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Posts Tagged ‘Believing’


It has been a very long time since I’ve watched All in the Family. But one of the “bits” that I remember periodically is the argument between Archie and Meathead about how to put to socks and shoes. Was it a sock and a sock, then a shoe and a shoe, or a sock and a shoe and a sock and a shoe.? Meanwhile, the whole reason Archie was there was they were running late to go fishing. Now they were even later. And angry.

A number of arguments and discussions about the best method of evangelism are like that. They keep us from doing what we actually should do (evangelism) and we become frustrated with one another. Perhaps it is the little Pharisee in all of us but we want everyone to know that our way is best. The rest are just pretenders.

Mike Bechtle is not going to argue for one way as the best way to evangelize in Evangelism for the Rest of Us. He does start with his informal research in bookstores. First, he found that most Christian bookstores had few books on evangelism. The clerks would tell him, “There isn’t enough interest.” What few he found were “heavily slanted toward the traditional extrovert perspective.” He had two thoughts:

  1. According to Scripture, God has a real passion for people. He wants us to be godly people, but he also wants us to intentionally influence others toward faith.
  2. The percentage of books I found that dealt with “outreach” (evangelism) was tiny compared with the percentage of books dealing with “inreach” (growth).

One of the tensions we’ve argued over, generally speaking, is like Archie and Meathead’s argument. Which comes first, believing or belonging? In some circles (largely pietistic, baptistic and modern) evangelism happens “out there”. They believe and then become part of a local church. In other circles (Westminster Confessionalism and postmodern) the person becomes part of the congregational life and comes to faith thru the witness of word and deed (and Sacraments) of the church.

My confessional standards, the aforementioned Westminster Confession, point to the ministry of Word and Sacrament being the ordinary means. Our children are baptized and participate in the life of the church and then believe. We invite unbelievers to hear the Word preached and hope they believe. I think that is ordinary, in the terms of the Confession.

But not exclusive. There are some people who won’t accept an invitation to worship, community group etc. Evangelism necessarily takes place out there in the hopes of getting them in here.

Arguing for one, not both/and, distracts us from engaging in evangelism with the people both in our midst and those in our circles of influence. Here Bechtle makes a (small) mistake. He brings us Philippians 1:18. Paul was rejoicing that Christ was preached despite people’s motives. Bechtle is focused on different means. Just be explicit about the shift.

Another area Bechtle seems to struggle with is a clear grasp of the gospel. Or rather expressing what he means by presenting the gospel. You may present different aspects of the gospel based upon needs, or the direction the conversation has been going. But people have been known to have unproductive discussions over the content of gospel presentations.

Bechtle then explores 7 misconceptions about evangelism I’ve tried to simplify.

1. Evangelism bears witness to the whole plan of salvation. Eventually it will. But you can really be evangelizing and only get to a small part of the Christian message. Jesus didn’t walk around with His version of the 4 Spiritual Laws (that we could worship) but met people where they were and … asked questions of them. So, don’t feel like you need to give an information dump and call that evangelism. Evangelism is a process, not an event. You may only have one evangelism opportunity with them, but God’s work is bigger than you.

We recently went to a wedding. We knew only the bride and groom, who are not Christians. We ended up at a table with her former co-workers who all happened to be Christians. They had been sharing the faith with her for years. The burden was not on my wife and I, but we do need to participate in the process.

2. Success is measure by conversions. Many books (and sermons) have a sales pitch view of evangelism. I’ve closed a few deals, so to speak (and I hate speaking like that). But I was successfully sharing my faith even though the person didn’t come to faith in the course of that conversation. It is not our job to convert. God does that (this opens a bigger can of worms). The means He uses is these conversations with Christians who speak the truth in love. The push for a conversion can produce manipulative practices that lead people to think they are a Christian when they actually aren’t. Success is sharing your faith, perhaps moving them an inch closer (from a human perspective).

3. If you don’t share the gospel with someone, their blood is on your hands. Some people use Ezekiel 3:18 to guilt-trip the average person. Taken out of context, it could mean that, but we are to keep Scripture in context. It was a message to Ezekiel, not to the people. He was to be faithful as God’s prophet to God’s people. Ezekiel didn’t have a messiah complex. You shouldn’t either. Don’t share the faith out of guilt and fear. You are not the only person God can and will use in that person’s life. It is NOT all up to you. Relax…. it is a process in which you may play a role.

