Different Strokes . . . for Different Churches?

 

Evangelist
Don’t be like this guy . . .

When it comes to how a congregation does corporate evangelism, there are four basic approaches or philosophies a church will take. I’m confident nearly every church will fit one of these four categories. I understand why different church leaders take each approach, but I believe only one of them is gutsy enough to be faithful to Christ. I think the other three are negligent, cowardly, and foolish, in that order.

 

Here they are – and I’ve even given them names to be extra offensive:

The church that doesn’t evangelize at all

This is the church that does nothing. Yes, you heard me – nothing. This church has no tracts for members. No literature. No training. No programs. No planned events. No mention of the Gospel on its website. No encouragement and exhortation to evangelize.

Nothing.

The pastor might mention evangelism every once and a while, in passing. But, it’s always vague and rather meaningless.

Pastors are pulled in many different directions, and its impossible for one guy to do everything well. I get that. But, still . . . nothing? Really?

The church that’s ashamed of the gospel

This church really, really wants to be your friend. It wants you to know it’s not like that other church; you know the one. These folks are different – they just wanna love on you and show you how nice Christians are. They’ll have public events, but somehow never mention Jesus or His Good News at all. Don’t want to offend, you know!

They’ll likely not distribute evangelistic literature at all. If they do, it’ll be so sanitized and purged of all possible offense so as to be meaningless. The “Gospel” in these presentations is typically more airbrushed than an aging starlet on Instagram.

The unbelievers who do come to these events will leave thinking these Christians are nice people. That’s sweet. The lady at the donut shop is nice, too. So is my cat. These churches have their hearts in the right place, but they’ll likely accomplish nothing positive. Their entire approach is to tiptoe softly, tenderly, and ever so apologetically towards some vague, generic conversation about Jesus.

Though it’s leaders wouldn’t put it quite this way, one must conclude they believe a sinner will come to faith in Jesus through a combination of vague “love,” lots of free food, and by never mentioning the Gospel at all.

The angry church

This church wants you to know you’re goin’ straight to hell. Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200. Go straight to hell. The flames await, so enjoy your time burning, sucka.

These people are so passionate about the Gospel, they’ll tell you:

  1. You’re a sinner, and goin’ right to the flames of hell
  2. God loves you, and Jesus came to save you
  3. He died for you
  4. Pray this prayer, and you’ll be saved
  5. Praise God! You’re saved!
  6. Bye, now.

As Daniel Strange has observed:

Here there is a tendency when questioned simply to trot out verses like Acts 4: 12 and John 14: 6 with little explanation or apologetic defence (because we don’t have one), or to give the impression of ‘self-righteousness’, implying we have achieved total enlightenment on these issues and that there are simple and easy answers when it comes to this topic. We use a machete to bludgeon when what is needed is a scalpel to subvert. While these approaches may be doctrinally orthodox, none are winsome or persuasive.

Daniel Strange, Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014; Kindle ed.), KL 431-434.

Like deranged Neanderthals, they bludgeon with gusto and frighten everyone away. These are the guys the first group doesn’t ever want to be confused with.

The nice church that isn’t afraid

This church does something really, really crazy. It cares enough to understand the world it operates in, understand the mindset and culture of the people it seeks to reach, tries to show Christian love, and yet still boldly proclaims the Gospel. This approach combines the best intentions of the last two flawed approaches (above), but doesn’t drive off the cliff into madness in the process.

Perhaps a better approach, and one in keeping with the tenor of much apologetic teaching in the New Testament, is one that both defends and proclaims Christian exclusivity with what might be called a ‘bold humility’, a stance that seeks first to understand the world of religion and religions through a biblical worldview before then applying unique and satisfying gospel truth to a world of pseudo-gospels that promise much but can never ultimately deliver. We are to give a reason for the hope that we have, but to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3: 15). In other words, fortiter in re, suaviter in modo (boldly in action, gently in manner).

Strange, Their Rock is Not Like Our Rock, KL 434-439.

This kind of church plans and executes corporate evangelistic events, and boldly but lovingly proclaims the whole Gospel without caring who is offended. But, it also trains its members to understand theology, understand God, understand the Bible in a deep, meaningful and comprehensive way.

It teaches its people to show real Christian love to unbelievers, so they, too, might come to faith in Christ. But, this love never comes at the expense of a clear and unapologetic proclamation of Gospel truth.

