Saturday, August 18, 2007

How Evangelism Now?

So the above blogs establish, at least for me, that evangelism is an utter imperative. Essential to being Christian is the call to share the faith with all humanity. God's purpose is that all live in eternal relationship with him. Those of us who have found him are to pass on the story to others, speak the gospel, proclaim the gospel, so that others can join us in God's family and experience the joy and wonder of living eternally with God.

The question is how? How today? This is where it gets a little tricky.

There are some things that I think we can take into account:

1. Pray: God has covenanted to answer prayers. When we ask him for his power, his leading, increased effectiveness etc, he answers. Luke records how the first disciples, after being told to stop preaching the message, prayed passionately for more passion for the task and for God to do wonders among the lost. The room was shaken and the result was unbelievable fellowship, passionate proclamation, people converted and amazing signs and wonders (check out Acts 4-5). Paul kept asking for people to pray for his mission knowing that the mission relied totally on the power of God (see 1 Thess 3; Col 4; Eph 6:18 etc). So we need to pray and pray specifically for God's leading, power and empowerment of the message.

2. Be Spirit-led: Prayer is not just about asking, but about listening and responding. We need to shut up in prayer and listen and respond. God wants to save the world more than we can ever imagine. He will direct us to responsive people, show us the right approaches to take, open up the opportunities that he wants us to take etc. Again the early Christians knew this. Almost every evangelistic situation was engineered by God and not by human ideas or strategy. Pentecost set up the first sermon (check out Acts 2-3), the healing of the disabled beggar the second (Acts 3), persecution in many cases (Acts 4-5; 7-8) etc. Philip was Spirit-led, God leading him to the Ethiopian to share the faith and see him saved (Acts 8). Paul and Barnabas' mission was inspired by the Spirit in worship (Acts 13:1-2). Paul's Macedonian mission came about because of a dream and being told NOT to preach in Pontus and Bythinia (Acts 16). Paul's proclamation in Rome came about because he was imprisoned and sent there (Acts 22-28). If we are prayerful and responsive to the Spirit and situations the Spirit engineers, God will direct our situation and the opportunities will come as we seek the Spirit. He will tell us not to do some things and to do others as he did for Paul. He will cause situations to occur that open up the possibility of sharing. We do not need to push situations, alienate people with our pushing of the message, unnecessarily offend. God will open up the situation if we are prayerful and Spirit-led.

3. Know the message. We have to know the message. Peter and Paul both reinforce this (1 Pet 3:15; Col 4:5-6). We need to be able to explain the Christian message to another person in a way that is clear, appropriate, non-dogmatic, sensitive. Another way of saying it is; we need to know the story. We need to practice telling it. We need to know our own story, our testimony and be able to weave it together with the gospel message. It needs to be so natural to us that it comes out of us in a most natural, relational way.

4. Live the message. There is nothing worse than a Christian who is full of talk but whose life does not reflect the love and authenticity of Christ. We need to allow the Spirit to consume us that our lives are full of the fruit of the Spirit (see Gal 6; 1 Cor 13). We need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I am not talking about a purile life, soft and pathetic in its attempt to be ever positive in a fake Barney like way. I am talking about being real, being authentic, being who we are, but full of grace. Perhaps that is the key word, grace. Full of generosity, mercy, openness; not full of judgement and pseudo-Christian arrogance.

5. Be out there among them. How can we lead non-Christians to Christ when we do not hang out with them but live in a holy Christian world 24/7. We need to be in the world where we fit, interacting with the lost, working with them, playing sport with them; and as we do, we bring God to them through our lives. We are God's agents for the transformation of the world, for sowing love and light, for sharing the faith authentically as a natural part of lives totally sold out for God.

6. Know them deeply. True evangelism is relational and based on our deep care and commitment to others. We need to recognise in others that they too are image bearers, recipients of God's love, who God cares about and wants to save. We should not see them as the enemy but seek to be their friends. Jesus hung with sinners who would not fit most of our churches. So we need to get out of the enclave and be among such people, accepting them, and as led by the Spirit and through our own fragmented attempts to live out Christ's injunctions, be among them as Jesus was. He never compromised the gospel or himself as he did so, but he remained among them, and they loved him because he was their friend. We must be the friends of sinners.

