Does evangelism scare you? Does the thought of witnessing to people about Christ make you want to hide?
What To Do When Evangelism Scares You
*Debbie Kitterman, author of The Gift of Prophetic Encouragement: Hearing the Words of God for Others, likes to participate in evangelistic treasure hunts. This sounds like a nightmare to me, but she enjoys the adventure. First, she parks outside a public establishment, such as a grocery store. Then, she pauses to listen for God’s voice: She’s waiting for her what she calls treasure hunt clues. He gives her a few descriptive words. Things will come to mind like “health food,” “short hair,” and “leg.” Then, she’ll enter the store and search for the first clue by heading to the health food section. If she doesn’t spot a shopper there with “short hair,” she’ll try the vitamin/supplement aisle or the produce section. Once she finds the person she thinks God is leading her to, she’ll approach them and say, “Hey I’m on a treasure hunt, and I think you’re my treasure. I don’t want anything from you, but I think God led me to you. Are you having trouble with your leg?” Sure enough, the person has a health issue with their leg. And if they’re willing, Debbie prays for and visits with them for a few minutes before she leaves, either to head home or to find her next treasure.
What. On. Earth?
When I read a story like this, I feel sad. Sad that I’m not brave. Sad that I can’t hear God’s voice the way she does. Sad that I don’t like talking to strangers in public places. I don’t even like running into people I know in public places. I find I’m a bit socially awkward in stores, so I don’t look for opportunities to chat with shoppers, and I certainly don’t ask to pray for them or share the gospel with them. On rare occasions, when I’m feeling particularly happy, I’ll crack a few jokes with the cashier or compliment them to bring some joy into their day. But it doesn’t come naturally, and I usually leave the conversation feeling like my effort was likely quite unimpactful on their day.
Sara: The Fumbling Witness at the Donation Stand
Shortly after reading Debbie’s book, however, I ran a few errands with my daughter at our local mall and saw a donation stand in the hallway, which was set up for the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. A young man and woman stood behind the table trying to grab the attention of passersby with their kind smiles. Like I always do in these types of situations, I averted my eyes and walked as far away from the stand as possible on my way to retrieve a shopping cart.
Success! Interaction avoided!
I entered the grocery store, which was attached to the mall, feeling light and airy with relief. Unfortunately, as I cruised the aisles, I remembered the book I’d read. I remembered Debbie’s story of courage and adventure. And I had a hunch that God wanted me to talk to that man and woman at the stand. But what would I say? I argued internally. I have no plans to donate today, and I’m no evangelist. I dismissed my urge to chat as ridiculous and continued shopping.
With my daughter still in tow, I reached the grocery checkout where I felt unusually friendly and struck up a conversation with the cashier. We both chuckled, my daughter rolled her eyes, and I walked away feeling pleased about the dollop of joy I’d left behind. Surely our interaction had been Holy Spirit-inspired. I mean, I’d made her laugh, and that didn’t happen often. God would certainly now let me off the hook with the cancer society people.
But he didn’t.
I exited the store and, as if a magnetic pull held me in its clutches, I found myself involuntarily driving my cart of groceries toward the donation stand. My daughter tugged lightly on the end of my jacket, silently questioning our trajectory, but I ignored her. Upon arrival, I greeted the man and woman.
“How are you guys today?” I said.
They were young. Maybe university students. And they were still smiling.
“Good, good,” they answered in unison.
Immediately, the man began to pitch a donation request. He pointed to his pamphlet several times during his speech, but I couldn’t hear a word because the mall was loud and he was, evidently, quite shy and spoke in a mouse’s whisper. I only caught his last words: “…we’re not government funded because it’s preventative treatment.”
“Of course,” I responded sarcastically, “because we don’t do preventative treatments here in Canada. We deal with emergency healthcare only.”
I laughed, thinking I was clever. Thinking I was breaking the ice with my wit. But they only looked confused.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the girl said, tilting her head.
Embarrassed, I explained my sarcasm. They both smiled and chuckled politely, although I’m not sure they understood. I mentally slapped a palm to my forehead.
It was at this point that I knew I would be donating. What else could I do? I asked if they took cash.
“We used to take debit,” the young woman said, “but there’s very little wireless connection in the mall here. So, yeah, just cash.”
“No problem,” I said, digging into my purse, only to discover I had a total of 75 cents on hand. “Oh. Well. This is embarrassing.” I blushed. “I have no cash.”
Fail. Fail. Fail.
Then, a lightbulb! I glanced down at my nine-year-old daughter, who had been standing quietly beside the cart during the exchange. A rush of relief washed over me at the sight of a small purse dangling off her narrow shoulders, for I was sure that there was some allowance stashed inside the child-sized wallet within. Sheepishly, I begged money.
After submitting my borrowed donation, I forced a cheerful “Have a wonderful day!” to the man and woman, then marched off with my grocery cart jangling ahead of me and my daughter, eyes wide with mortification, following behind. And I remembered why I never do these types of things. Why I never try any type of evangelism. It’s because I’m ridiculous.. I turn into a babbling, overly laughy patron. I’m not calm. I can’t think clearly. I’m like a friendly tornado that whooshes in, drops what I hope to be a joy bomb, and then swirls away in a fluster.
Wow! What a witness for Christ.
Out in the parking lot, as I loaded my groceries into the car, I thought, Why didn’t I ask them questions about themselves? Perhaps, “Are you volunteers, or is this your job?” Or, “Do you live around here? How long have you been at this today?” But no. I didn’t ask. Because I can never think straight in those moments. I only think of these things later. When it’s too late.
After stewing over my frustrating attempt at outreach, however, I remembered how a friend told me recently that I’m brave.
“Brave?” I asked her. “I’m curious why you think so.”
She said I’m brave because I talk about God on Twitter. That I’m bold. That I’m fearlessly Christian on a platform that isn’t generally welcoming to Christians.
“Hah! Fearless. Too funny,” I answered. “It’s easy to write and post on Twitter. I’m safe behind my screen. I can think before I type. There’s no pressure. Ask me to strike up a conversation in person? That’s another story.”
God Has a Plan
And so, I’ve come to two conclusions about myself and my relationship with evangelism:
- I want to learn. I won’t get any better at striking up conversations with people in person unless I keep trying. Somehow, I need to get over the brain fog that comes upon me as soon as I start chatting. I want to get past it so I can really see the person I’m speaking with, to be able to ask them compassionate questions, to show them I care, and eventually to be a witness. This feels impossible to me. I’m 39 years old and I still don’t have these skills. But God is bigger than my personality. He can teach me if I’m willing to learn, and if that’s part of his plan for me.
- I’m already a witness. God tells us to use our gifts for his glory and to spread the good news. Well, I’m writing. And I have no hesitations or fears about being 100% Christian on my blog or on social media. This is me. I’m very comfortable interacting online with strangers, and I can continue to love others, support fellow Christians, and enjoy the company of strangers online. I believe this, too, gives God glory.
The truth is, I’ll never know whether I was truly meant to approach those two individuals at the donation stand. Did I “hear” God correctly? Or did I just follow some random impulse? There’ve been times in my walk with Christ when I’ve known without a doubt that God was guiding me. Then, there are these other times when I’m not so certain. And that’s okay. I’m looking forward to heaven, when I’ll discover the story behind each of these awkward encounters and how they fit into God’s unfathomable plans. Until then, I just keep walking in faith. The results of my obedience, however productive or seemingly useless those results may be, are in God’s hands.
Today, be you. Let God lead you out of your comfort zone, but don’t discount the good works you’re already doing for and with Jesus.
Sara Jane Kehler
*Summary of p.184-189 from The Gift of Prophetic Encouragement: Hearing the Words of God for Others, Debbie Kitterman, Copyright 2018 by Chosen Books