They Will Listen: Evangelistic Confidence in a Cynical Age


Oscar Wilde once quipped, “I am not at all cynical, I’m only experienced—that’s pretty much the same thing.” 

When it comes to personal evangelism, many Christians might say, “I’m not at all cynical, I’m only experienced.” They’ve tried, and it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Again and again, they’ve sought to build relationships and share the gospel with others, only to bump up against apathy or antagonism. Soon, sharing their faith begins to seem like a waste of time. 

Medicine for Cynical Evangelists 

I found a helpful antidote to the disease of cynicism. In Acts 28:28, the Apostle Paul finds himself in a moment where many would be tempted to turn cynical. He’s finally made it to Rome. Now he’s under house arrest but is given a golden opportunity to proclaim the gospel to a number of Jews visiting him. Like much of my own evangelistic preaching, the results are rather anticlimactic. “And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved” (28:24). 

How does Paul respond? 

Paul, the defendant, delivers a verdict. He tells them their rejection actually fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy (28:25–27). Then he says, “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (28:28). 

They will listen. 

In those three words, I’ve found a powerful prescription to fight the cynicism and discouragement I often feel in personal evangelism. Paul knew, no matter the present opposition, God’s gospel would find an audience. 

How could he have such confidence? 

It’s common in coastal cities like New York and San Francisco for the most competitive preschool programs to get applications from couples who enter children they hope to have with names they hope to give them, just to secure a spot for the future. Likewise, down South it’s a well-known practice for college freshmen to put money down for reserving their campus chapels for a wedding they hope to have in four years. A bit presumptuous, right? 

Is Paul presumptuous? How can he say, “They will listen”? 

Unlike the single freshman reserving a wedding chapel, Paul was not blindly optimistic. At previous points in his ministry, he had been rejected by different sets of Jewish leaders and had turned to the Gentiles. Paul understood that his mission was to help fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that all families of the earth would be blessed. Paul situated the unbelievers staring him in the face within a larger story of global gospel expansion. 

To encourage us to keep going in evangelism, we need to remember that this story wasn’t just Paul’s or Abraham’s. It’s ours. Every second of our existence has been determined by God’s unswerving commitment to gather people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Through the person and work of Christ, he has done everything to guarantee this will really happen. No presumption. It’s reality. “They will listen.” 

Paul wasn’t wrong. Other major religions are largely bound to their place of origin. But Christianity has surpassed boundaries of geography, culture, ethnicity, sex, age, and economic status. 

The cynic might conclude that Christianity has become the world’s largest religion because of mass manipulation and political coercion. But Christians know that can’t be the case. The global reach of the gospel hasn’t been the “opiate of the masses,” in Karl Marx’s phrase. Rather, we know there is something unique about Jesus. We know he addresses our sin honestly, and there is no other hope for the nations than him. 

Difficulty for Confident Evangelists 

I’m thankful to serve at a church that deeply believes the gospel will find an audience beyond its walls. I’ve benefited from that gospel optimism. And yet, evangelistic optimism sometimes comes at a cost. Let me explain what I mean. 

Because we believe “they will listen,” we regularly have pastors decide to leave to plant or revitalize churches. New pastors come, invest deeply in the congregation, and then—always too soon—leave to go where there are more pressing needs. That can be very challenging for those who stay. 

Our gospel optimism is even reflected in how we use our church property. A few years ago, we built houses so we’d have more capacity to host, train, and send pastors. We also use these houses to host supported missionaries and facilitate sabbaticals. 

It’s not just how we use our staff or land; it’s also how we use our money. A significant chunk of our spending goes to missions and fostering healthy churches. We could use that money for needs here. I’m always reminded of this when I see the outdated artwork hanging on the walls in the church basement. With each decade, missions giving has taken priority over the basement aesthetic! 

“They will listen” is an invitation to Christians to participate in the grand adventure of the Great Commission. That adventure includes much pain and heartbreak. But it also brings much joy. It’s thrilling to see God transform our meager efforts into something beautiful. 

Assurance for All Evangelists 

In these words of Paul, every church and every Christian has a promise to build their lives on. 

It means we can approach evangelism confidently. If some reject the gospel—if many reject the gospel—we know it’s only a matter of time until someone else, somewhere else, will receive it. 

It means we can approach evangelism patiently. History is long, and consistent effort is how the battle will be won. 

It means we can approach evangelism prayerfully. When we pray, we are aligning with the One whose arm is never too short to save. 

And it means we can approach evangelism fearlessly. The gates of hell won’t prevail over Christ’s church. 

This promise means some will decide to go to the ends of the earth where Christ is not known. For some, it will mean staying. For some, it means giving and sending. For all, it means caring, praying, and speaking. 

They will listen. Will we speak? 

And once we do, what then? Once we experience rejection—or more often, just apathy—what then? 

When I try to share my faith and it doesn’t go well, I’m tempted to overgeneralize, to experience that rejection as just another event in a never-ending pattern of defeat. I’m often tempted to dwell on the negative response and not praise God for the opportunity I had to glorify him. 

I’m often tempted to pretend I’m omniscient. I act like a fortune teller and assume God will never use their memory of that conversation to bring them to himself. 

As much as we wish Acts 28:28 said, “Your daughter, your brother, your boss, your friend, and your neighbor will listen,” it doesn’t. We entrust that wholly to the Lord. We don’t know who will listen. The only way to find out is to keep on speaking and to involve others in that work of speaking, loving, praying, and waiting. 

Evangelism is a team sport. They will listen, but usually only after hearing the gospel multiple times from multiple people. So, Christian, keep going and keep speaking. 

That’s what Paul did. He “lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30–31). 

Whatever your experience has told you about evangelism, take hope from Acts 28:28. They will listen, so we should speak—with all boldness, no matter the hindrance. 

Paul Billings

Paul Billings is the director of Campus Outreach DC and an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

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