Lately I've been wrestling with the question of "What does it mean to be successful at evangelism?" Or, putting it another way, "What does it mean when I fail?" It takes a lot of courage to speak up about Christ, so it can be discouraging if our efforts don't seem to make much difference, or worse, they get a negative response. If someone responds rudely or harshly, does that mean I've done something wrong?
I think yes and no. As Chuck Swindoll once said, "I don't care if the Gospel offends. But I care very much if I offend." If I've been unwise, unloving, brash, or insensitive, then they have every right to reject me and I need to be humble enough to learn from the experience. If, on the other hand, they are rejecting not me but Jesus or the Gospel, then I should take comfort in the fact that it's supposed to happen that way. "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first....If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:18-20).
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me" (Matthew 5:11).
"I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace" (Acts 20:23-24).
The other night I couldn't sleep, so I did something I've been wanting to do for a while. I skimmed through the Book of Acts and studied the response each time the gospel was preached. I was encouraged by how often some of the hearers responded negatively to gospel "preachers". Often the gospel was well-received and many were saved, but notice there is also a pattern of rejection....
Acts 3 - The preachers are seized and imprisoned.
Acts 5 - The perachers are arrested.
Acts 6 - Some openly argued, used lies to stir up the crowd, and made false accusations in order to have the preacher arrested.
Acts 9 - There is a conspiracy to kill the preacher, so he is forced to leave town in the middle of the night. He goes to another town, and again people conspire to kill him and he is forced to flee.
Acts 12 - One preacher is arrested and killed. Another is arrested but miraculously escapes before he can be executed.
Acts 13 - On one occasssion the preacher is opposed by a sorceror. On another occassion some speak abusively against the preacher, then stir up the city leaders who have the preacher expelled from the region.
Acts 14 - Some in the crowd "poisoned the minds" of the hearers and eventually the whole city is divided. Upon hearing of a plot to stone them, the preachers are forced to flee the town.
Acts 14 - The preacher is stoned and left for dead.
Acts 16 - The preachers are brought before the authorities and the crowd turns on them. They are stripped, beaten, flogged, and imprisoned.
Acts 17 - A mob forms and causes a riot, the city leaders are in turmoil, and the preachers are sent away. They go to another city where again the crowd is stirred up, and again the preachers are sent away. In the third town the preaching is well received but some sneer at the Gospel.
Acts 18 - Some oppose the preacher and become abusive. The preacher is attacked and hauled into court.
Acts 19 - The preacher meets regularly with a group of hearers. Some become obstinate and publicly malign Christianity, eventually the preacher leaves them and preaches to the city at large. ESome local businessmen are so upset at the preacher's message that they start a riot and soon the whole city is in uproar. The preacher and his companions are seized. When the riot finally ends, the preacher decides to leave town.
Acts 20 - Some plot against the preacher (their plans are foiled).
Acts 21-22 - The crowd is stirred up and the preacher is seized. They drag him away and try to kill him. While the crowd is beating him, the authorities intervene. The preacher is arrested and put in chains. The crowd shouts for his death.
Acts 23 - There is a plot to kill the preacher. The preacher is imprisoned for over 2 years. Then there is another plot to kill the preacher.
The book of Acts ends with a preacher imprisoned under house arrest.
Of course we shouldn't go out of our way to cause trouble or seek out persecution. But neither should we stay silent out of a fear of rejection. Rejection does not necessarily equal failure. If it did, then the apostles were massive failures! No, the real failure in evangelism is failing to open our mouths. The Gospel is wonderful news, and if we love God and love others like we should we will feel compelled to obey Jesus and share His wondeful news, no matter what the consequences.
Lord, please give us the courage and wisdom to speak when we are afraid, so that you may be glorified and that others might be saved. And may we trust you no matter what the outcome. Amen.