August 3, 2015

Getting Ready

It is a blessed and wonderful day here in sunny and yes, very hot Phoenix! Our weather this summer has been nothing short of boring -- sunny, sunny, sunny with very few monsoon storms. Supposedly we were supposed to have an El Nino year -- with very wet and soggy summers followed by very wet and soggy winters. All I can say is that so far we have had nothing that resembled wet or soggy! I am not complaining really because we do have low humidity, and that means while the temperature is unpleasant due to the high degree, it is not as bad as say living in the South where the heat AND humidity is dangerous to your health and well-being. Still, all things considered, I would welcome a stray thunderstorm today. It would be such a nice change of pace from my oh-so boring and mundane life!!

Girding Your Loins

Today is a good day. It is August 3rd, and I am on the countdown to school starting again. I am excited for some reason, more so than usual, and I am looking forward to my last semester at Regent as well as my semester teaching at GCU and ACU. God has blessed me beyond measure with a volume of work, in some ways, too much work, but I am not complaining. I would rather be busy than still, and the Lord knows my boundaries -- what I can and cannot do. I have been thinking more and more about His will for my life, the plans that He has for me, and the details (oh, the details) of what He intends for me to do in this life. In all this thinking, I am also pondering the following verses from Luke 12, 35-38 AMP:
Keep your loins girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to return home from the marriage feast, so that when he returns from the wedding and comes and knocks, they may open to him immediately. Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) are those servants whom the master finds awake and alert and watching when he comes. Truly I say to you, he will gird himself and have them recline at table and will come and serve them! If he comes in the second watch (before midnight) or the third watch (after midnight), and finds them so, blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) are those servants!
I've been thinking about what it means to be ready and watchful -- waiting for the Lord's return. When I meditate on these verses, I tend to run one of two ways: the first is to thinking about all that I should be doing RIGHT NOW; and the second, thinks that perhaps it is not so much my physical doing of things, but rather my attitude toward those things that matters most. Let me explain...

Lately, my good friend and I have had discussions on the Lord's eventual return. Well, to say lately is an understatement because it seems that we ALWAYS discuss matters such as the end times, the Lord's return (the rapture), and our business -- what we as Christians should be doing now in preparation for that BIG DAY. I love that we have these conversations. In truth, I know of no one else who cares about these things the way that I do, and I think this is one of the main reasons why the Lord has brought us together as friends and companions. We are in so many ways "two peas in a pod" because we just think alike. Of course, we don't think 100% alike, but our thoughts tend to run in similar directions so we are able to enjoy deep heartfelt conversation with one another simply because we like the same things, enjoy the same topics, and desire the same outcomes.

In my recent conversations, though, I have begun to wonder more about responding to Jesus' call to be watchful, to be ready. I know that for many years, I believed that it was my duty to witness to everyone I met, in the byway, so to speak, because the end was near. Then as I matured as a Christian, I fell into what I call the "it's all of grace" approach which said to me that to be watchful simply meant that -- to be in a state of ready -- waiting and watching for the Lord's return. One view suggests, waiting WHILE being active in doing the Lord's work whereas the other view suggests, waiting WHILE watching (no active doing is expected).

My friend and I always discuss religion, theology and doctrine in particular, so these two views seem to take different approaches based on doctrinal thinking. The Reformed approach would be based on Calvinism and it would suggest that because God predestined some to salvation and some to destruction, the numbers are already fixed. Therefore, waiting while watching would simply be going about your daily business (work, taking care of your family, doing good things, etc.) all the while you are expecting the Lord to return for you and all those predestined for salvation. This approach seems to suggest that there is nothing to be done out of the ordinary other than to be expectant for the Lord's return. I call this approach an ATTITUDINAL MINDSET. The Lord is returning, we all agree on that point, so our job as believers is to wait and be ready, to be watchful for His return. It is all about our attitude and our mindset. There is no real work to do other than to "keep on keeping on."

The second approach would favor your independent denominations that believe in participating in the harvest. My church, Scottsdale Bible Church, is active when it comes to reaching the lost. They sponsor missionaries all over the world, teach and preach the necessity of seeking the lost, and encourage, equip, and empower believers to go into all parts of the world -- into Judea, Samaria and the outermost parts -- to preach the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The believe that the great commission given in Matthew 28:16-20 is the motivation for everything the Church does, and that it is up to each believer in Christ to participate fully in that command. Likewise they believe that the Word in Matthew 9, verses 36-38 NIV where Jesus states,
Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."
is also relevant today. In this passage, Jesus is instructing His disciples in asking the Father to send workers out into the fields because the number of lost is so great. He says "the workers are few" suggesting that we must actively pursue harvesting souls, and that the Father needs to send more workers out to accomplish this great task. This approach is what I call the WORKER MINDSET. It suggests that the worker or Christian is commanded to be busy with the Father's business (aka, the harvest of souls) until the time the Lord returns.

