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Posts Tagged ‘ordinary means of grace’


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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A recent meeting of our missions team discussed the generally introverted nature of our church, something I’ve mentioned to our congregation before. We have some extroverts, and would like more extroverts. We want to be a faithful church. How that looks for us may not be the same as how it looks for an extroverted congregation.

One of the books I found to help me think through all of this is Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Church by Adam McHugh. I will be blogging through this book. Perhaps much of this will be helpful for the slim majority of people who are introverted. Our context is a Reformed and (dare I say) evangelical church. Evangelical churches, in particular, appear to be largely extroverted in how they understand the faith and how they expect it to be lived out.

One problem is our view of Jesus. Studies indicate that most people consider Jesus to be extroverted. This is probably due to the number of large groups before whom He spoke. This is to overstate the case. We do see that Jesus would retire to quiet places to pray. He also invested Himself primarily in the Twelve and others in the group that traveled with Him (which included a number of women too). My thinking, for quite some time, was that neither introverts nor extroverts could claim Him. Jesus is the perfectly balanced person since He was a perfect man. He was equally comfortable with the masses and small groups with deep, meaningful friendships as well as alone with the Father.

McHugh notes the three evangelical anchors that contribute to the extroverted priority of evangelical churches: a personal relationship with God, priority on the Word of God as our authority, and the Great Commission. McHugh does issue a disclaimer of painting in broad strokes (which is an unavoidable element of the process). Not all evangelical churches are extroverted, or act in these ways. But many do such that many introverts feel devalued, out of place and shamed for not being extroverted. This should not be the case, but sadly it often is.

God is a relational God, revealed to us in a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit in an eternal community of love. Introverts are also relational, don’t get me wrong. But it looks differently for introverts than extroverts. (One weakness at the beginning of the book is not really drilling down on what these two terms mean.)

Personal Relationship with God

In America, one of the great influences on evangelicalism is the Great Awakenings. These put a priority on public displays of this personal relationship with God. The biblical call to community is often seen through a lens in which everyone in the congregation is your friend (an impossibility). Extroverts are very comfortable with a large number of friends, and a number of activities. Introverts prefer a smaller number of closer friends, and can find the busy church very draining.

“… for some churches spirituality is equated with sociability.”

Introverts can often be shamed for not being fully invested or involved. They can be shamed for appearing (key word) to be self-involved. I remember one of my extroverted friends years ago calling the rest of our group to get out the Windex and be open with one another. Their personal relationship with God is more personal, meaning more private. They don’t necessarily share the dynamics of this (often deep) relationship with many people. They will share it, but more likely with their closest friends. Even as an introvert myself, I can forget this because my calling includes sharing some of my relationship with God publicly.

“By no means are introverts against intimate relationships; indeed, we are motivated by depth in our relationships. … in community we prefer interactions with smaller numbers of people with whom we feel comfortable.”

For instance, I am closest to those with whom I work most closely (the officers) and my community group. I need to stretch myself in doing this. Sometimes introverts can be called to stretch themselves. But extroverts can expect them to become extroverts as though that is what godliness really looks like.

Centrality of the Bible

God communicates with us through the Word. The gospel is communicated, primarily through words. Evangelicalism places a priority on words. Extroverts have more words to share than introverts. Introverts are often more thoughtful about their words. Their hesitancy can be misunderstood as an unwillingness to talk. Their reluctance to make small talk should not be confused with an unwillingness to relate.

Personal Evangelism

Evangelicalism is rightly concerned with the proclamation of the gospel. The focus on many church is not on “Word and sacrament” as the ordinary means of God’s calling sinners to Himself, but on personal evangelism. Extroverts don’t meet many strangers, but rather future friends. Introverts hear “evangelism explosion” and recoil in fear. Talking to complete strangers in of itself induces terror. Talking about their most personal relationship increases it exponentially. Our evangelism methods are “often tilted toward extroversion, and when we conflate our values with our methods we run the risk of alienating introverts.”