It teaches its people how to share the Gospel. It explains what sin is, what repentance is, who Jesus is, what the building blocks of the Gospel are, and aggressively engages with its community in corporate evangelism. It’s out there, in the marketplace of ideas, pushing Jesus in a winsome way.

Which are you?

I could flesh out more, but I’m not trying to write a biblical theology for corporate evangelism. I’m simply making this point – your church will have to choose which approach it will take:

  1. It can never do evangelism at all. Eventually, the church will die – and it will be all your fault;
  2. It can be have benign events, never mention the Gospel at all, and pray that (magically) the person will hear it by accident one day;
  3. It can be an angry Neanderthal, and bludgeon people with the Gospel without any intellectual reflection or interaction with the people it’s speaking to;
  4. Or, it can simply tell people the whole Gospel in an unapologetic fashion, while showing Christian love and understanding to people at the same time

In my experience, churches will usually take options #1 – #3. Let’s stop being afraid. Let’s stop being brute Neanderthals. Let’s take option #4 for our churches.

Dereliction of Duty?

deverMost Christians don’t ever share the Gospel. If you’re a Christian, you should start planning to stop this failure. You should decide to do something about that, to change it. But, I really mean that you should plan to stop. Don’t plan for this the same way you “plan” to start a new workout program. We all know how that last time went, don’t we?

Mark Dever, in his wonderful little book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, offers some advice on how to plan to start doing evangelism in your daily life:

Pray. I think many times we don’t evangelize because we undertake everything in our own power. We attempt to leave God out of it. We forget that it is His will and pleasure for His gospel to be known. He wants sinners to be saved. Simply put, we don’t pray for opportunities to share the gospel, so how surprised should we be when they don’t come? If you’re not evangelizing because you think you lack opportunities, pray and be amazed as God answers your prayers.

Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 24.

 

Communication Breakdown?

unchurched next doorIn 1969, the band Led Zeppelin released its first album. On that album, there was a little song entitled “Communication Breakdown.” It’s about a man who likes a girl, but can’t bring himself to actually speak to her. Now, as every married man knows, if you’re too terrified to ever speak to a pretty girl, then you have a potentially fatal problem . . .

For Christians, there is another kind of communication breakdown happening. Most Christians have never done anything concrete to give somebody the Gospel, at all. Now, I don’t intend to shame you into anything – there’s been enough of that over the years. Instead, I want to encourage you.

Thom Rainer is a Southern Baptist minister currently President of LifeWay Christian Resources. Not long ago, he did a remarkable amount of research and published a book entitled The Unchurched Next Door: Understanding Faith Stages as Keys to Sharing Your Faith. Consider this, from the book:

82 percent of the unchurched are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church if they are invited. Perhaps we need to pause on this response. Perhaps we need to restate it: More than eight out of ten of the unchurched said they would come to church if they were invited. If you take anything from this book, please remember this point.

What constitutes an invitation? For many of the unchurched, it was a simple statement of invitation to come to one’s church. For others, it was an invitation that included the offer to meet someone at church to show them around. In either case, the process was pretty basic. If we invite them, they will come.

The next obvious question is: Are Christians inviting non-Christians to church? The heartbreaking answer is no. Only 21 percent of active churchgoers invite anyone to church in the course of a year. But only 2 percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church.

Thom S. Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door: Understanding Faith Stages as Keys to Sharing Your Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008; Kindle ed.). KL 298 – 301.

Why don’t you invite a friend, family member or co-worker to church this Sunday? Give it a shot.

Farmers, Not Salesmen

workplace graceIf you’re a Christian, I predict one of these two scenarios probably describes your experience with evangelism:

Scenario #1: You’ve never been taught evangelism at all. Your Pastor talks about it sometimes, you know it’s important, but nobody in church leadership has ever taught you how to do it, what it’s about, what it entails, what it means, and what “success” actually is.

Scenario #2: You’ve been taught a pre-scripted, rote, memorized way to share the Gospel. You know, deep down, that you sound like a cheesy salesman, so you don’t usually bother to do it.

Scenario #1 is unacceptable, and your church leadership should put some energy and effort into fixing this – now. Scenario #2 is unhelpful, and very bad. Pre-scripted approaches are unhelpful because you cannot script a conversation. It’s more important you actually understand doctrine, so you can better explain it to people with the time you have. For more on this, see my lesson entitled “Teaching the Gospel to Kids” (audio and handout are at the link).