Approaches to Evangelism

So lately, I have been thinking about these two approaches and how over the course of my faith walk, I have flitted between them, sort of back and forth, back and forth. As a new believer in Christ Jesus, I was all about being a good WORKER. My church back then was a "harvest is plentiful, workers are few" kind of church. We were encouraged, strongly encouraged, to be active in our witness for Christ. Our church used crusades regularly, held "tent meetings," gave out tracts, and witnessed door to door. This approach was popular during the mid-twentieth century, and in many ways, it did work. The church I attended had over 8,000 members, and was an early "mega church," though that name wasn't used in that way back then (the church I attended was labeled as "fundamentalist Christian," a name synonymous with large numbers of ultra conservative members).  I did my best to fit in, but frankly, I didn't really understand my own faith let alone how to witness effectively for the Lord. I was uncomfortable handing out tracts or even talking with people about my faith. I did actually witness, but not in the way my Church showed me to do it. It seemed that the Lord would just plop people in my way, and I would share the good news with them. Sometimes, He allowed people to come against me, to accuse me or where I had to give a defense for my faith. I never really enjoyed those conversations, and in fact, I would do my best to avoid them. Still, it seemed that in those early days, I did witness to people as I was able to do so -- but not with tracts or well thought out words. I just did what I had to do, but I never felt I was very effective at it. Thus, my experience early on left me feeling "out gunned and maneuvered" by all those with whom I sought to share the good news of Jesus.  Sigh!

After so much disappointment with the whole "witnessing thing," I changed churches and started attended a conservative Baptist church. This church was different, and there were a lot of things I liked about it. One of the things I liked most was their emphasis on personal evangelism. In their view and teaching, each believer evangelizes as the Holy Spirit leads them. The focus is on having a right attitude -- being willing to be used as a minister, a witness -- and with a humbled heart, the believer is able to be used by God to share the good news in a relaxed and casual way. Of course, this fit me to a tee because it said "you don't have to be like all those other in-your-face types -- you can just be yourself."  It was at this church where I became convinced that it was more important to have a right attitude about such things more so than engaging in the actual work of evangelism. In the early 1990s, I jumped on the bandwagon and became a proponent of this popular movement called "lifestyle evangelism," which stated that living a holy, Godly life is the BEST WAY to reach the lost.

In this approach to evangelism, the goal of the Christian is to live an attractive, positive, and light-filled life. The belief is that by showing how attractive and good the Christian life is, an unbeliever will become interested in wanting to learn more about it. Thus, lifestyle evangelism suggests that your lifestyle can open opportunities to share the gospel in a friendly, nonthreatening way (Matt. 5:19). According to GotQuestions.org, lifestyle evangelism is "an evangelism strategy that focuses on living a holy, winsome life among unbelievers with the goal of attracting people to the message of Jesus Christ" (para. 1). Furthermore, "lifestyle evangelism focuses on building relationships with one person at a time" that in return will "Through friendship, opportunities arise to share the gospel" (para. 2).

I remember having a major argument with my brother once (he is a big fan of John MacArthur, and attended Grace Church for many years) about personal evangelism and whether or not your lifestyle was sufficient to "win souls" for Christ. Of course, he believed that people were predestined to either salvation or destruction so the discussion was really moot. His point was that sharing the gospel needed to be verbal because the Word says "faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ" (Romans 7:10). This said to him that the only way to share the gospel effectively was to preach it, to tell someone the good news. Thus, lifestyle choice, behaviors, and other things would not be effective for sharing the gospel message.
Critics claim that lifestyle evangelism is insufficient or that it ignores the Bible’s command to share the gospel verbally. Doing good works is not enough; we must speak the truth. However, lifestyle evangelism can and should do both. There are many examples in Scripture of those who both lived out their faith and verbally shared their faith (Gotquestions.org, 2015).
Of course, I think my brother was mistaken because lifestyle evangelism doesn't suggest that you can win someone to Christ through your lifestyle alone. Rather, it simply says that you can be more attractive to a person because of your lifestyle, and potentially have more opportunity to share the good news with them. I think of it this way, either you are sharing the good news with guns blaring or you are living out your faith as a legitimate witness (your works, your fruit bear witness) and you are sharing the gospel in truth and in love. There are many examples in the New Testament where believers were encouraged to demonstrate their good works as testimony to their faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, "Paul emphasized that Timothy’s lifestyle and preaching were both important in the effort to evangelize others" (Gotquestions.org, 2015). Consequently, in my opinion, there is great value in both -- verbally evangelizing as well as living faith that demonstrates a transformed heart and mind.

