by Laurie Nichols
A study by Lifeway Research showed that 80% of American Protestants who attend church one or more times a month believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith; however, 61% have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months.
Any way you look at it, there is a huge gap that exists in two significant areas: (1) how many of us actually think we need to share our faith and (2) how many of us are actually doing it.
Let me be clear: according to this study, only 80% of us think we should be talking about Jesus to others. And of that number, only 39% of us are actually doing it.
And if I were a betting woman, I’d say a lot of people are like me. We want to share our faith more, but often we just don’t know how to go about it. We have either done it terribly wrong before, or we live in fear that the first question “So…do you have a faith background?” will lead to eye rolls and raised eyebrows.
All the while, our evangelist friends continue to boast in the people they lead to Jesus. As a result, we wish that either (1) God would put us in a VERY clear situation where we feel like we are lifted on the wings of eagles to proclaim Jesus or (2) that he would just stop bringing this whole evangelism thing to mind.
It’s a tension of the worst proportions. We want to share our faith. But we don’t. And as this latter reality kicks in, so does the guilt. I should be sharing my faith.
But instead of being stuck in the shoulda, coulda, wouldas, we need to look at why this gap continues to exist. It’s like any other “goal” or dream we have for life—schooling, learning a new skill, job changes/promotions. If this is where we want to be, then how do we close the gap from here to there? We take classes, we learn skills, we apply for jobs.
I have in fact spent so much time in this place of tension—of wanting to share my faith but not doing it—that I have lovingly coined this gap the “Sacred Middle.”
It is here that we must traverse if we want to get from not sharing our faith to having faith conversations. We must stop and look at the Sacred Middle and ask, “Why am I here?”
Let me propose two key terms that are critical for us as we sit in the Sacred Middle: obedience and victory.
Obedience: A Redefinition Grounded in Love
If we are not sharing our faith as we wish or are called to, we must look at the issue of obedience. This is the horizontal dimension of the Sacred Middle. It’s looking at ourselves and our faith. Scripture is abundantly clear that we are to be obedient to the command to love and care for others and to proclaim Jesus. Obedience means, in essence, doing what we are told to do.
However, for many Christians, evangelism has become all about obedience. I have to share my faith. It’s like a rule or a law. This mindset is the very reason we don’t share our faith. It becomes burdensome, like a weight pulling us under.
Instead, obedience, as defined in scripture, is grounded in love. Look at what Jesus prayed when he was in Gethsemane: “Father, if you would, take this cup from me, but not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus loved the Father. The Father loved the world. Jesus loved the world. John 17 is a fantastic request of Jesus to the Father, culminating in, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).
Jesus’ obedience wasn’t grounded in fear of his Father, but in love for his Father and love for the world. So, too, when we ask ourselves, “How am I or am I not being obedient in sharing my faith?” our hearts must ground that noun—obedience—in love, not in law. If I really love God, why am I not telling others about him? This is the horizontal dimension of the Sacred Middle. It’s examining our own soul and spirit and relationship and love for Jesus.
Victory: It All Belongs to God
Second, we must look at the issue of victory. This is the vertical dimension of the Sacred Middle. It’s all about looking at who God is. Scripture is clear that despite our efforts, God is the one who saves. At his name, every knee will bow and every tongue will proclaim his glory (Phil. 2).
Victory always belongs to God alone. What does this mean for us in the Sacred Middle? We must look at our hearts and ask, “Do I trust that despite the results of my gospel sharing encounters, that God is always the mastermind and miracle maker behind every word I say and act I perform?”
“Victory” is never ours for the taking in evangelism, however we define it—by number of people we lead to Jesus or number of seeds we plant. The only victory that belongs to us in gospel witness is that we lovingly share Jesus with those who don’t know him. Period.
One of my favorite passages in scripture is Hebrews 7:25: “Therefore, he is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Who does this? Jesus. What does he do? He saves. When does he do it? Forever. For whom does he do it? Oh yeah, all who come to him. And what else? Jesus always lives to make intercession for those who don’t yet know him.
I am humbled to think that while I try to talk about him to others, he is bowing his head in prayer for them and for me. I have admittedly been broken by this passage over and over again. The Victor—the one who wins—is praying for those who don’t know him yet, and for me as I share. And he is able to save even as we are having a conversation or I am planting seeds of possible faith.
Once we begin to understand that evangelism is an act of love (i.e., obedience) and guided by God (the Victor), perhaps the Sacred Middle will become smaller and smaller and we will find ourselves increasingly on the other side of the gap.
This is becoming more and more real in my life. I was recently talking with a woman who has been sexually exploited and has seen much pain and sadness in her life. Each time I start talking with her, her eyes fill with tears. On this occasion, I was asking her how she was and she was giving me an update. I felt very moved to ask, “Do you know that God loves you?” Her eyes of course filled with tears as she barely shook her head. I hugged her and said, “It’s true.” I then told her that I would be praying for her.
That’s it. We left and I have been praying for her. No, I didn’t try to push the gospel on her. I followed God’s lead to be obedient, listen to his voice, and remember that he is the Victor in all of this. I love Jesus. Jesus loves her and has her life wrapped up in his. And when the time is right, perhaps I can again remind her that God loves her and even share more detail of that love.
I have learned that the only bad thing about the Sacred Middle is when we refuse to enter into it. It’s holy ground. It’s a place of refinement and relationship-building. It’s a place where our very faith might in fact be transformed so that the world may see.
If you are like me and you feel like you fail at evangelism, or you just want to share the gospel more, let me encourage you. Embrace your deficit. Embrace the points at which you feel you are failing or falling short. Spend time in the Sacred Middle. It’s a painful, but wonderful place to be.
Laurie Fortunak Nichols is editor of the EvangelVision blog. She is also director of communications at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College and managing editor for Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ). Not given the gift of evangelism, Laurie is continually seeking ways to encourage like-gifted Christians to share the wonder of Jesus to those in darkness.