Last week Emma and I spoke at a mission weekend for Christ Church, Fetcham. Emma's talk on the Saturday night was wonderful, then on Sunday I preached on Who is Jesus (Matthew 3) and How to get free without getting lost (Luke 15). In the morning sermon I asked people to receive Jesus and, if they did, to grab me afterwards so I could give them a book and a word of encouragement.
At the end of the service everyone moved out to coffee and I stayed behind, follow-up books in hand. I guess I looked a bit exposed, just waiting. I certainly felt exposed.
After not too long the pastor of the church came over and stood with me saying "You look a bit lonely there, let me keep you company for a bit." A perfectly natural response. We don't like to see vulnerability and we certainly don't like feeling vulnerability. But actually, there's something inherent in evangelism that means exposure and weakness. When we avoid it we can find ourselves avoiding the very essence of evangelism: offering Christ.
Like seeds - tiny, pathetic looking, seemingly ineffectual - the word goes out and it appears like an exercise in futility. What good could be done by foolish words about a foolish-looking Lord? An arms-wide Saviour is, by definition, vulnerable - and the word of the cross shares in that vulnerability. No wonder Paul was fearful and trembling as he went about his preaching (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Actually evangelism should be a vulnerable activity.
But it occurs to me that much of evangelism can be an attempt to cover over that exposure. We try to cover it with intellectual credibility (Clever people are Christians, it's the clever option). We try to cover it with cool (Cool people are Christians, it's the cool option). We try to cover it with processes (I won't ask you simply to receive Jesus, I'll ask you into a programme where conversion can be broken down step-by-step).
And I wonder how much of what we do is A) a refusal to share the vulnerability of our arms-wide Saviour and B) unbelief in the power of this weak-looking gospel to save people. Perhaps that's why we hope that The Next Evangelistic Resource will be the break-through the church needs. Or why we mistakenly believe that 'the evangelist' - with all their fool-proof methods and giftings - will solve all our missionary ills. Or why we can preach without invitation or offer. Or why, in everyday life we fail to speak up for Jesus when the opportunities arise. We don't want to appear as foolish as our crucified Lord. And we don't actually believe in the power of this foolish-sounding message.
Or at least I don't. And I need to repent of such thinking constantly.
By the way, after the service I stuck around much longer than I was comfortable with. But someone did come up to say he had trusted Christ. God had been speaking to him powerfully through the weekend. Please pray for him as he takes his first steps.