself: Am I motivated by a God-given love for my neighbor, seeking to expose a lost and dying person to Christ, or am I fulfilling some personal goal of being worthy enough to be a son or daughter of God? When our identity is tied to works, we have departed from a gospel-based understanding of how the economy of heaven works. It is not through our works we are saved, but by “grace through faith,” as Eph. 2:1-10 teaches us.

I still struggle to this day with wrong motives in sharing the gospel, but God works through my brokenness to bring people to himself when I least expect it.

I still struggle to this day with wrong motives in sharing the gospel, but God works through my brokenness to bring people to himself when I least expect it. When I feel the most down or astray, it is seemingly in those moments that God demonstrates his power through my complete and utter weakness. His work through my life shines brightest when I forget about myself and focus completely on him. This of course isn’t a paradigm, but it does seem to be a pattern in my own life.

Along the way I have tried to fortify my soul with a few reminders that help me keep my eyes above myself and on the Lord. I pray these are beneficial to you.

1. Pray…a lot.

Follow the example of Christ who spent countless hours in a quiet place with the Father praying.

2. Keep your head up.

Notice the people in your world. Remember your worth is not found in how successful your efforts turn out to be. Your worth is in Christ. And the more you ground yourself in that reality, the more you will look at the people in your world with His eyes.

3. Know that the Lord is the one sowing and reaping.

I love that moment, right after Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well, when he tells his disciples to look up and see how bountiful the harvest is, (John 4:32-38). Jesus knew those guys needed the reminder that God is already at work and bringing His harvest. God graciously calls us to be part of the sowing and reaping, for the good of people and for God’s glory.

4. See every person as in the image of God. 

Every person you encounter in this life was made in the image of God and has a heart and soul that is yearning for eternity. In every heart there is a Christ-sized hole that is constantly searching for something else to fill it, and you are the minister of reconciliation sent to show them this problem and its solution.

5. Keep accountability.

When you and a friend make it your goal to form relationships together in your own context and then pray and spur each other on, it absolutely changes the game. Find that friend; don’t pursue it alone.

You are God’s gift to someone’s life, and you might not even be aware of the time, place, or circumstance in which God is going to use you to share your faith with one of his lost sons or daughters. It is so important to realize that the call to speak the gospel with love is not only your mandate, it will be your joy! When we strive toward the upward calling to be like Christ and to share our faith with those around us, we can find deeper satisfaction in God and the glorious work to which he has called us.

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