Saturday, August 22, 2009

Evangelism

Today at our Saturday AM Men's bible study/prayer/accountability group meeting we talked about evangelism. What does it look like? Why are there so many ideas regarding "right" and "wrong" ways to tell people about Jesus Christ and proclaim His salvation to them?
The guys at the table probably accounted for about 130 years of cumulative involvement with Christianity and we had "seen it all". Collectively we had seen a large range of different evangelism styles. On the "negative side, I mentioned people who virtually "beat their potential converts over the head" with a bible until they "say the sinners prayer". This is probably the wrong way to do it, and it is my belief that those converts seldom endure. We talked about the "tract passer-outers" who pop a tract into someones hand and go through "the 4 spiritual laws" with them, hoping they will repent on the spot and receive Christ. Before I was saved, these people were as off-putting as the "bible bangers". Many times, if an encounter results in a conversion, the new convert never hears from them again. Now I am not saying that ALL people who pass out tracts are "doing it wrong" but we have all seen both good and bad versions of this approach. The "bad" versions make it hard for the people doing it "right" to be taken seriously. It is the caricature of the "poorly done" tract passer-outer that sticks in the worlds mind and has been fodder for Saturday Night Live parodies and late-night television jokes.
On the positive side, there are so many good examples:
  • The Ray Comfort/Kirk Cameron styles (see "The Way of The Master" TV show and web site) who stand on a street corner, approach people interview-style and ask a series of guided questions to get them to realize their "state", then make a presentation of God's solution for their dilemma.
  • There are others who befriend folks (genuinely, I mean, not "just to get them saved") and really get to know them, investing in their lives until they earn the right to ask the kinds of questions that really have eternal implications. When the Holy Spirit and the friend are ready, a decision can be made to follow Christ and the process of encouraging the new Christian towards growth in Christ can begin, eventually resulting in a fully mature and equipped Christ-follower.
You may have someone sitting in the cubicle next to you - or one in the adjoining office - who you never considered befriending with an eternal perspective in mind, and "meaning it", investing in their lives and taking a genuine interest in him or her. Something to think about, huh?
  • I know of one guy who - every week - sits in a bar for about 2 hours on a certain day, drinking diet soda. He has done this until he became known as a "regular". When people approach him to chat with him or befriend him, the talk eventually ends up leading to spiritual matters; maybe not on the first day, but eventually. Many times people are really shocked that he cares enough to give of his time just to show them love and listen to their sorrows and heartaches.
  • I recently heard a wonderful story about a group of Christians in a small town which has high unemployment, a lot of disenfranchised people and a large population of bar-crawlers. These Christians, with all different church affiliations, meet at a location in-between three bars in the worst part of town and serve coffee and donuts to complete strangers to keep them off the streets when the bars close. They just love on those lost souls, who would not set foot in a church for any reason because they had been hurt by "the Church" in the past. These walking wounded are desperately "searching for something" as they bounce back and forth between bars. When they see the sign for "free coffee" they ask "what's the catch?". It takes a while for them to trust this group, but perseverance has rewarded them with several stories of people getting saved! Both the crime rate and accident rate has gone down in that part of town since they started hanging out there.
  • I personally was saved as a result of a sincere, good-hearted Christian family who took a bunch of freaks (me included, of course) into their home every Sunday Night and served us ice cream and just talked with us. Their love and acceptance was unconditional, but when we had questions about our reason for being here on Earth, they were the only ones making any sense. The popular culture of the 70's certainly was not giving us any good answers with it's "if it feels good, do it" message and "self" being elevated to the level of the highest moral authority in a person's life. (This is still going on today!) We were a generation ravaged by the free love and psychedelic excesses that began in the late 60's and proved to be the ruin of many a teen. As I saw their authenticity and sincere love of "the least of these" (us) their message made sense. It was not the hypocrisy I witnessed and experienced growing up in the church my parents raised me in. It was genuine faith in a God who we could know on a personal level through His Son, Jesus, and experience relationally through the Holy Spirit's working in the lives of believers. Once I had seen this faith in action it was a natural progression to get my other questions answered until one day in 1971 that I came to Christ.
I know that there are probably hundreds of other evangelism styles that we did not talk about Saturday morning, including:
  • The NYC Ministries (Spread Truth) model
  • Tent revivals
  • The community outreach method
  • Free open air concerts by Christian Groups
  • Street corner musicians
  • Community Shelters
  • Food Pantries
  • Soup Kitchens
  • Christian Coffee Houses
  • Door-to-door evangelism (home visitation)
  • Prison Ministries
  • Using Christian Witnesswear as a conversation starter
and many others which have varying degrees of results. I said at our meeting that each man there takes his coffee differently, and just as there are millions of different Christians, there are possibly just as many different styles of witnessing and evangelism.
The most important way we all can witness to others is to LIVE IT! Live our faith, walk our talk or, as I have heard it said "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." (While I have heard this saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, www.AmericanCatholic.org refutes the actual text as quoted as coming from St. Francis. In their words, "This is a great quote, very Franciscan in its spirit, but not literally from St. Francis. The thought is his; this catchy phrasing is not in his writings or in the earliest biographies about him." - http://tinyurl.com/lh8jto) Here's the thing: if we don't live what we say we believe, unbelievers will see right through that. You've got to be real or else nothing else matters. A very secular person who I worked for, when trying to stress the importance of what he was saying would say "The mainest thing is...." followed by whatever important point he needed to stress. It meant, "the really, really, really main thing; the most important thing you need to hear or take away from this conversation". Another man, a Christian who I know, used to say, when referring to keeping Christ at the center of your life, "Keep The Main Thing the Main Thing,". Both these sayings stuck with me, and so I like to blend them to: "Keep The Mainest Thing The Mainest Thing". The first saying applied to business, and the second saying applies to our faith and our walk, but since they both really made an impression on me, I like the mashup of these two. It works. It is what we are to exude as Christians and is the pathway to Authentic Christianity, without which our witness is weak, anemic or compromised.
So how IS your witness (noun)? Are you walking in the fullness of Christ so that when you witness (verb) to others the message is first exampled in your life and then shown through your love? And when it comes to "witnessing" (verb) what is your style? What are you seeing "out there" that works for you?
Please share your thoughts and ideas with us. This is a vast subject in its breadth and depth. I don't have all the answers, but I am trying to learn every day what it means to be an Authentic Christian and live it every moment so that I can be the Salt and Light Jesus calls us to be.
Blessings,
Tim

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