How did you learn how to “do” evangelism? In today’s churches that might be a loaded question, because for the last decade or so there’s been a dearth of evangelism training in the church. In some churches there has been a lot of talk about evangelism and our need to “do” it, but very little in the ways of how.
Those who have ready answers to that question generally come from one of two perspectives. The first, and I suspect the most common, is the group who were taught how to invite people to church, and though that’s a good practice, it’s not really evangelism.
The second group were most likely taught to do evangelism the way I was. That method included memorizing either passages of scripture or else specific patters that used either graphics or the Bible or both. Over the years I learned Evangelism Explosion, the Four Spiritual Laws, MasterLife, and the Roman’s Road.
The problem with all of these is that in our culture today, these rarely work effectively. Oh, there are those with whom they certainly can and sometimes do work, but the average North American has been desensitized against these “tools.”
The Two Paths of Faith … Then and Now
Part of the issue is that in today’s world, those under forty or so tend to come to faith along a different path than those of us over fifty. Once upon a time in America, people traveled the faith journey starting with Belief. They either grew up with the Word or they went to church or an evangelism crusade or a revival and heard the Word … and they believed it. Over the years we’ve seen thousands of these folks walk the aisles at Billy Graham crusades. The light bulb suddenly goes off in their heads and they believe. Sometimes we called this a “conversion experience.” The next step on the path, for those who continued to travel it, was to join a church. I remember getting trained by the Billy Graham team that part of our task as counselors was to try and connect those who made a commitment with a local church. For the record, the numbers of converts who made church commitments was very, very low. But that was considered the typical path. Believe first and then join a church. The last step was to discipleship. After the new member joined, they were enrolled in Sunday School, men’s or women’s groups, Bible study, and of course they were expected to attend worship and be attentive to the sermons. Over time, the new member would find themselves maturing in the faith.
Believe … Belong … Behave. That was the path.
It’s a different path these days. For most who were not raised in the church, which is the majority of those under the age of forty, the path tends to begin with a relationship. Someone they know, respects, and/or admires has a number of spiritual conversations with them. Either the conversations grow deeper or they start attending some sort of a group together. It might be a small group, an activity group, or even (gasp!) a worship service. They meet other disciples of Jesus and start to hang around more and more with them and they become a “part” of the group. Nothing formal, mind you, they sorta just belong. And that’s the first step. Belonging.
It’s said that one bad apple spoils the bushel. However, in Christianity it’s supposed to be the other way around. Put a bad apple with a bunch of good apples and the bad apples begins to be good. The second step of faith today happens within relationships. As our under-forty-something hangs out with their new crowd, they begin to practice some of the spiritual habits their friends have taken up. They take on more and more characteristics of those they spend time with and before long, it’s difficult to tell the difference between them and their Christian friends. Step two: Behave.
Then one day it just sort of hits them. They believe. The can’t pinpoint the moment it happened, but it’s nonetheless true. They’ve traveled the journey from unbelief to faith and they never once had someone drawing caverns on a napkin that represents their separation from God. They want to be baptized and are committed to engaging in a life devoted to following Jesus and transforming their community. Step three. Belief.
Then: Believe … Belong … Behave.
Now: Belong … Behave … Believe.
Spiritual Tour Guides
So, back to my original question about how to “do” evangelism. In days gone by, the Roman’s Road and Four Spiritual Laws really worked. I know … I started churches and led evangelistic teams into neighborhoods, communities, and prisons with good results. But that was back in the day. Today, I find that my best evangelistic work is done with I serve as a spiritual tour guide. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no interest in pointing out the highlights of Zen Buddhism or the mysteries of the kabala. Instead, I invest in joining people on their spiritual quests, wherever they are, and pointing out where the Spirit’s showing up as we start to walk together.
Notice the first step. I join them … I don’t expect them to join me. If the church is going to get serious about evangelism, step one is to get out of our buildings and into the real world. The only way our under-forty-something is going to “belong” is when we provide a relationship for them to belong with. In other words, we have to go where s/he is and build a relationship. We used to call that friendship (the Nov–Dec issue of Net Results will sport an article on friend making) and Christians are going to have to get better at it.
Building relationships take time and there are different kinds of relationships that can be built. Sometimes we need to build flat-out friendships. Sometimes, though, we have the opportunity to build spiritual mentoring relationships. If you’re living the pattern of discipleship, some will get to know you who will invite you to accompany them on their spiritual journey without the investment in a deep friendship. They’ll want something else from you – they’ll want your input and your guidance.
In either case, as you join your friend or your traveling companion on their journey, you’ll want to be sensitive to opportunities to point out where and how God is showing up in your life. The keys to these opportunities is being in tune with the Spirit, being authentic in your walk (not just your belief), and spending some time reflecting on your answer to Life’s Ultimate Question.
What is Life’s Ultimate Question? What is it about your relationship with Jesus that your under-forty-something (and all your neighbors) can’t live without. There are lots of ways to answer that question, but you may find it easiest to reflect on the six images of Jesus for inspiration … most of us find one core image or metaphor that describes our relationship in deep and meaningful ways. I am grateful to Tom Bandy for his insights and inspiration in these images.
- Jesus as Rescuer
- Jesus as Guide
- Jesus as Companion
- Jesus as Promise Keeper
- Jesus as Healer
- Jesus as Restorer
For instance, my answer to Life’s Ultimate Question includes Jesus as my guide … the one who has always gone before me to scope out the Way, even when the Way seems dodgy at best. Jesus is the one who’s given me life’s ultimate purpose and encouraged me on to greater challenges, new heights, and sometimes even into some very strange and unexpected places where I’ve discovered much about myself.
When you can articulate the answer to Life’s Ultimate Question, you’ll find it’s easy to engage in spiritual conversations with your under-forty-something friends and companions. You don’t need an agenda and there’s no pressure to “perform.” Instead, by being a spiritual tour guide you’ll help guide those whom God has placed in your care into places of safety and camaraderie with other traveling pilgrims on the Way where more conversations can be shared, belonging can be embraced, behaving can be “tried on,” and believing is an integral part of it all.