BY MORGAN PATTON
Evangelism is terrifying.
That´s a bit of an un-Christian thing of me to say, I suppose. But throughout the years of me believing in God, evangelism has been a constant thorn in my side, a thing that I’ve buried in a little box in the back of my brain. If it were up to me, I might estrange myself from human contact rather than share the Gospel outright with someone. (I’ve often avoided mission trips and church outreach activities for this very reason.)
Fundamentally, evangelism is talking to others about the Christian Gospel: we are sinners, and Christ died to save us from our sin. It’s the simple, uncomplicated core of Christianity. It could mean talking to friends, strangers, or preaching to larger crowds.
But even in its most basic form, evangelism is a scary thing to me.
What if the person I’m talking to doesn’t care at all about what I have to say? Do I know enough about the Bible and Christianity to even enter into this conversation? What happens if someone asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to? And then there’s that persistent feeling of unworthiness that permeates my existence: am I good enough to be doing this? How can other people share so freely and boldly while I feel stuck working up the courage to even approach people? Evangelism can become a game of social skill and knowledge, fraught with self-doubt and a need for control.
I’m not the only person to feel this way; religious talk can feel difficult and nerve-racking for just about anyone. There are entire fields of studies on how to engage in religious discussion. It’s easy for a believer to be intimidated by the enormous amount of information about their religion and the differing interpretations of religious texts. Combine that with the anxiety of talking to a stranger, and suddenly a simple message of the Gospel can easily turn into an emotionally taxing interaction.
I find it incredibly intimidating to walk up to someone and share something that I believe is the ultimate truth. What gives me the right to tell someone else that my God is also their God, whether they believe it or not? I feel like that would be so narcissistic of me. Fears like these hold me back from sharing my faith freely.
I blame my fear on my social anxiety. I have a long, painful history of hyper awareness in social situations, and I scrutinize myself in conversations to the point of exhaustion. I have to say the right things, move my hands in a specific way, make the right amount of eye contact; only then can I consider an interpersonal interaction a success. And, worst of all, a deep-rooted fear of ostracization lingers in the back of my brain. The worst “what if” scenarios line themselves up like slides in PowerPoint and play themselves whenever I interact with someone.
I have created a world where my survival depends on acceptance from just about every person I meet. Anything that challenges that instinct—like discussing a heavily charged topic such as religion—can cause me to shut down emotionally and look for places to hide. Evangelism threatens my emotional comfort and security.
I’ve found over the years that acting in spite of fear, choosing to do the thing that makes you scared, can be a powerful way for confronting those fears. That’s the entire basis for exposure therapy. But although action does give me a sense of accomplishment, I am still left with the root causes of my evangelism anxiety.
In truth, I’m deeply insecure about my own walk with God and how I appear as a Christian to others. I grew up listening to pastors and evangelists that never talked about the sin in their own lives; if they did, it was jokingly. They were never truly and deeply vulnerable. Instead, they shared carefully manicured testimonies and treaded lightly around deeper topics. This has left me with a lingering sense of doubt and fear. How can I possibly share the Gospel boldly while I struggle with my own addictions, my mortal sins, and the dark secrets that plague my life? How do I go from sinful and ashamed to bold—and dare I say—brash?
While learning to overcome my shame—the thing that keeps me from sharing God’s Word—I’ve found that I’ve had to become painfully vulnerable. The longer that I kept myself from the light and the more I hid my stories and my sins, the more ashamed I became. I even became complacent with this shame, content to live in darkness. Being honest to others when in that dark place is painful; you’re exposing yourself to fire, jeopardizing your safety and sense of stability.
Exposing weakness feels wrong; it goes against our instincts of survival and opens us up to criticism and rejection. Though we are experiencing shifts in cultural views on emotional vulnerability, the impending weight of failure and rejection feels as heavy as ever. Shame is powerful in its ability to keep people isolated and afraid. Shame tells us that we will never be good enough, that no one will understand our struggles, that fighting it is futile.
The Gospel enables us to be courageous with our stories, because God’s love transcends any pain, guilt, or shame. When I bring my shame to God, there isn’t fear of rejection or ostracization. Instead, there is the promise of unconditional love, forgiveness, and healing. Scripture tells us: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And as one of my favorite theologians C.S. Lewis puts it, “Though our feelings come and go, [God’s] love for us does not.”
Evangelism flows out of the hope I have found in Christ. Why wouldn’t I want to share the story of how God has transformed my life? Sharing the Gospel with others isn’t narcissistic; it’s born out of joy. Hope has pierced the darkness that once marked my life. God’s love and grace, rather than my shame, are now the defining characteristics of my story.
Indeed, vulnerability is evangelism. After all, the essence of the Gospel is that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the Cross, bearing the weight of our sins. Now, God invites us to come to Him with our shame, guilt, sin, and doubts. His grace is enough. To be vulnerable about our mistakes—to confess our sins while pointing to the Savior—is to preach the Gospel.
The Bible is not filled with stories about perfect people; in fact, the opposite is true. It is filled with murderers and liars, people who committed genocide, and much more. Many would point to these people as evidence that Christianity is a corrupt and malicious religion. I believe instead that they point to a God who not only loves us in spite of our corruption, but who intends to use every part of our stories, including the darkest and most corrupt, to show the transformative power of his grace and bring others to him.
I will sin for the rest of my life. That’s quite literally the only necessary qualification to be a candidate to receive the Gospel and to share it to others. There is a lot of advice out there on evangelism: tips and tricks and helpful lists to help you glide flawlessly through profound biblical conversations with strangers. It certainly helps to be charismatic and outgoing and to not stumble over every fifth word like I do. But sharing God’s word is not limited to the charismatic; we can still share when we are broken. We can cry out from the mountaintops about our sinful stories and the transformative power of God’s grace. We can open our hearts and pour out to others, cultivate places of comfort and peace, and be honest about our struggles.
The promise of the Gospel is not that we will become perfect people with no inclination to sin, but rather that we receive grace in spite of sin. Even though faith allows us to grow and become more like Christ, we will continue to live messy lives. We will hurt others and be hurt. When I tell others about the Gospel, I may never have enough religious knowledge to feel adequate in my own right; I may never feel wise enough or socially adept enough to initiate those conversations.
But I am capable of honesty. I am a sinner, saved by grace, and God’s love for me is greater than my shame. That is what I will tell people boldly and unabashedly. That is truly Good News.