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Preparing God’s People for Outreach (and Outrage)

 
Randy Newman | September 14th 2021

If you look at a short bio on the back of one of C.S. Lewis’s books, you’ll see that he taught at both Oxford and Cambridge. He spent much more time at Oxford (29 years) and moved to Cambridge only for the last seven years of his career. You may wonder why he made the switch. If you read a fuller biography, you learn that it involved a fair amount of personal pain and no small amount of persecution for his faith.

His Oxford colleagues were not thrilled that he spent so much time speaking in public about religion, which was not his academic speciality. They would have preferred him to publish more academic works, like his magisterial English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Excluding Drama), instead of popular works like The Problem of Pain or The Screwtape Letters. They certainly frowned upon his writing of children’s books.

Lewis’s reluctant move from Oxford to Cambridge came after being passed over for promotions and feeling the snub of rejection from many long-time friends, even some Christians.

"One of the crucial lessons I’ve learned about evangelism is that if we tell people it’s easy, they’ll quit."

And if C.S. Lewis faced opposition for taking a public stand for the gospel, we should not imagine that we or the people in our churches will escape such treatment. In fact, I believe the climate in which we live out and share our faith has become palpably hotter in just the past decade. Thus, training God’s people for evangelism must include preparing them for opposition. Outreach may be met with outrage and we would be naive to think otherwise. 

I’ve served in evangelistic ministry for over 4 decades; much of that time with Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru) and most recently with The C.S. Lewis Institute. One of the crucial lessons I’ve learned about evangelism is that if we tell people it’s easy, they’ll quit. If we tell them it’s difficult, they’ll persevere. When we use words like “exciting” or “adventure” in our attempts to motivate people to share the gospel and their experience doesn’t line up with our advertisement, they’ll conclude they just “don’t have that gift” and rarely attempt outreach again. 

Don’t Be Surprised

The Scriptures give us ample warning of hatred and persecution. But still we are surprised by it. First, we must take careful notice of how people responded to Jesus. Some followed him and called him Lord. Others plotted to kill him and labeled him demon-possessed. When Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (Mark 3v6). 

This hatred extended to Jesus’ followers—and continues to this very day. The book of Acts is filled with reports of persecution of the early church. Paul wrote several of his epistles from prison and spoke of being flogged, whipped, beaten with rods, and pelted with stones (2 Corinthians 11v23-25). Other writers of the New Testament urge us to anticipate persecution (e.g. Hebrews 10v33) and to “not be surprised” by it (1 John 3v13 and 1 Peter 4v12).

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Positive Preparation

A powerful antidote to opposition flows out of our acceptance in Christ. The love of our Saviour strengthens us to handle rejection from outsiders. Our sermons and teaching must flood people with reminders of all the riches we have in Christ. This can serve as armour against the pain of rejection, mockery, or patronizing dismissals like, “I’m happy for you. But I’ve got my own faith.”

Practical Suggestions

  • Share your own stories of attempts to evangelize but be sure to include the frustrations as well as the victories. If all your retellings always end with someone “praying the sinner’s prayer,” your people will think you live on a different planet. 

  • Don’t promise that “no one will give you a hard time if you simply invite them to church.” Sure they will. At least, some will. Dig deeply into Jesus’s illustration of the seeds and the soils. Prepare people to anticipate the full spectrum of responses from “Sure” to “Shut up.” 

  • Recount examples in church history when God’s people faced terrible opposition but the gospel went forth and bore fruit anyway. Validate the value of sowing as well as reaping. And remind people that the kingdom of God is an invisible kingdom. Frequent reminders of wheat and tares can also help tremendously. 

We know that, at times, C.S. Lewis got discouraged and wondered if his efforts to evangelize made any difference. He even predicted that his writings would all be out of print within five years of his death. Oh, how wrong he was about that. We can rely on God to use our efforts—in evangelism and in equipping the saints for outreach—to bear fruit that will last (John 15v16). 

Portions of this article have been adapted from Mere Evangelism: 10 Insights from C. S. Lewis to Help You Share Your Faith by Randy Newman. 

Randy Newman

Randy Newman is the Senior Fellow for Evangelism and Apologetics at The C. S. Lewis Institute in the Washington, DC area. He has also taught at numerous theological seminaries and colleges. After serving for over 30 years with Campus Crusade for Christ, he established Connection Points, a ministry to help Christians engage people’s hearts the way Jesus did. He has written a number of books and articles about evangelism and other ways our lives intertwine with God’s creation. He is also the host of Questions That Matter, a podcast of the C. S. Lewis Institute. He and his wife Pam live in Annandale, VA and are grateful for their children and a growing number of grandchildren.

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