Friday, January 25, 2013

Evangelism that Makes Sense...Finally!

I just started reading a book called "Total Church" by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis which has been helping me understand how to pastor a church that will experience natural organic growth from the gospel working through each member to reach the community where we are planted. I grew up with an idea that evangelism was something that you did only one way - knock on doors and ask people if they would go to heaven when they died. We watered down the gospel to make it easy to receive thus manufacturing our own deluded version of success.  The Fundamentalist is satisfied with only having obeyed the letter of the law by having shared the information of the gospel in word or in print like a Navy Seal team who moved in, did the strike and moved out immediately. Our church even called their Thursday night evangelistic ministry S.W.A.T.: Soul Winning Attack Team. Attack Team??? What a way to view announcing the good news! Another program that got popular in Fundamentalist churches was called "Operation Go". Even the name itself demonstrated how they misunderstand the great comission. "As you are going, make disciples" is the more correct way of understanding "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations" in the original language.

Even the Evangelical version called "Evangelism Explosion" was based on the same model. All of these programs saw evangelism as purely a portable, individualist form of proselytizing. This mentality does not see evangelism as a way of life, but as a program that you add to your check list to mark off as having gone and obeyed. 

They belittled anyone who advocated any form of "Lifestyle Evangelism" as cowards who were ashamed of the gospel. Perhaps some do hide behind this as cowards, but I think the SWAT team kind of evangelism is equally cowardly because their only contact with the world is at their front door and then they retreat to their safe, sanitized Christian bubble. During my entire time of being a pastor, I have wrestled with how to do evangelism faithfully and effectively. I have not bought in to the seeker sensitive method because it seemed equally flawed. They teach that the church worship service is the evangelistic event that you invite your unsaved friends to attend. To be sensitive to these people, the church has to use worldly styles of music and gut the gospel of its offense to make sinners comfortable. 

Being in a very culturally diverse part of the San Francisco Bay Area, the seeker sensitive method will only "work" (as they say it does)  for those who are immersed in American pop culture. But what about the Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Atheist who wouldn't come to church not matter how cool it is!? Beside the wrong theological presuppositions of the seeker sensitive church; just pragmatically, their form of church is not going to work in our area if we want to reach more broadly than just the middle class, white hipster (which is only about 13% of Fremont). Most of the churches have nothing else but the seeker sensitive silver bullet in their pocket and are all trying to reach some portion of a shrinking slice of the pie. If I knock on all the doors and ask people if they would go to heaven if they died, most of them don't even believe in heaven and would shut the door in my face. There had to be a better way? How???

After reading a few books including Center Church, Forgotten Ways and now Total Church, I am starting to see how evangelism is a natural, intentional way of life that is lived out in every day life both individually and communally with the entire local church. Tim Chester describes evangelism as a three fold chord - Declaring the Gospel, Cultivating Relationships, Introducing People to Community. 

1. Declaring the Gospel is non-negotiable - Using words IS necessary! The gospel is news that must be proclaimed. We don't necessarily have to start here like I was taught though. We can start here depending on the situation, but eventually, this part of it has to be brought up or else evangelism isn't happening. We need to understand the gospel inside and out so that we are always ready to bring it to bear on people's lives and unique situations.

2. Cultivating Relationships - People are complex creatures and not everyone is ready for a complete stranger to come up to them and give them the "turn or burn" message. People are relational creatures, not robots that need reprogramming. People are not objects to be won, they are people to be loved. Many of the SWAT evangelism programs de-humanize people by their approach. It takes time, work, effort, sacrifice and some times money and comfort to build relationships with people you would otherwise never be friends with. Christians need to be looking for not only opportunities to share the message immediately, but ways to break into people's lives so that we can speak the word of truth to them when we have earned a right to be heard by them (as they see it). 

3. Introduce them to Community - Evangelism is a team effort, not just an individual duty that must be done by gritting your teeth and popping the question to someone. Jesus said:
John 13:35  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another
This is incredible! Jesus gave the unbelieving world the right to judge if our faith is genuine by how they perceive us loving one another. This presupposes that we will be loving one another in ways that they can see first hand. When church, evangelism and the Christian life is an event that we go to, it is no wonder that the church is shrinking in the West. Church isn't an event like the seeker sensitive churches believe, it is a life that is lived together all week long. So is evangelism. It's not something done on a weekday evening, it's what we do all week long. Even our interaction with one another is to be evangelistic. We make our faith credible to unbelievers when they are introduced to our community and they see the gospel lived out before them. It may be that the person you have befriended and invited to the community will get the gospel shared by someone else in the church who is a more able teacher or apologist. If the church would see themselves as a family that is on mission together, they would work together in reaching the community as a community.
Practical ways to do this is to regularly host parties, BBQ's, bowling teams, or cafe meetings where unbelievers can be acquainted with the church community outside of the church building. When they see a gospel saturated people loving eachother and extending that love to them, then the word of the gospel becomes the reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet 3:15). They need to see lives that demand a gospel explanation.


Extraordinary Ordinary Life said...

So well said. I come from the IFB too and I have learned more in the last 5 years of being in our Evangelical Free Church than I had the 21 years I was a Baptist. But honestly it is like a retraining of the brain and sometimes I feel stuck in the middle. But I am going to check out more of your blog - thank you.

Reforming Baptist said...

I know how you feel being stuck in the middle. Sometimes, there are thinking habits that are harder to break than others and you know that they are wrong, but you don't have a better way of thinking to replace it. This is my problem on a lot of levels. That is why I am always reforming!