A second reason our evangelism isn’t working is because it is foolish.
Paul isn’t just telling us evangelism is personal; he’s telling us to do it with wisdom. Wisdom possesses more than knowledge; it expresses knowledge through understanding. It considers life circumstances and applies knowledge with skill. Another word for this is love.
Love is inefficient. It slows down long enough to understand people and their objections to the gospel. Love recognizes people are complex, and meets them in their need: suffering, despair, indifference, cynicism, confusion. We should look to surface these objections in people’s lives. I was recently having lunch with an educated professional who had a lot of questions. After about 30 minutes he said, “Enough about me. You’re asking me questions. I should ask you questions.” I responded by saying, “I want to hear your questions, but I also want to know you so that I can respond to your questions with wisdom.” He told me some very personal things after that, and it shed a lot of light on his objections to Christianity. It made my comments much more informed, and he felt much more loved, declaring at the end, “I wish every lunch was like this. Let’s keep doing this. I have a lot more questions.”
Rehearsing a memorized fact, “Jesus died on the cross for your sins,” isn’t walking in wisdom. Many people don’t know what we mean when we say “Jesus,” “sin” or “cross.” While much of America still has cultural memory of these things, they are often misunderstood and confused with “moral teacher,” “be good” and “irrelevant suffering.” We have to slow down long enough to explore what they mean, and why they have trouble with these words and concepts. Often they are tied to some kind of pain.
We need to explain these important truths (and more), not simply assert them. When we discerningly separate cultural misunderstanding from a true understanding of the gospel, we move forward in wisdom. But getting to that point typically doesn’t happen overnight.
We need to see evangelism as a long-term endeavor. Stop checking the list and defeating others. Be incarnate, not excarnate, in your evangelism. Slow down and practice listening and love. Most conversions are not the result of a single, point-in-time conversation, but the culmination of a personal process that includes doubt, reflection, gospel witness, love and the work of the Holy Spirit.
And remember, don’t put pressure on yourself; conversion is in God’s hands. We just get to share the incomparable news of Jesus.
In sum, how you communicate the gospel matters.