The call of the evangelist is not a seasonal call. We aren’t evangelists for a time, moving on to something else after that. We aren’t called to be a Thanos-type character, trying to collect all five ‘stones’ of the fivefold ministry.
Having said this, we also need to say that this lifelong work can at times feel more like a lifelong sentence! The reality is that if you do anything for long enough you will have disappointments, at times become discouraged or at worst become disillusioned by it. We can lose our love for evangelism. What once elated our hearts now feels like trying to inflate a tyre with a puncture. We lose our buoyancy, weighed down by delayed promises of revival, or seemingly stagnant conversion numbers.
The danger, of course, is that if we stay in these places too long our hearts grow cold and cynical. We become critical, tempted to hang up the shoes that were once fitted to our feet, readying us to bring the gospel of peace.
I think sometimes these things happen because we all too easily cling to the wrong things to sustain us. Below, I’ve written about three of the most common things that we mistakenly hold onto to sustain us in our evangelism, before closing with that which truly sustains us. It doesn’t mean these things don’t have a part to play and aren’t, at times, useful tools to aid us, but rather that they can’t be a constant source that we drink from to sustain us. So here they are:
Beyond the clear promises we see in scripture (the return of Jesus, the consummation of all things, the marriage of the Lamb, all things being made new etc) we all have personal promises that the Lord has spoken over our lives. Promises of the salvation of loved ones, promises of being sent to the nations, promises of revival.
The vision of these promises can be quite the motivator. We think of the crowds flooding in, churches packed to the rafters with precious brand-new believers; cities transformed, our families coming to Jesus. Powerful images indeed, but what about when there is a delay in them being seen?
I think of the Jewish nation being called out of Egypt and into their promised land, only to be found grumbling three days later. The promise sustained them for all of three days! I think of Abraham and Sarah, holding to the promise of a child. The promise sustained them for 10 years until, in their growing frustration, they took matters into their own hands.
Promises can’t sustain us. We can grow entitled and even angry with God for not coming though when we expected him to.
I work for The Message Trust, and we often say, ‘We are a story-based organisation’. We love stories, I think we all do really. I could listen to stories of gospel transformation forever. Just the other day, at our whole staff prayer meeting, we took time to hear stories from Festival Manchester. We spent over an hour hearing story after story of the most beautiful gospel transformations. It was stunning.
But the reality is, we all go through seasons where the fruit of our ministry is scarce. The stories are
not rolling in and maybe God seems to have gone quiet. Perhaps he’s moved us into a season of sowing or pruning.
If stories are our only means of sustenance , what do we do in these seasons? Change the plan because it seems to have stopped bearing fruit? Change the language so we can include more numbers? Move out of the rhythm and season God has us in, trying to produce fruit in our own efforts and forgetting that it’s actually him who produces the fruit? We beat ourselves up saying, ‘Something must be wrong; I’m not doing enough’. As if we have any power to save! No. Stories simply can’t sustain us.
As evangelists, we can carry a heavy burden. We are duty bound to God to proclaim the good news, because of what he has saved us from and because of the price he paid. To quote the Moravian missionaries ‘May the lamb that was slain receive the reward of his suffering’.
But we also feel duty bound to humanity. For me, I carry the conviction that I owe the world an encounter with Jesus. How can we hold on to news that’s this good? It’s only good and proper that we share it with those around us.
But this sense of duty, whilst seeming high and noble, won’t sustain us. It’s just not how we’re wired. God didn’t make us for duty, he made us for joy. There are times, for sure, that the joy tank is empty, and, in those moments, there is a place for duty, but they’re to be just that; moments. You cannot afford to stay there for long. Get your joy back, for there is nothing worse than being served by someone who feels forced into it; it’s service that’s cold and often void of compassion.
So, what then? What sustains us in our evangelism? If not the promises of God or the stories of success or a sense of duty, what is it? Above promises, above stories and above duty, it’s the beauty of Jesus that sustains us.
The truth is that an experience of beauty gets you out of yourself. Beauty causes you to want to do things rather than you having to do something. Beauty causes you to go the extra mile, to go all in.
How do we keep our hearts burning? We learn to walk and talk with Jesus. To listen, to pull up a chair for him and invite him to sit at our table as we gaze on him. It’s as we consider him, that we find our strength. This is the stunning thing about God; his majesty, his riches, his love, his power and his beauty, are unsearchable. There is no end. We will never exhaust his beauty, because it’s an endless supply for us to drink from to sustain us. Our consistent evangelistic efforts are not just about a job or a call. It’s a response to a God who is inexhaustible in his beauty and in his majesty.
An article published in the New York Times that looked at the effects of beauty in the human brain noted that brain scans show that at the sight of something attractive or beautiful the part of the motor cerebellum that governs hand movement is triggered. In other words, we instinctively reach out for beautiful things; beauty literally moves us!
As David writes in Psalm 27:4
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”
It’s the one thing that’s needed.
The beauty of God protects us from our disappointments, our perception of the delayed fulfilment of promises, and the disillusionment, whilst at the same time moving us to go,not just once, but every time we choose to consider his beauty.
So, what sustains us in our evangelism? It’s the beauty of God.
- How do you deal with delays and disappointments?
- Has there been a time when you have felt disillusioned with evangelism? Why was that?
- What are the things that you find most beautiful about God? Take some time today to reflect on these things.
Written by Aaron Routledge
Aaron lives in London where he is married to Sophia and works as both the Head of Advance Youth and the Message London Hub Manager.