Recently, we had a plumber in to fix a toilet in our home. The toilet, for some scientific reason far beyond my grasp, would not flush correctly. As a man, it’s always difficult to have someone come into your home to fix your stuff; it’s sort of an indictment of your manhood. You stand around feeling like a boy, wondering if you should hand the workman his tools like he was your dad fixing your go-cart. $100 an hour is not enough to assuage white-collar guilt.
So as he worked on the toilet I just kind of hung around the bathroom and we naturally began to talk about sports. It was a wonderfully manly conversation, and if he harbored any ill will regarding my lack of testosterone to fix my own toilet, it certainly didn’t show. He genuinely seemed to like me and vise-versa. I’m not sure of all the reasons why, but it felt good to be liked by the plumber—Rick James, regular guy, friend to the workingman.
Well, whenever we experience feelings of acceptance or admiration or affection we, in effect, experience the sensations of life rummaging through us: motivation, energy, positive sense of self and the like. Once you’ve experienced that caffeinated jolt of life from a conversation or friend or relationship, it’s difficult to turn from it—it makes us clingy. The stronger the connection, (the more life siphoned through it) the more difficult it is to sever. This was just the plumber, but a vein had been tapped and lifeblood was beginning to flow.
As we continued to talk, the plumber eventually asked what I did for a living and I told him I was in ministry. As I already knew what he did for a living—he fixes my toilet—a more natural segue was to ask him about his spiritual background or where he went to church or something pastoral like that.
But let’s pause, because this choice to begin moving the conversation toward the gospel has some implications. The choice to point the discussion in a spiritual direction – toward Christ – typically involves a willingness to sever an emotional or relational connection, a willingness to cut yourself off from a source of life. Hmm, severing oneself off from a source of life, that sounds like the definition of death. Yes, in a small way it is. Heck, I felt a connection with the plumber and I had only known him for twenty minutes. As some of you may have experienced, it can be exponentially more difficult with close friends, family members or coworkers, where their affection or respect is a major lifeline. To risk a relationship in sharing the gospel or standing up for one’s faith is to risk a death – at least in the emotional, social and relational sense. But this is not the only way in which evangelism kills us.
The next problem we encounter in sharing our faith is that there’s frequently no seamless or easy way to transition to the gospel, not in a way that you can still retain your dignity or that person’s admiration and respect. When you head toward the gospel, your reputation is pretty much shot, gone, unsalvageable. Seriously, what silky transition are you going to use even with the plumber, “Just as there are four rolls of toilet paper in a package of Charmin, so there are Four Spiritual Laws?” or “just as there is refuse that clogs this toilet, so our lives are a cesspool of sin that only God can flush?” There’s just no way to normalize it. Oftentimes it is weird to talk about the gospel and you can’t always create the illusion that it’s not. There are as many great transitions into the gospel as there are into breaking off an engagement.
Now, we could lament the irrationality of this, how silly it is that talking about spiritual things should be so weird when people talk so candidly about politics or sex or nervous breakdowns. But what would be the point? The answer is both simple and obvious: we are in a spiritual battle and Satan has made it this way.
But if you can’t ignore it or pretend it’s not there, how do you deal with the powerful social and spiritual barriers to the gospel? The answer is; you willingly walk into the wall knowing that you could get hurt: that your reputation might die, that you may experience rejection, sever a relationship, lose esteem or status or, to put it more colloquially; someone whose opinion really matters to you, may think you’re a religious fanatic. We all have a public or social self, an inflatable ‘us’ that everyone sees, and it’s a painful thing to have your dirigible publicly deflated and seen as a fool. And, if they are not interested in talking about God or knowing Christ, make no mistake, they will think you’re a fool.
The plumber thought I was a great guy, but in talking about Christ in any way I must anticipate that if his heart is hard, he will think I’m peculiar, ignorant, unstable, needy, deluded, or take your pick. Unless of course his heart is open to the gospel, in which case I’ll become the most blessed person he has ever had the good fortune to meet, and he’ll send me Christmas cards until the day I die. In my experience, minus the part about the Christmas cards, this is not an exaggeration.
To review quickly; biblical death within the context of evangelism can be the potential severing of a life source or relationship. Another way that death can manifest within evangelism is through the giving up of a reputation or public self and, depending on the circumstances, could also include the loss of status or even the loss of a job.
But there are a few other things that could wind up in the loss column. What if they ask questions you don’t know the answer to? That could be humiliating or embarrassing. What happens if the conversation takes place between you and a family member or a good friend, and as a result things aren’t the same between you?
When you expand the definition of death to include emotional, relational or social death; or the death of a career, upward mobility or academic advancement; or the death of your reputation, your respect, your influence, or your authority; or the death of a friendship or social circle, this – when you’ve willingly placed your feeble little heart on the chopping block – is when you realize that it isn’t necessary to move to Algeria in order to be a martyr.