“How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing? And how can they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14)
With these three questions, the apostle Paul highlights the importance of personal evangelism, specifically our verbal witness. It is true that Christians should perform acts of compassion and demonstrate love and justice. We should help the poor, feed the hungry, and care for the oppressed and neglected. However, we dare not neglect the one responsibility that Christians alone bear, which is sharing Christ with a lost world.
In a season of pandemic, this is the pressing question. Close contact is frowned upon, even prohibited in some places. Personal interaction with the outside world is limited and the activities that provided social encounters aren’t happening. How can we evangelize when personal space is at a premium?
First, it is important to remember that lack of relational freedom is not uncommon. Around the world, many Christians live in contexts where it is illegal or unacceptable to share their faith. In many of these places, the church is growing and people are coming to faith. In other words, evangelism can happen (and is happening) despite limits in personal interaction.
While it is true that most of us are limited in our abilities to meet and minister to new people, none of us are completely isolated. We may not be talking to strangers, but we are talking with family members, friends, co-workers, classmates, and others that are close to us.
In the classic work, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green points out that early Christians (who also faced persecution) concentrated their evangelism efforts on their “families” or “households.” He notes that in this context, the family included blood-relatives, but also co-workers and friends. In our COVID-19 world, these are people “inside the bubble.” As Green observed, “Christian missionaries made a deliberate point of gaining whatever households they could as lighthouses, so to speak, from which the gospel could illuminate the surrounding darkness” (Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, 321).
Of course, we want to share Christ as broadly as possible, but even in this season of limited exposure, there are pathways for evangelism. If we want to share Christ effectively, we need not look further than those around us. We can engage in bubble evangelism.
Second, effective evangelism requires us to remember that we are not alone. Evangelism is a spiritual activity. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would empower the witness. (Acts 1:8) He also taught that the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of seekers. (Jn. 16:8-11).
In this “unprecedented” moment (aren’t you tired of this word!), evangelism is difficult, even inside our bubbles. However, a season like this also exposes cracks in our lives; so many are facing our own mortality, insecurities, and brokenness. We realize that much of what we had hoped in doesn’t bring lasting joy. As Christians, we can be sure these realizations are the work of the Holy Spirit and provide pathways for evangelism.
Over the years, I’ve taught people to watch for divine appointments in relationships; these are moments when God opens a door or creates an opportunity for us to give a reason for the hope within us (1 Pet 3:15). Here are three questions that can show us God is at work.
1. Is the person talking about spiritual things, or about God?
Romans 3 reminds us that no one seeks God. This means that when a person seems to be searching, it is God working and an invitation for us to join Him in this work. Remember, some people don’t have Christian categories, so language about spirituality, justice, beauty, or religion count too.
2. Is the person discussing a problem so significant that they cannot find a solution on their own?
Most people prefer to work out their own problems. When they invite you into the situation, this may be God opening the door. Reject the temptation to be a pop-psychologist; point to the power of the gospel.
3. Is the person asking about an area of my life that has been impacted by my relationship with Christ?
God has done mighty things in your life and this catches the attention of others. When they ask about your marriage, parenting, hope, joy, etc. seize the moment to share how Jesus makes the difference.
Evangelism is never easy, and this current pandemic is no exception. At the same time, it is more necessary now than at any time in our lives. I hope this brief article has given you some practical steps and spiritual encouragement. When Jesus promised to be with us “until the end of the age,” he meant this age too!
NOTE: This post is adapted from Chapter 7 in Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out, 2nd ed. Pub. B&H Academic, 2020.
You can find out more about this book at https://www.bhacademic.com/sharingjesus/