7. Know their world. We need to be observers of our world, reading it, gaining ever increasing understanding of what motivates people, what ideals they aspire to, what moves them, what makes them tick. As we do we need to translate the gospel into their world at their points of concern and interest, bringing the gospel in their language, telling the story in a way that challenges them to know that there is a much better way. Paul did this, concerned to be a Jew to Jews and a Greek to Greeks. We do not compromise the core of the message, but allowing the story to be shaped in its form by the context we are in, and bringing it to bear on the things that matter for today's world. The 'unknown god' of Acts 17 is a great biblical example. Here Paul picks up a concept from the Athenian culture and tells the story around this idea. Paul used metaphors from his world like justification, redemption, reconciliation, sanctification etc in telling the story. John used the idea of logos. We need to be real with this culture.

8. Do the gospel. Christians debate the relationship between social justice/action and sharing the message. We do both. We are God's hands and feet to bring God's shalom to the world, to work to see God's purposes for this world brought closer. Sharing the faith must be set in the context of Christians working for good, for justice, caring for the poor and needy, reaching out with love to the hurting, healing etc. Without this dimension, our message becomes an isolated bleep in a world of noise that has no effect. The world is saying, 'show us Christ' not just tell us about him. We should be at the cutting edge of ecology, science, art, music, IT as well, as we show the deep wonderful creativity of God. Jesus said of the poor, 'you feed them'! We are to be God's agents to remove poverty and challenge injustice.

9. Use the right methods for today. We need to think deeply about the way we do evangelism. In the world of Paul etc, public speaking, letter and personal relationships through family and community were the primary mode of proclamation of any message. Hence we see them going around preaching publically, communicating through letter and spreading the message through community and family networks. In non-technological contexts public proclamation and community and family networks remains the primary media for communication. The message was fresh and never heard, meaning that there was novelty and excitement in the message, it never having been heard before.

In a context like NZ things are different. Now the primary networks are not as strongly family which are to a large extent fragmented but friendship and social networks. These networks remain a critical point of evangelisation. This requires a strategy of love, relationships and very sensitive sharing of the faith set in the context of mutual relationships where both parties are honoured and respected in their perspectives.

Public proclamation is no longer a primary means of communication. It has been superseded by communication through radio, TV, the internet and the print media. We Christians need to use these well, sharing the message through these avenues. I am not so much talking about 'Christian' radio stations or TV shows, although these done well could be useful and have a purpose in strengthening the saved. Rather, I am talking about Christian sensitive and thoughtful proclamation through secular media. Christian broadcasting association work at Easter and Christmas are excellent examples, where the Christian message can reach the lost. TV shows need to be far cleverer than evangelists utilising the old forms of proclamation, but through creative shows like those formed by Rob Harley. Movies which bring the story to the culture need to be made. Books that make it onto the bookshelfs of secular bookshops like the Kiwi Bible etc. Songs that subvert through Christian musicians are another way of reaching this world. Then there is the internet! Unfortunately we cannot control it, but it does give opportunity for the message to be proclaimed.

Older methods may not be the best way anymore. Knocking on doors leads to instant rejection as people are utterly suspicious of anyone who intrudes into their space and who seeks to 'sell them' something. Approaching strangers with the gospel is similarly a risky venture. Public proclamation can work if it is done brilliantly with catchy attractive music, drama, humour and skill. It needs to be positive and attractive rather than judgemental. It can't be naff in a world that is sophisticated. If it is not attractive, it can have the reverse effect of putting people off the faith.

So we need to do evangelism, but do so in a culturally relevant and holistic way. Not that we will all get it right and enthusiastic Christians will do all sorts of things to try and share the faith. Paul is helpful here. He delighted in Christ being proclaimed even where people's motives were all over the place (Phil 1:12-18). I think we should encourage anyone who dares to go out and have a go. We need to help them so that they do it really well and positively. We need to train them so that they do it in ways that are culturally appropriate and so that we do not cause unnecessary offence. The truth is that the gospel is offensive enough without our stupidity thrown in. Whether we get it right or not, we can trust in the message's power to do what God wants even where the efforts are not perfect. But we need to do our best to do it well.

Go for it.

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