As a kid growing up in the midwest it was considered rude and self-centered to talk about yourself. I could talk about the successes of my friends, but not my own. Because of this unspoken rule, not only did I avoid talking about anything that might be seen as a personal achievement, I avoided talking about anything that might be too personal. And so I learned to never share what I really believed… about anything. This included my belief in God as my Creator and Jesus as my Savior.
So how could I accept a call from God to be a pastor when I was a senior in high school? Well, the answer is easy. I saw the command of Jesus in Matthew 28 to go and make disciples as a command to DO, not a command to SHARE. With this mindset, I saw evangelism as an event you attend, not a life you live. It would include such things as a series of sermons to tell you about Jesus and His plan of salvation. It would include teaching you what the Bible says about the end of the world. You see, as a kid I could talk about our family trip to Florida and all the things I saw and the places we went. Similarly, as a pastor I could talk about God by quoting verse upon verse to prove a point without talking about what God had done for me. After all, that would require disclosure of personal information about myself. The very habits I had cultivated to avoid sharing my successes I was using to avoid revealing my failures. After all, a spiritual success has its roots in a moral failure.
Perhaps this is one reason I did not go into pastoral ministry after college, but rather went to medical school. I could preach a good sermon about God, but I was not comfortable truly sharing my faith. However, as I journeyed through a career in medicine, I learned the value of accountability, transparency, and openness. It was while being a part of “Quality Assurance” committees in various hospitals that I learned the importance of openly sharing my successes and failures. The more accountable we were to one another as physicians, the better quality of care we provided to our patients. It became apparent that improved patient outcomes were dependent upon the willingness of physicians to share openly with one another. This included sharing what worked (successes) and what didn’t work (failures). And so I began to see that the unspoken rule I had learned as a kid requiring me to remain silent about my successes was not only a bad rule, but a potentially self-destructive one.
As a pastor, I have discovered that evangelism is not about preaching, but about living. It’s not about telling, but about listening. It’s not about a public event where I can teach, but about a private event which I can share. Evangelism is a lifestyle resulting from a transformational experience with Jesus. It’s about my faith. It’s about His grace. It’s not about me who no longer lives, but about Jesus who lives in me. Sharing my faith means sharing the life I now live by faith in Jesus. Such faith can only be shared as it is lived.
In the words of Francis of Assisi, let us “preach the gospel and when necessary use words.”