Friday, June 09, 2006

Effective Evangelism

Today I am thinking about the topic of evangelism. What really is it? How is it measured? And what is it's relationship to culture?

I think my original thought was that evangelism is the act of leading people to Christ. But I think I am wrong on this part. I think evangelism is simply proclaiming Christ as King in a culturally relevant way. Where the "seed" lands and what kind of "soil" it finds is not the job of the sower, right?

There is no doubt that there are methods of evangelism that are more effective at making disciples ( our call according to Matthew 28) but does all evangelism get measured by the number of souls in the kingdom? Isn't some of the measurement of evangelism simply a measure of our faithful proclamation? Has evangelism fallen prey to the pragmatism that has effected other areas of the church?

Undoubtedly there are methods of speaking to people that are more effective. Relational evangelism seems to carry the most weight in our culture. But what about the person who has no relationship with a christian? Can we just write them off as damned? Shouldn't there be a kind of urgency to our thinking?

When Jesus instructs his disciples to go in the whole world did he intend that there be efficiency? If there is anything that we learn from the parable of the soils it is that evangelism is a messy, half baked and ineffecient business. God help us to "teach and preach" as we go (Mat.11.1)


Roger G said...

To me real evangelism is living out your life as a Christian everyday. I make mistakes everyday but I get better. Its not in what I say but in my actions. I really don't mention the Lord anymore which some Christians would yell at me for. Yet people seem to know there is something different. When I worked at Home Depot I had people asking me to forgive them when they swore and I never told them I was a Christian. It kinda freaked me out. Its not my job to tell people how wrong they are because I think people know they are wrong and if they don't only God can touch their heart. I need to get the plank out of my own eye before I start working on the speck in someone elses eye. I led a guy to the Lord last year and he doesn't come to Church much if ever. He was initially excited but kept going backwards. I believe its more important to disciple and teach people who are struggling by investing our lives into them. We tell people to stand, walk and seek God but thats pretty vague if we really think about it. We tell them to stand on the word and does that mean to physically stand on their Bible? Sometimes we need to think and listen to the words that come out of our mouths. We Christians enjoy being right or better than others and use our blessings to flaunt in front of others at Church. We aren't much different from the world!!

Paul M. Harrison said...

This is a combined response, also touching on your last blog on leadership, because both tie into the same point of making Christianity relevant to culture.

My first attempt at evagelism was as a new believer in high school. Highly idealistic and naive, I believed simply establishing the truth of Christianity through apologetics would work - forcing reasonable people to believe or deny.

Being Pentecostal, I also bought into power evangelism, telling people to watch faith healers on TV and expect the supernatural. Come to church and see true prophecy, being slain in the Spirit, etc.

All of that failed, and within five years, I was an agnostic (you might remember me wrting that Anathema essay at the end of 1996).

After years of this back and forth wandering, I had some very powerful encounters I believed were from God and became sort of a mystic, depending on these encounters. It seemed every other day for two years there were prophetic people giving me words and I was getting all sorts of impressions. Evangelism for me at that point was simply giving testimony to what God was doing in my life - not defending inerrancy, the resurrection, or even making promises to others about what God will do for them.

In time all of this failed horribly and I could no longer trust my experiences, my encounters, my theology, my apologetics, nor my community. I became a nihilist, an atheist, and eventually suicidal.

The only type of Christianity that seemed honest enough for me was the emergent church and I found a lot of hope in Brian McLaren's books.

One of his books, "More Ready Than You Realize" is about a couple of years of e-mailing with a girl who finally gave her life to Jesus after asking lots of tough and honest questions. Never did he "evangelize" her or give her formulas. One reviewer found it appalling that in two years McLaren never once preached a clear understanding of the Gospel to her. "If you won't do it, give me her e-mail and I will," he said.

So the emergent church, like megachurches, are criticized for their postmodern version of denying formulas, denying propositional truth, and being post-evangelicals. I met McLaren at Cornerstone in 2005 and shared my dilemma with him, and his answer was "when you obey you will know" the truth. He called it incarnational truth. Invite people into community and let them taste and see as opposed to the Christianity of the modern world which was efficient - More souls with less investment, conveyor belt Christianity, quick formulas and decisions, gimmiks and programs.

His idea, in the spirit of the Reformation, is to keep reforming and never arriving. For McLaren, there never was a speciific "true" form of Christianity that transcended time and culture, but even from the get go it shaped culture as culture shaped it, developing differently in differing parts of the world. While some see this as a perversion or corruption of the one true faith causing confusion and denominationalism, McLaren sees it as a diamond shimmering in all directions. Daniel Dennett sees this as resiliance - religion's ability to adapt and survive in any given culture and situation.

As wonderful as all of this was, it seemed to me that the Bible was clear to proclaim the good news and to make disicples. There is a sense of urgency as the end was near, all over Paul's letters especially, and Peter saying God is holding back His coming just long enough so that all may hear. Peter preached a sermon and people were added to their numbers that day. Jesus preached in towns and when he wasn't immediately received spoke judgment on them. There is a moment of decision and conversion to the clearly preached Gospel after all.

So although the emergent view is respectful and culturally polite, it is the annoying evangelicals that seem to be the most biblical. Even Paul said people must beieve in their heart and confess with their mouths to be saved after hearing the word of the Lord.

It was at Cornerstone festival in 2005 that I also met Aaron, eating out of the trash cans. He found a tremendous amount of peace in abandoning American Christianity and trying his best to follow the beatitudes. I was immediately convicted that in all of my years of being a Christian, I never once cared for the poor, the jailed, the orphan, the widow, social justice, the forgotten, etc. and wondered if perhaps my new theological overhaul would help me see God in a new light.

I actually lived in my car for three months after in an attempt to identify with the poor but was driven deeper into despair. I was going to commit suicide on Thanksgiving of 2005 when he invited me to his home in Philadelphia to take care of me, and he saved my life.

We were strangers, yet he said he would send me money, get me to Philadelphia, and would do whatever I needed. What provoked him to this kind of involvement? He follows after Jesus who said to take care of the forgotten.

As an atheist, I went through all of my disillusionments and theological card houses with him and his basic view was to strip everything down to God being Light and Love. Whenever you give it, or wherever you find it, God is there.

"Do you know how to hand a thirsty person water? Then you haven't lost God." For him, all of these people calling themselves Christians but not doing what Jesus said are missing it, and those in Matthew 25 who did what Jesus said to do without even knowing it, well, they got in. Jesus was always reversing things it seemed.

So for me, God was found, though admittedly in a very non-findamentalist way, in this simple act of love and kindness from a friend who was clear he cared nothing of converting me to Christianity but to give me love, where God can be found without a business card. "Never mind the trinity and the deity," he said, "I can't even figure myself out."

I read three books lately on ministers taking atheists to church and intervieing them for marketing reasons - how best to reach what our culture is looking for. This megachurch mentality is brilliant for conforming religion to survive and to be culturally relevant, but always at the expense of integrity. If this is what Christianity has come to, you have to wonder if they really believe what they are saying after all. The more you have to market and speak for something, the less it speaks for itself.

Effective evangelism according to the New Testament seems to me not cultural relevance and church growth in numbers, but to tell people that they are sinful and are on God's smackdown list unless they accept the gift of Jesus immediately - today. This should piss them off and get you beheaded.

When you can fill a basketball stadium full of people every Sunday who gush over how cute and wonderful and inspiring you are, this comes across me as the opposite of how Jesus said people will react to the Gospel.

Our culture wants authenticity, so churches are coming up with gimmiks to be more authentic. May God have mercy on us all.