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Blog 025 Clarifying How We See, Understand, and Choose Evangelism

“This is what I know right then: the world is brokenhearted and full of suffering, and if you listen to what life needs instead of what you need from it, you could fill the brokenness with your own brokenhearted love — and this will in turn fill you. What if you were not afraid?” -Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

Evangelism. It’s an intimidating — often, even a scary — word for most. But why is that? In Romans 1:16, Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for everyone who believes.” Sharing our faith should be exciting because we have the opportunity to offer the power of God – redemption, joy, and peace that surpasses understanding – to the people we see around us, hurting and looking for something more. It’s an incredible opportunity!

And yet, evangelism remains an unpleasant word. Some have been hurt by the corruption of televangelists or fire and brimstone fear-mongers in public places. Some hear the word and feel guilt or shame because they feel they have failed in sharing their faith like they feel they should. Some automatically move to frustration or anger because they believe evangelism is a form of judgment or abuse.

And yet, the call remains: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18). How can we make disciples if we don’t first share our faith? How will people accept Christ if we don’t ever speak His Name?

How do we see it?
Almost 25 years ago, Charles Colson wrote, “People will, I fear, continue to compartmentalize their lives including their religious experience … The process of privatization destroys our understanding of ministry which is 24 hours a day, being Christ’s person wherever we are, in business, the home, the country club, or the ghetto.” First and foremost, we must understand that evangelism is not something we occasionally go out and do; rather, sharing the Gospel must be something that permeates every part of our daily lives, in our thoughts, motivations, conduct, and speech. “Theologian Michael Green said it this way: ‘The great mission of Christianity was in reality accomplished by means of informal missionaries . . . chattering to friends and chance acquaintances in homes and wine shops, on walks, and around market stalls. They went everywhere gossiping the gospel; they did it naturally . . . and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing.’” *

How do we understand it?
Second, we must understand that evangelism is not a singular event, but rather a process. It’s easy to think that evangelism means sharing our testimony in such a way that the listener immediately accepts Christ, and if that event doesn’t happen, we think we’ve failed. However, Scott Morton advocates the “link in the chain” approach to evangelism in his excellent book, Down to Earth Discipling. He says that when Jesus compares salvation to being born again, he compares it to the process of gestation, the event of birth, and another process of physical maturity. Thus, salvation is the process of a person experiencing the Gospel through many people’s’ words and actions, the event of salvation — accepting Christ as Savior, and then another process of spiritual maturation for the rest of our lives. He says that thinking about evangelism in this way “frees me not to manipulate a conversation toward Christ. My desire is to reap when the time is right, but most of the time I hope to simply move a nonbeliever on to the next link [through Godly conduct – gentleness, compassion, etc. and respectful conversation]. I am less concerned now with who does the reaping or when it happens and more interested in being a positive link myself.”

The beginning of the New York Times Bestseller Love Does is actually a beautiful depiction of this chain illustration. Bob starts the book with stories of men who’d influenced his decision to accept Christ as his own Savior. In one anecdote about a guy named Randy who – as Bob later found out – had left his new bride in order to accompany Bob on an impromptu runaway trip from home, Bob wrote, “I could tell that [Randy] was ‘with me’ in spirit as much as with his presence. He was committed to me and he believed in me. I wasn’t a project; I was his friend. I wondered if maybe all Christians operated this way.” Later, he writes, “I heard about Jesus for the first time when I was in high school from a guy named Doug, who I used to shoot BB guns with. . . . I liked how Doug did life. He was full of adventure and always had some wonderful mischief in mind. Sitting on the edge of Doug’s bed laughing about the day, Doug began telling me the story about another man of adventure named Jesus, who lived a long time ago. . . . He spent time with the kinds of people most of us spend our lives avoiding. It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus who these people were because He was all about engagement. That’s one of the things I saw in Doug. I liked that Doug could be friend with Jesus and still shoot pellet guns.” Randy was a link in the chain Bob needed, and Doug’s genuine friendship with Bob paved the way for him to share about Jesus in a natural, authentic way that not only made sense to Bob, but gave Bob a desire to know Jesus like Doug did!

How do we live it?
So how do we approach evangelism as a link-in-the-chain, every day lifestyle choice?

Scott Morton provides seven guidelines in his book, and we provide a few thoughts on them below in parentheses. (And if you want to know more about these, we highly recommend his book!)

  1. Associate with non-believers. (Who could you invite over to dinner next week simply to build relationship?)
  2. Don’t force new believers to switch cultures at conversion. (Which means you’ll have to get to know the person and their value set!)
  3. Develop credibility with non-believers. (First build the relationship out of genuine care for the other person and who they are!)
  4. Life witness is not enough – you must speak! (It’s impossible to live in true, authentic relationship without at some point talking about what’s most important in your life – Jesus!)
  5. Share the Gospel, not the baggage. Scott says, “In your exuberance to talk about Jesus, you might be tempted to also share your convictions about attending church, stopping abortion, getting pornography off television, allowing prayer before football games, and voting Republican. I call this ‘gospel creep.’ Unfortunately, listeners assume that a follower of Jesus must be the whole package — that they must become like you to follow Christ.” (You would never expect your best friend to dress exactly like you, do her hair exactly like you, get a job where you work – it would probably creep you out! So, too, in sharing our faith, do we have to allow for the individualism of each part of the Body of Christ and rejoice in it. Even when our convictions don’t fully align. [Check out our blog series on The Relational Covenant for more on how to live this out in community.])
  6. Be different, but flexible. (Is it even possible to build authentic friendships if you’re not willing to meet your friend on their turf sometimes, even if it’s pushing you outside your comfort level?)
  7. Be ready to share clearly. (Because when your friend finally asks why you have such joy, peace, and hope, don’t you want to have your answer clearly articulated to give them the best chance possible of understanding just how amazing Jesus is?!)

 

In this Lent season, a lot of people are thinking of inviting their non-believing friends to church and Easter services. This is a great step! But what happens after Sunday service? Here’s what we recommend: first, invite them to a delicious meal at your house after service! (Maybe even plan an Easter egg hunt for the kids if you both have them.) Spend the time that they’re at your house simply building relationship: asking them about work, hobbies, family, etc. Pray ahead of time that God would naturally open a door to move into spiritual things, but don’t push it, and don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen! It might even be better to wait and allow time for the friendship to grow if you’ve invited someone you don’t know very well yet. Second, schedule a time in the next few weeks where you can hang out with them on their turf – go to their adult soccer league game, join them at a trivia night, or spend a Saturday hiking their favorite trail! Third, and most importantly, never stop praying for them and for your relationship! Pray that God would cultivate a thirst in their hearts for Him, grow your friendship, open natural doors for spiritual conversations, equip you to be a positive “link in the chain”, and continue to pursue them hearts through friendships they have with other Believers! Finally, continue to pursue relationship with them – invite them into your life, and be willing to jump in when they invite you into theirs.

Also, don’t forget we have some other great Resources available to you:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” -Ephesians 3:20-21