He notes the “search for the one” to marry. This is similar. It is the notion that there is one person out there who is perfect for you and your job is to find them. Where Blechte struggled with the logic was he couldn’t control “the one’s choices”. Not only could he mess it up, but she could and then he’d be stuck with a lousy marriage. Marriage isn’t a means to perfect bliss because you marry “the one”. Marriage is about two imperfect people facing their problems and clinging to Christ. It is about God changing us both through the process. Evangelism is kinda like that. God’s got it all under control, just be faithful and let him worry about all that other stuff.

4. Witness early and often. It is like voting in Chicago. Fact is you are surrounded by a wide variety of people. You will struggle to communicate with or identify with many of them. God has put plenty of people in your life you can bear witness to. Don’t think you’re supposed to reach them all.

5. You have to be bold. Boldness is also a process. As we grow more assured in our faith we’ll grow more bold. But few of us are naturally bold, or made supernaturally bold instantaneously. “But boldness really means doing what God has asked us to do in each situation, relying on his strength.”

6. “You shall be my witnesses” is a command. He’s referring to Acts 1:8. It is a statement of fact rooted in the empowering presence of the indwelling Spirit. You are a witness (part of our identity), so bear witness as opportunities arise. As Americans we can focus on doing. He’s trying to remind us that being leads to doing.

7. God loves you when you witness, and doesn’t when you don’t. Many of us wrestle with self-righteousness. We think we still live under the covenant of works. Therefore when we fail we think God now hates us. We don’t have an understanding of union and communion. United to Christ we are secure in God’s love, just as a child is secure in the love of a good parent. When we disobey, God responds like a good parent. He may be displeased because He loves us, and disciplines us, but we don’t fall out of favor or kicked to the curb. Lose the performance based relationship you’ve likely been having with God. Faith rests in Christ’s perfect obedience on our behalf. This frees us to share out of love and gratitude, not an “I have to” mindset.

Having deconstructed some of our false views of evangelism, Bechtle tries to reconstruct a healthier understanding of evangelism.  Here are the 5 things he says.

  1. Evangelism is a team effort. The Body bears the responsibility and each of us has a place in that in keeping with our place in the Body.
  2. You have to hang out with non-Christians. Paul sought them out, and so should we. One problem is that we often misunderstand Scripture and avoid them. Paul told the Corinthians to avoid the immoral person who claimed to be a Christian. “Most Christians have separated themselves from the world for fear of being corrupted instead of praying for protections as they live among unbelievers.” Too many of us have no non-Christian friends. To bear witness to them, you have to spend time with them and love them.
  3. We don’t “do” evangelism- God does. Our task is to bear witness. God converts. How we bear witness may build walls or tear them down. He notes one guy started asking people if he could pray for them. He would follow up as he could to manifest love and concern. Some of those walls came down when they were genuinely cared for.
  4. God uses us the way he made us. He gave us gifts, a personality and personal history that are useful for the task of bearing witness. You bear witness uniquely as a result. There are people you can identify with, and people you can’t. When we try to do things we aren’t equipped for, we will botch it and be frustrated. Not every method is for everyone. There is no “best method” but many that are better for you or worse for you. Some will better match up with how God made you. Use those. This is why much evangelism training frustrated me- it was asking me to be someone other than God made me.
  5. Satan does the opposite of what God does. Oh, there will be some truth in there to hook you. But there is enough falsehood to get you off track. He’d rather you try to bear witness as someone else instead of relying on what God has given you.

“So is everything we’ve been taught wrong? No. It’s just incomplete.”

Put on your socks and shoes, and bear witness as only you can do.

 

 

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I am in the process of re-reading Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes.  I had to read it in seminary, and have been planning on going through it again.  A few other guys have blogged about it in recent months.

Let’s say I agree with their conclusions, but wasn’t excited about how they got there or explained it.  Maybe it is just me.  But here are their definitions of pastoral success, and the questions I put in my journal that address them.  These are the things God is looking at, not numbers, be they attendence, baptisms, giving etc.

Faithfulness

Is my instruction faithful to the Scriptures?  Am I faithful to obey His commands in Scripture?  Am I working hard at the things that matter?

Serving

Am I serving God and others, or serving myself?  Do I care in people notice my service?

Loving

Do I love God above all else?  Do I love the people I am serving?

Believing

Do I believe God love and saves me in Christ?  Do I believe God is able and willing to save others through Christ?  Do I believe Jesus is building His church (thru me)?

Praying

Do I pray for my spiritual progress?  Do I pray for the spiritual progress of the congregation?  Do I pray for the advance of the gospel in the community?

Holiness

Do I repent of my sin?  Am I putting my to death (by the power of the Spirit) or is it putting me to death?  Am I growing in the fruit of the Spirit?

Attitude:

Am I characterized by faith, hope & love or fear, doubt and bitterness?

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