Monday, February 22, 2010

Evangelism - Where is the Middle Ground? - Part 2

Last Saturday, I wrote about what evangelism is but not really much in how to carry it out. That's what this entry is for. Just as a refresher, here's what I'm trying to answer: Is there a middle ground when it comes to evangelism?

I do believe there is middle ground evangelism, but first I want to elaborate upon the two extremes first.

Some people evangelize subtly through good deeds and words for others. They exert themselves to do small acts of kindness; maybe its shoveling driveways, mowing lawns, holding open doors, helping someone move in/out of a house, making/giving free food or some other object, etc. The act itself can be seen as righteous, kind-hearted and a exemplar of faith, without deeds, is dead (James 2:14-18). But all too often these deeds are without a clear, heard and understood message: "We are doing this because (fill-in-the-blank that is Gospel/Jesus related)." When our message is well crafted, we should see it capture the hearts and minds of those who hear it, or repel those who have hardened their heart to God. Either way, a good deed without a message is only a random act of kindness at best, and this is not evangelism. (Acts 9:26-31)

The other extreme is much like a verbal presentation of the gospel that often comes without warning. Two examples of this are street/campus evangelists and those who partake in mission trips. They speak boldly about the hard truths and amazing grace. They take the Great Commission seriously, as they should, and are not afraid of rejection. Despite their best efforts and desire to share the Gospel, their words usually fall on deaf ears. In trying to reach everyone, they reach only a few.

Please don't be offended. I'm not taking away the importance of either type of evangelist. God has brought many children into his grace by those who have been exceptionally gifted with acts of great kindness and those extremely bold in heart. In fact, I have tried evangelizing in both of these ways and those who I have done these things with had success. I feel this is because I do not have a strong gift in evangelism. However, as stated last entry, I know that I am called to evangelism - I am not exempt. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed with my personal evangelism and this blog is a direct product of that. I also know I am not alone. So to shed some light on this middle ground of evangelism, I look to the great evangelist of all time: Jesus.

Jesus is called the Lion and Lamb because of his ability to cut straight to the point, cutting the fat, and getting to the heart of the issue. Yet, other times, he is a healer of both body and soul through acts of kindness and gentle words. Jesus utilizes a blend of both evangelism styles that is to be envied and imitated by every Christ-Follower.

What is his secret? How does he do it?

I believe that His hidden secret of middle-ground evangelism is because he is the Master of relationships - this fact should come to no great surprise. Anyone who experienced a relationship with Jesus for for 30 seconds or 30 years have found true meaning, depth and clarity in their life as a result. Using Jesus as our example, some people were with him all his life (like Mary), others were with him for a few years (the disciples) and yet others were only experienced Jesus for a matter of seconds. But regardless of the time limit Jesus had with any given person, He was able to connect with them in a personal, then in a spiritual way. Our evangelism should reflect this.

Strangers: A Few Minutes - A Few Days
This is probably the hardest type of evangelism. The key is to make a personal connection quickly - the more meaningful, the better. Maybe they're wearing it (a cultural/religious symbol?), or maybe it's based on setting, (a church, soup kitchen, a classroom?). Using your observation skills and tying that into a conversation about Jesus is what dictates the opportunities. Probably not going to see them again after this visit? No excuses this day and age; grab their e-mail so you can clarify any questions for them online. After a few e-mails back and forth, you can point them in the direction of a reputable church using the power of the Internet.

Friends: A Few Days - A Few Years
Unsaved friends are the best candidates for sharing your faith. Unlike when working with strangers, conversation doesn't need to be rushed. Take your time getting to know them and make connections between the two of you. People love talking about themselves, use this to your advantage when getting to know them. Share life together. But be careful - the danger here is that we become too comfortable in our friendship and end up never sharing our faith, and ultimately, what really matters in life. Eventually, you're going to have to be bold and tell them about your convictions. It doesn't have to be all at once and you don't have do so without warning. Go back to my evangelism preview entry and note how these two friends interact and schedule a time to meet and talk about some serious stuff. No surprise attack - no pulled punches. Sometimes "the talk" results in some friendships lost. Other times it strengthens, even without a confession of faith. I've been on both sides of this difficulty. Pray for your friend, be bold and be yourself - God will work out the details.

Good Friends and Family: A Few Years - Forever
The circumstances are rare, but it is also very ripe for God's work. These people probably already know about your convictions and opinions about faith. You've known them for years and have already related to each other in more than one meaningful ways. Yet, they don't understand your faith. Either you haven't actually had a discussion about your faith at all, or maybe you haven't learned how to do so effectively. Have the talk with them. If it doesn't work, let it settled down and try again at a later time and place as the Spirit leads.

Bottom Line:
1. Remember Jesus. Thankfully, we don't have to be exactly Jesus to successfully evangelize but we do have to bring Him into our conversation. Why? he is the incarnate of God, the path to salvation, and the only way to Heaven. (Matthew 11:25-30, John 14:5-7) As mentioned in my previous entry, Jesus bears the worst part of our lives and our sin. Because of His sacrifice we are set free and given salvation. No matter how we choose to evangelize, these facts simply cannot be compromised under any circumstance.

2. Know your Bible. It doesn't hurt to have a few salvation verses memorized and a Bible nearby. Study the life of Jesus and the consequences of His actions on the cross. If you're unsure and need some clarification, talk to a fellow Christ-Follower or a church elder. I'm sure they'd be delighted to help you out.

3. Remember where you came from. Nobody is born into the Kingdom of God. You had struggles before accepting Jesus into your life. Remember and retell these stories if needed. Just remember that this isn't about you (and it never has been), this is about your stranger or friend and Jesus.

4. Know when to call it quits. Some people need more time to think over things after a serious conversation. Don't be afraid to stop evangelizing and save the rest of the conversation for another day. Beware also of constant debaters. Most of them have already made their choice and have hardened their heart to the Gospel. There is a subtle difference between those who want to know for the sake of knowing and those who want to know to make a choice. Learn to identify the difference.

There is a bunch of other stuff that I want to post, but I don't want to run away with this. I hope this is helpful to anyone who reads. Don't be frustrated if your evangelism attempts fall flat time and time again. Also, go out there and talk to other Christ-Followers about it - I'm certainly no expert on it.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" - Isaiah 52:7

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