Evangelism has a bad reputation.
A recent survey asked Millennials who are active Christians if they thought it was wrong to share their faith with someone of a different faith in the hopes that they would someday share the same faith. 47% said yes, they thought that was wrong. Those same Millennials felt they were well equipped to talk to someone about their faith (73%) and they also felt that the best thing that could happen to someone is for them to come to know Jesus (94%).*
That is remarkable!
Though they feel strongly that following Christ is the ultimate goal in life and they feel well equipped to communicate that truth, many of them feel that talking to someone about their faith is wrong.
Many outside the church would agree. Headlines tell us of those banned from evangelizing in Chicago’s Millennium Park. India ousting Compassion International after almost 50 years of aid to children in need in their country. Resistance to evangelism, close to home and across the world, seems to be increasing. Why?
- We don’t do it right.
Sales is king in a consumeristic world. We are bombarded with advertising at every turn. There are growing regulations against telemarketing and text-marketing because we grow weary of people constantly trying to sell us something. I have a friend at the coffee shop where I hang out. He knows I prepare my messages for Sunday as I sip my chai. He loves to sit down in the seat across from me and say, “So, what are you selling this week?” His assumption, as an unchurched guy, is that since I am a pastor and a follower of Christ, I am selling something.For many years the church has trained its followers with methods like the Four Spiritual Laws, The Roman Road, The Bridge Illustration, Evangelism Explosion, etc. These methods were designed to present the basic principles of the Gospel in a concise manner. They are powerful truths reduced to bullet points. These methods are all valuable tools for every Christian to be equipped to share the faith that we hold dear. Unfortunately, they can come across like a sales pitch. They also run the risk of painting a skewed picture of the comprehensive nature of the Gospel.As followers of Christ we must learn how to love people better than we have. Our ability to love is at the heart of the Gospel. Christ said that the world would know His followers had been with Him by the way they loved. Christianity is shrinking in the US and Canada, in part, because of our failure to live and share Christ in a way that people are drawn to Him.
- The Gospel is offensive.
Our failures tell only part of the story. The Gospel message contains the offensive reality that every human being must repent and throw themselves on the mercy of God. History tells the painful tale of human pride that resists such repentance. There is no escaping the offense of the cross. Christ died for us. We deserved to die. That is not an easy truth to swallow. Many are repulsed by it and, sadly, always will be.
Belonging Comes Before Believing
George Hunter in his book The Celtic Way of Evangelism, tries to crack the code of St. Patrick’s incredibly effective transformation of the Irish people. It was God’s work of transformation, of course, Patrick was just an instrument. But God used Patrick and his team in a unique way. History says that Patrick would set up camp with his team outside an Irish village and begin caring for the village. They would love the people in very tangible ways. As they built trust and community with the people of the village, they would share the Gospel. They did this all over Ireland.
The Irish people felt belonging before they believed. You might be surprised to discover that the most famous Irishman of all time was not Irish. Patrick was so loved by the Irish people and he so loved the Irish that he became one of them.
When we think of the people in our lives who do not know Christ, we should consider how we might become one of them. How do we love and pursue a relationship with our unchurched neighbors and friends in a way that they feel a beautiful belonging? That belonging is coupled with the Gospel message and they become overwhelmed by the offensive transformation of following Christ.
That is Good News.
If you were trying to sell a car to friends, what would you tell them about the car? It would obviously depend on who your friends are and what they are looking for in a car. If they are college students, you would tell them what the gas mileage is and how much routine repairs cost. If you are selling your car to an architect, you might tell them about its aerodynamic design. NASCAR fans will want to know that it is a 3.3 Liter V6 that will go 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds. Friends in the medical field might want to know the safety record of the car. None of this is deceitful. You are simply trying to tell them about the car in a way that makes sense for them.
The church, for many years, has trained people to present the Good News by following a memorable formula. The Four Spiritual Laws, the Roman Road, Evangelism Explosion, The Bridge Illustration and host of other formulas. All of which are true and helpful. Unfortunately, they focus on certain aspects of the Gospel while neglecting huge chunks that are essential. Having a clear Gospel outline in your head is helpful but presenting it as a “canned” set of precepts ignores the listener’s needs and shortchanges the fullness of the Gospel.
This rationale is why we have four Gospels that tell the story of Jesus from different perspectives to different audiences. As we look at the life of Jesus, we see He interacts with people in unique ways. To Nicodemus he says, “You must be born again.” To the woman at the well he says, “…he would have given you living water.” There are so many different metaphors that give us different perspectives on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
It’s time to let go of the formulaic approach to evangelism and start listening to people.
Any good missionary knows that the work begins by learning the culture and the language of the people to whom you are called. You are a missionary. Start learning the perspective of the unchurched people God as placed in your life. If you don’t know any unchurched people for heaven’s sake rearrange your life so that you start hanging out in places where you rub shoulders with people who don’t know God. Begin by praying for them, then immerse yourself in their lives and finally, immerse yourself in God’s Word. When you do those things, the Holy Spirit will work wonders (arguably the greatest wonder) in your life and theirs.
I cannot emphasize the relational aspect of evangelism enough.
It is the reason God entrusted us to be the messengers of the Gospel. You and I can embody the grace of the Gospel message.
Consider how people come to understand something as true. There are primarily three ways we know things: Experience, Evidence (Facts) & Community. Which one do you think is the most influential? History seems to tip the scales in the direction of community. For many years the medical community thought one of the greatest remedies for sick people was “bleeding”. Physicians would drain substantial amounts of blood from sick patients firmly believing it would cure them. There was only the thinnest thread of evidence or experience to back up this belief, but enough people were swayed that it won the day. Community has incredible power to convince people of crazy notions. What potential does community have to help people understand the Truth?
Let’s make our primary evangelism strategy to love people who don’t know God.
Let’s invite our unchurched friends to hang out with our churched friends and watch the power of that community lead people to the Truth. It sounds simple but anyone who has ever dreamed of building a Kingdom community knows the pitfalls.
One of my favorite nights of the year is the Super Bowl Party. The first year I invited my neighbors, nobody came. We had only lived in the neighborhood for a few months, so I was determined to make next year different. I prayed for my neighbors, I went out of my way to build relationships with my neighbors and love them as Christ has loved me. Today, 5 years later, my neighbors tell me that they are looking forward to the Super Bowl Party. We hardly have room for all the folks that come. People are inviting themselves! The party is a wonderful mix of people who walk with God and people who have yet to know His grace. It is the small beginnings of a community with a window to the Kingdom of God.
Written by Kris Vos
*Insights gleaned from Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan