As far as words go, evangelism has a pretty bad reputation. For many it is a source of fear, shame, embarrassment and awkwardness. In my case the word brings up feelings of anxiety, nervousness and even a slight amount of dread. Why does the word evangelism bring up such strong negative emotions in people.
Before I answer that, I'd like to talk about what exactly evangelism is. Evangelism is sharing the good news about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The hope is that the people hearing the good news might come to believe in Jesus.
Of course, not everyone who hears the good news believes in it. Many Christians feel that it is their obligation, when sharing the good news, to convince as many people as possible. Their evangelism starts to turn into a debate or a sales pitch as they attempt to win over as many people as possible.
This leads to pushy evangelism strategies that create so many of the awkward moments that evangelism is famous for.
The truth is that I've been guilty of this as well. On more than a few occasions I've entered into debates with people who don't believe in Jesus in a futile attempt to persuade them.
The question is, why do we do it? Why do we push so hard to convince people to believe in something that they just don't agree with?
In my case I do it because I don't trust God.
Let me explain myself. I came to believe in God because he was very patient with me and very generous toward me. He waited patiently until I was ready to believe that Jesus was the risen Son of God who died so that we might have peace with God.
I came to believe in God not because I was very smart or because I was a great person. I believed because God loved me. God loved me because I needed it, not because I had earned it.
This unasked for, unearned and unconditional love of God is what Christians call grace.
Here's the problem. I know that God has acted this way toward me, but for some stupid reason I don't believe that he will treat everyone else the same. I run into trouble when I start to think that God, the same God who showed me an incredible degree of kindness, goodness, patience and gentleness, will turn around and be cruel, wicked, impatient and harsh to everyone else.
Certainly that is not the case. God is the same now as he was then. The God who had grace enough for me will have grace enough for those who come after me. I didn't believe the good news the first hundred times I heard it. God didn't hold it against me, and he won't hold it against the people I choose to share the good news with.
Knowing that, I know that I don't need to put pressure on people. I don't need to twist their arm to get them to agree with me. I'm free to wait for an appropriate time and place, let people know about Jesus, and, unless they want to know more, I can shut up afterward. It's much less awkward for everyone involved.