Sunday, March 29, 2015

Confessions of a Failed Evangelist

I've been praying everyday for 10 months that the Lord would give me the privilege of seeing a person come to faith.

I don't have the gift of evangelism--that's a fact. But sometimes I let that fact become an excuse, and I stop looking for opportunities. What's worse is that I can start to ignore God's call and diminish God's work in my own life by convincing myself that I don't have to share my faith, because, you know, I'm not an evangelist. Then I remember that I don't have the gift of giving either, yet I'm still called to tithe.

Many of you know that David and I struggled with infertility, and that we consider our boys to be miracles. But during those years of waiting and praying for a child, we knew that there was something wrong! Why? Because when things are working right, when a husband and wife are both healthy, and when there are no efforts made to prevent pregnancy, then reproduction happens. And when it doesn't, it causes pain, suffering, and grief.

In the same way, disciples of Jesus are meant to reproduce. It should be a natural outgrowth of a healthy and maturing faith. Life, both physical and spiritual, was designed for fruitfulness and multiplication.

For years, (even decades!) I have had a sadly sterile faith. For many years I was happy to go about my own personal spiritual growth and about the training and formation of other believers. I could help people go deeper in their faith or farther in their walk. Which is fun. But then I noticed that those around me, though mature in their Christianity, were also sterile. Not only did I not bear spiritual children, but those I was leading were also not bearing spiritual children.

I hunkered down inside the cozy walls of the church and consoled myself with all the good work I was doing. I delighted in my growing Biblical knowledge and my faithful spiritual practices. Meanwhile, I found myself deeper and deeper in the bubble, surrounded by insiders. I focused on training and equipping leaders and building ministry teams. I ran programs and lead Bible studies. And those are good things. But I didn't have a burden for the lost, I felt mildly  annoyed by the idea--like they were tedious projects to which I should attend rather than lost sheep who were helpless and harassed.

What I failed to consider is the possibility that there was something unhealthy, unwhole, about a sterile faith. I liked to believe that I could be a perfectly healthy disciple even if I didn't have any spiritual kids.

Then a really funny thing happened. I became a missionary.

Missionaries are sort of obligated to evangelize It's the main point, after all. So I became interested in sharing my faith. This may have had something to do with the fact that I wanted to have exciting news to write in newletters. It wasn't a lot, but it was all I had to offer. God began to work with my loaves and fishes of mediocre desire, until deep down, I became convinced that I was made to reproduce. My apathy melted away and was replaced by an emerging yearning to see people meet Jesus.

As I fell in love with a country and a language and a people group, I began to ache for their lost-ness. I made freinds with unbelievers and saw the depth of their beauty and the tragedy of their brokenness. But caring did not suddenly make me successful at sharing my faith. It did give me the push I needed to begin to study techniques, to learn from experts, and to take some risks.

Then, ten months ago a challenge was issued. Ironically, I was the one who issued the challenge. With a group of fifty French Christian leaders who had been listening to global experts teach about discipleship, I heard Steve Smith say that Jesus only asks two things of his disciples: to fish and to follow. And so we encouraged everyone in the group to pair up with an accountability partner and once a month ask each other, "How have you fished?" and "How have you followed?"

The accountability piece was key for me. I'm a pretty good follower most of the time, but just knowing someone was going to ask about my witness helped me to keep the idea of "fishing" in the forefront of my mind.

And still I failed.

I failed to share my faith. I failed to find new unbelieving friends. I failed to reproduce. But my prayers grew more fervent. Each month I felt sad for not having shared my faith--not guilty, mind you. But sad. I became healthily critical of my own unhealthy routines, my justification, and my weaknesses. I admitted that I needed help. I begged God to change me, to lead me, to use me. I did not see any change in my results, but significant change my desire. Even though the longing for spiritual children went unfulfilled, I began to realize that I'd rather live with the unmet longing than quench it with apathy. Awakening the desire was the first indication of healing.

Still, ten months of desperate praying can lead one to despair.

"Lord," I pray each day, "Give me a heart to share your love and grace with those around me and, if it is your will, the joy of seeing one who is lost be found."

Oh yes, it is his will.

This week I began an evangelistic Bible study with a new acquaintance. She is open to the things of God. She is eager to know more. And I wonder if in her I might see this prayer answered. The funny thing is, I don't want it answered for what it will do for me. I want it answered because I love my friend. And I'm keenly aware of how little this opportunity has to do with me, and how much it is the evidence of God's grace. After months of praying, I have not become some super-duper witness. In most ways, I'm still a failed evangelist. But I'm failed evangelist who prays. A failed evangelist who hopes. A failed evangelist who dares to ask God for spiritual children, that his kingdom might grow and that his glory might fill the earth. I can't produce spiritual fruit of any kind. But I do, sometimes, get the privilege of bearing the fruit that God produces.

Now I see a bud on the tree, and I can hardly wait to see what God will do.

1 comment:

  1. Ummm, forgive me if I point out the obvious, Ms. "Failed Evangelist"....but, in your quietness, your alone-time at a keyboard, you produced in excess of 500 words that could ignite other fellow-failures with a passion for fishing. Keep writing, honey. There are MORE ways to evangelize than just face-to-face. Love comin' atcha from North Idaho, USA...