The truth is, Christians are not salesmen – we’re farmers. I’ll let a good book explain the rest:

Many Christians learned a mechanical, aggressive approach to evangelism. We attended workshops and read books based on techniques developed by people who have the gift of evangelism. That is the problem. When those of us who are not gifted evangelists muster up the courage to try these techniques, the results are usually disappointing— which makes us feel guilty and often offends others. We begin to think of ourselves as substandard disciples who are simply not able to share our faith. Although we want to see friends and colleagues come to Christ, we stop trying out of fear and frustration.

According to a 2009 Barna Group survey, since 1995, the proportion of born again adults claiming the gift of evangelism dropped from four percent to one percent. The problem is one of perspective, not inability. We tend to think of evangelism as an event, a point in time when we explain the gospel message and individuals put their faith in Jesus on the spot. Done!

However, according to the Bible, evangelism is an organic process, more like farming than selling. A person’s decision to trust Christ is the climactic step, following a series of smaller steps God orchestrates to draw a person to Himself. He typically enlists a number of people with a variety of gifts. Each person plays a different but vital role to help a nonbeliever take one step closer to Jesus.

Bill Kraftson of Search Ministries observes that each Christian in a nonbeliever’s journey to faith is like a link in a chain. “It’s great to be the last link in the chain,” Kraftson says, “but it’s not more important than any other link. We just need to make sure we’re not the missing link.”

Walt Larimore and Bill Peel, Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work (Longview, TX: LeTourneau Press, 2014; Kindle ed.), KL 203 – 224.

Sharing the Gospel . . . at Work?

workplace graceIn Sunday School, we’ve taken a short detour from the Apostle Peter’s first letter to talk about something very practical – how do you share your faith in the real world? Perhaps you’ve “grown up” in churches where evangelism was always a corporate, church activity. Perhaps, when you hear “evangelism,” you immediately think of going door to door in a sub-division. Maybe you think of a bus ministry. Maybe you think of running the other way, and making a hasty retreat through the church foyer for the front door.

I understand.

Did you know there is more to it than that? Let’s get real, for a moment – most Christians will have the most opportunities to share their faith where they spend the majority of their day – at work. I’ll be writing more about this soon, but I’ll leave you with this bit of wisdom from a good book:

The challenge of evangelism in the twenty-first century is not a matter of supply; it is a problem of distribution. The methods used in the past to deliver spiritual aid and assistance are not working. The idea that we can open a distribution center on a street corner and expect those in spiritual need to come to us is not working. In fact, God did not intend for it to work. Instead of a retail business model, He chose one-on-one distribution as the primary method for His followers to dispense His grace.

It is a fascinating and humbling fact: the Creator of the universe could have used any method to spread His grace to the world, yet He chose to use ordinary Christians— not a few handpicked superstars— to take His message of salvation to the human race.

According to a 2013 Barna Group poll, nearly one-third (31 percent) of evangelical Christians (who all believe they should evangelize) have not done so— at least within the past year. 

God calls every Christian to be a witness for Him. So for most of us, our mission field is where we spend the bulk of our time: the workplace. Between Sundays, we can be pipelines of God’s grace to people who would never darken the door of a church.

Walt Larimore and Bill Peel, Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work (Longview, TX: LeTourneau Press, 2014; Kindle ed.), KL 192 – 201.

Teaching the Gospel to Kids

Emmet_minifigThis is a subject near and dear to my own heart. Too many adults remember being walked through a pre-scripted presentation, being told to “pray a prayer,” and being assured “you’re saved!”

Too many of these same adults realized, years later, that they never understood the Gospel, never understood who Jesus is, what He did, and what it means to “repent and believe.” In short, they were lied to. Now, to be sure, they were lied to by well-meaning Christians. But, they were lied to.

We can do better. We must do better.

This is a 90 minute presentation I gave about how to share the Gospel with children (ages K – whatever). This is not a scripted presentation. I think, in order to share the Gospel, you need to have a solid theological foundation in several key areas, so you’re equipped to talk about Jesus and the Gospel in a coherent, orthodox way.

The better you understand these things, the better you’ll be able to explain the Gospel. In this teaching session, I talk about:

  • What the “big story” of the Bible is, and why it matters
  • What “sin” is actually is, and how to explain it
  • What “repentance” actually us, and how to explain it
  • What elements, building blocks and facts make up “the Gospel”
  • How to explain to an unbeliever “how to be saved”

I hope this discussion is encouraging to you. The teaching notes (22 pages) are here.