On Vocation and Evangelism
When I was in high school I felt a profound burden to tell my friends about Jesus. I didn’t really know if they were Christians. Maybe they were; maybe not. I didn’t really know because we didn’t really talk about it. I wanted to, but there was always something blocking me. Even random strangers—people you see at the store—I wondered if they were saved and whether or not it was my responsibility to tell them about Jesus. I was bothered by my apparent inability to open my mouth concerning the most important subject in the world.
Part of my issue was my introversion and a fear of being rejected. I also didn’t want people to think I was weird. But none of these feelings outweighed the burden I felt to save the lost, so I couldn’t figure out what my problem was. At Bible camps and youth conventions I would listen intently whenever someone would teach us how to share our faith. I thought there must be one more secret I hadn’t learned yet.
After years of reflection and starting to become a little more comfortable talking about the Christian faith, I came to the realization that there were lots of things I hadn’t learned. I was ignorant of most of Christian doctrine. I was afraid to share my faith because I was afraid someone might ask me a question, and I didn’t know the answers. Eventually I learned that if you want to share your faith, you first have to learn what it is. I know this sounds obvious, but I was missing it.
Then I went to Bible School and began to learn more of the Christian faith. During that time I occasionally participated in street evangelism. A group of us would go to downtown Minneapolis or the Mall of America and find random people to talk to. This was very uncomfortable. Beside that, I found this sort of evangelism to be ineffective at best and annoying to people at worst. Others seemed to have success with it; God’s Word still accomplishes what it’s sent for. But something didn’t sit well with me, so I quit going.
I realized that I had other people in my life—coworkers and other people I interacted with on a regular basis. It was much more appropriate to talk with them about Jesus. It wasn’t necessarily more comfortable, because if it went poorly, I couldn’t just walk away and pretend like it never happened, but it was far more appropriate. The best evangelism takes place in the relationships we already have. God has already placed all of us in these relationships. In theological terms we call these various stations of life “vocations.”
Some of us are parents or grandparents. These are precious vocations. I recently became a dad, and I’m realizing that my son is the person I will have the greatest spiritual impact on. Even though I am a pastor, no opportunity at church will exceed the one with my own child. This is really the frontline of evangelism.
I know that not every person is a parent. But all of us have relationships with people that are closer than random strangers. The random stranger on the street is the last person you should share the Christian faith with. And notice that I didn’t say you shouldn’t tell that person about Jesus; just don’t forget about the people God has already placed in your life. They are the people in the vocations God has already called you to.
In these vocations God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev. 19:18). Part of loving your children involves teaching them the Christian faith. And part of being a good friend, neighbor, or coworker includes offering the hope of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ. It’s not the whole thing, but it’s part of it.
With friends, neighbors, and coworkers, in my experience (and I know this is true for others as well), it doesn’t have to be forced. When people know you are a Christian (and it usually takes more work to hide that fact than disclose it), and when they come to realize that you care about them as persons, they will eventually ask you something about it. In this kind of “vocational evangelism,” you rarely, if ever, have to be intentional about evangelism. What we should be intentional about is loving our neighbors as ourselves. Within that there will be opportunities to proclaim God’s forgiveness. We don’t have to force Jesus into every conversation, but when the right moment comes along to speak of him, it’s wrong to keep our mouths closed.
And since everyone likes an easy and practical tip, here’s one: sometimes the easiest and most practical thing we can do is invite our friends, neighbors, or coworkers to church. When we don’t know what to say, or when it feels kind of awkward to force Jesus into a conversation, it’s much easier to invite someone to come with us to church, because there isn’t really anything awkward about Jesus talk at church. It’s kind of the point, and people expect it.
God has called us—weak and timid sinners—to be his ambassadors in the world. It’s no one person’s responsibility to save the entire world or even an entire community. But all of us have people in our lives. Some of them might not be Christians, and perhaps God has placed us in their lives to speak God’s grace to them. If they are Christians (like our baptized children), God has placed us in their lives to teach and encourage them in the Christian faith.
Above all, remember that this is the Holy Spirit’s work, and he’s really good at it. May he use us as his ambassadors in this world, and may he give us joy in this work.