Surely introverts can be stretched and move out of their comfort zone. But the constant drumbeat can often discourage them as if they don’t measure up. How they do evangelism will look differently. For them it will not be with strangers, but with those they have let in. It may tilt more toward inviting people to church to hear the preaching of the gospel, or to sharing appropriate sermons (one benefit of technology), or a book on the particular struggle of a friend. Their efforts at spreading the good news should be applauded too. They may be likely to adorn that gospel with love, as it ought to be. One of our members recently told me that our smaller church tangibly loved her through crises in a way she never experienced before in other churches. Such love is the gospel in action, as faith expresses itself in love (Galatians 5:6).

Contemporary evangelical culture focuses on the immediate and the relevant. We see the rise of megachurches in which people worship nearly anonymously. These churches do have lots of programs to keep people busy. I’m not sure which came first, the consumerist congregant or the consumerist congregation.

“At its worst, it has produced a superficial, consumerist mold of Christianity that has sold the gospel like a commodity.”

There is a move to create “comfortable” environments with coffee houses, a lack of mystery and a removal of the sacred. The pace is fast, and the service is a production. There is little space for reflection that introverts prefer. The pastor is often an big personality who can draw big crowds, show up at all kinds of social events and shake hands.

“Human limitations often lead pastors forming congregations in their own image, presenting a picture of Jesus and of discipleship that matches their own patterns. It is not surprising that extroverted pastors are prone to encourage extroversion in their churches.”

I was called by a church that was generally introverted. My thoughts on ministry appealed to them. The simple church model resonated with me. But not because I wanted them all at home reading theology. I wanted people to have space to serve their communities through parachurch ministries, build relationships and share the gospel. I probably need to make that explicit more often, particularly with visitors and extroverts considering membership. I don’t expect our church to meet all of the members relational needs. I want them to serve one another. I also want those with extra energy for people to serve the community in various ways.

“They love their people, but after expending a tremendous amount of emotional energy to preach, they would prefer to disappear in their offices than mingle.”

That’s me. I don’t hide, but I’m wiped out. I like studying, and am told I deliver deep, meaningful sermons. I’m sure some would disagree. But I am more reflective, not dumping my sermon & text because of a current event that “must be addressed”. I may reference it, but want to let the Word address those things in the ordinary course of ministry.

The introverted church gets a bad rap. McHugh provides a few quotes to make his point. The introverted church is confused with the isolated church, the disobedient church. This is because some confuse methods with values.

“In their minds, the ‘introverted’ version of the church lacks missional identity; it is self-preoccupied and exclusive, worried about polishing the walls that separate it from the world, rather than seeking to tear down the walls that distance people from the love of God. God the ‘extrovert’ has his eye on all the world, and therefore the mark of his true people must obviously be extroversion.”

This view devalues the faith of the introverted. It devalues the practice of the introverted.

“If we are broadly defining the extroverted church as “outwardly oriented’, then a wholly extroverted church is liable to lose its center, lapsing into spiritual compromise and excessive cultural accommodation. Just as a church that is turned in on itself is stunted, a community that is thoroughly turned outward could lose its internal cohesion and disintegrate.”

The Church, and particularly congregations, need both introverted and extroverted people. A church should grow in depth as well as numbers. This will require thoughtful people and out-going people valuing one another for the common goal: maturity in Christ. That maturity should not be defined as either introverted or extroverted. But in the Body of Christ both are needed so the church grows up into Christ.

“I believe that the truly healthy church is a combination of introverted and extroverted qualities that fluidly move together. Only in that partnership can we capture both the depth and the breadth of God’s mission.”

A church can be busy. But it should also accommodate those with a slower, thoughtful pace of life too. Often these are its teachers. Not exclusively, obviously. But a deep, meaningful community requires deep and thoughtful people (this often takes time alone) as well as those who build community through friendship and service. We shouldn’t expect extroverts to become introverts, not introverts to become extroverts in order to really love God. We each love God, according to His Word, in a way that fits how the creative Creator has made us. God loves introverts. God loves extroverts. God uses both!

 

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