Our church is seeking to grow in our understanding and effectiveness in evangelism so I am teaching an eight-week class on practical evangelism and discipleship. Among several other texts, I am using Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles. I received the book from attending the Together for the Gospel conference this year. Each Monday (I’m a day late this week), I will be posting a short summary of that week’s class. I hope it is helpful.
We have been beginning each class now with prayer for the lost to come to know Christ and then giving people opportunity to share their evangelism and discipleship experiences from the week past. The first woman who shared said that had the class not had the assignment to take a step of obedience in evangelism and discipleship, she may not have had anything to share. She shared that about a year ago she started to work with someone who was clearly not a Christian and was from a very different background and lifestyle than she was used to. She mentioned that it was a real challenge for her. Through a series of circumstances she no longer worked directly with this person for several months. Not too long ago, she was asked to go back to the department where this person worked. She learned that her coworker had just purchased a house so she decided to buy a card for him and write him a note of congratulations for the house and tell him that Jesus loved him. She also put some scripture references in the note she wrote. She was noticeably blessed by the opportunity to give her coworker this card and note.
Another woman raised her hand and said that she took her car in to get it serviced this past week. The mechanic first told her that he was too busy to fit her in that day, but then changed his mind and went with her for a ride in the car to try to determine the problem. While on the ride, they began chatting and she shared some of her current health struggles. He then shared that his mother-in-law had just found out that she had a certain type of cancer and they could not find a vascular surgeon that could work on this type of cancer. It just so happened that the woman from church was seeing a vascular surgeon for some of her struggles and she went on to tell the mechanic that God had clearly crossed their paths. She also told him that Jesus loved him.
It is so encouraging to hear people share these kinds of stories, because then the blessing that their experience was can be transferred to others in the church. Through such stories others are encouraged to do the same and are also given ideas for taking hold of opportunities that God gives.
Modernism and Postmodernism
We switched gears a bit and talked about how important it is to know where the people that we share with and disciple are at in their lives. The importance of this was displayed in both stories that were shared. I gave a brief overview of modernism and postmodernism as they relate to the topic of evangelism. I was helped by The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture by Will McRaney. The class is made up of folks from a range of young 20’s with kids to some that are in their 60’s, so I discussed how many that are in the class may have been raised with a worldview influenced by modernism. Those of us that are younger have predominantly grown up in a postmodern culture. I explained how neither are a biblical way of thinking, but instead comprise actual observations on how the culture overall looks at the world around them.
Modernists believed that man could perceive and know absolute truth simply through the rational mind. Modernists believed that rational thought was the ultimate way to arrive at truth. We need to be logical, but modernists carried it to the extreme. They rejected faith (since it is “illogical”) and ultimately declared that “God is dead.” Modernism attempted to build a future on the progress of man while denying the existence of God, yet it failed to realize that people could not be satisfied with a spiritual void in their heart. Modernity left people spiritually bankrupt and searching,” (McRaney, pg 116-117).
Though the culture we live in now is largely impacted by postmodernism, there continues to be residual effects from modernism. Therefore, our culture is a bit of a mixed bag in some ways. Many would probably find that they hold some views that are attuned to modernism and postmodernism simultaneously.
Postmodernity arises out of the recognition that something was terribly wrong with the living out of modernity. Therefore, it is a rejection of many components of modernity. Much that was thought to be absolute is now being debated and reexamined. Postmodernity high-lights experience, subjective knowledge, community, and preference. Postmodernism is a moving and multifaceted target, not a rigidly designed package of thought. Some have described it as an attitude. Others describe it in terms of a negation of various aspects of modernism, (McRaney, pg 118-119).
Those that have studied postmodernism at all will find McRaney’s statement about it being a moving target as true. Every book one reads about postmodernism seems to define it differently, if it even attempts to define it. When it comes to the impact of both of these views on evangelism the significance cannot be overstated. It is not terribly difficult to determine if someone is more influenced by modernism or postmodernism. If they seek for empirical proof for something to be held as true they lean into modern thinking and if they reject the idea that anyone aside from themselves can determine what is true for them then they lean into postmodern thinking. This has an obvious impact to how we share the gospel with them. It does not require a change to the gospel, but simply a recognition of where and how to start.
Methods of Evangelism
Leaving the realm of confusion that modernism and postmodernism can tend to be, we then talked about various methods of evangelism that McRaney mentions. He references Bill Hybels in the derivation of the following methods:
Biblical Example: Blind man in John 9
Characteristics: Clear communicator, storyteller, good listener
Caution: Beware of talking about yourself but not relating your experience to the other person’s life. You first need to listen to him to be able to connect your story to his situation.
Biblical Example: Paul in Acts 17
Characteristics: inquisitive, analytical, logical
Caution: Do not substitute giving answers for giving the gospel message, and be careful of becoming argumentative.
Biblical Example: Peter in Acts 2
Characteristics: Confident, assertive, direct
Caution: Be sure to use tact when confronting people with truth to keep them from becoming unnecessarily offended.
Biblical Example: Matthew in Luke 5:29
Characteristics: Warm personality, conversational, friendship oriented
Caution: Avoid valuing friendship over truth-telling. Presenting the gospel often means challenging a person’s whole direction in life, and that can mean causing friction in your relationship.
Biblical Example: Woman at the well in John 4
Characteristics: Hospitable, relational, persuasive
Caution: Be careful not always to let others do your talking for you. You, too, need to “always be prepared to give an answer to every-one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Biblical Example: Dorcas in Acts 9
Characteristics: Others-centered, humble, patient
Caution: Just as words are no substitute for actions, actions are no substitute for words. Romans 10:14 makes clear that we must tell people about Christ (McRaney, pg 54-55).
We talked about each of the methods and I challenged the class to find themselves in the various methods. A woman in the class brought up a good question as to whether a person could only be one of the methods. I said that I think we each gravitate to one of these usually, but God certainly seems to prepare us for and provide us with opportunities to travel outside of out norms and comfort zones. Like spiritual gifts, we should not obsess about which one are we, but how can we grow in what God has made us?
We will finish our discussion of methods. We will also talk about how apologetics comes into play in the realms of evangelism and discipleship. We will also discuss Engel’s scale, which is a helpful visual tool to see the progression of someone through the stages of discipleship. Lastly, we will begin to talk about discipleship being the tool for evangelistic follow-up.