Personal Evangelism

I think most Christians understand the necessity of witnessing to friends and family members, and many do engage in the business regularly. They teach, they preach, and live their faith as demonstration of that changed heart, in season and out of season. Yet, many, many Christians either do not understand why they should witness or how to do it effectively. Thus, many believers in Christ simply do not spend any time thinking, praying, or actively participating in evangelism.

I think the reason this is the case is because the Church has done a pretty shoddy job of teaching about evangelism in general. Many people do not even know what it means to evangelize. Furthermore, many assume that evangelism is something that Pastors or missionaries or specially called individuals such as Billy Graham do. They are confused about what it means to "witness" or share the good news.

Evangelism is defined as "the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness" (Dictionary.com). Evangelism is something every Christian should be doing regularly, daily. As John Wesley said, "You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work" (as cited in Weaver, 1970). Personal evangelism is a catch-phrase that is bandied about and is often used to describe the type of evangelism that is personal, relational.
Weaver (1970) writes, "Personal evangelism is evangelism relating to, or directed to or aimed at, a particular person. The word "personal" also places the emphasis where it belongs. Not only does it define the kind of evangelism being done, but it places emphasis on the value of the individual soul, as well as the individual responsibility each Christian has to teach the gospel to others."
Personal Evangelism encompasses several approaches that all lead to the same result -- winning souls for Christ. The approach, however, differs based on the person, personality, and preferences (or as I would say it "giftings"). Generally, there are six different ways to evangelize, though some of these are very similar in their mode and method.
  1. Confrontational
  2. Apologetic / Intellectual
  3. Testimonial
  4. Interpersonal
  5. Invitational
  6. Service
According to Chris at Evangelismcoach.org, these various approaches can produce results but it must be set in context with the particular needs of the individual. Understanding where a person is at in their intellectual and spiritual state is critical in order to know how to best present the gospel message to them.

  • We all get the confrontational style of evangelism, and more than likely, we can name off many experiences where individuals from other religions used this method with us (Jehovah's witnesses, Mormon's, etc.). Most people do not respond to a confrontational approach in any aspect of conversation. It simply doesn't work well to develop relationships, and it certainly can turn individuals off to the message being presented. So as far as I am concerned, confrontation in any shape or form is the least effective method to engage individuals in dialogue.
  • Apologetic/Intellectual evangelism is a growing trend these days, and can be used successfully so long as you are knowledgeable, well-studied, and have the gift for this type of conversation. Not everyone is called to be an Apologist, though the Bible does tell us that we are all called to be able to give a defense (1 Peter 3:15) for the hope we have in us. 
  • Testimonial evangelism is often what is heard in church on any given Sunday morning or evening. Testimonies shared publicly can help believers in many ways. Not only do public testimonies strengthen the faith of individuals, but they also help to demonstrate the effectiveness of the church, their teaching or preaching programs, etc. Testimonies can also be used by the Holy Spirit to move individuals towards faith. They are powerful reminders of the work of God in the lives of individuals.
  • Interpersonal evangelism is relational. It is built on relationships and it places a high value on the individual as important. Also called relational evangelism, the goal of the approach is to not only win souls to Christ, but to develop friendships, relationships that will serve for discipleship and mentoring down the road. Interpersonal evangelism includes styles such as friendship evangelism, lifestyle evangelism, and a more formal mode of relational evangelism. According to Chris at Evangelismcoach.org, "Friendship evangelism is often defined around “earning the right to be heard.” Build an intentional relationship, earn credibility, and wait for spiritual conversation to come about. When the topic of faith comes up, you’ve earned the right to share your faith in Christ." Likewise, he suggests that lifestyle evangelism "focuses on doing good, living good, so that your lifestyle attracts spiritual curiosity." Moreover, he defines relational evangelism as a combination of "Living in such a way that your faith is obvious AND being intentional in talking about the gospel...in the context of intentional relationships." To me, this makes great sense. I think this is one of the best definitions of what I would consider relationship building within and without the church. 
  • Invitational and service evangelism is also used within the church. This is the typical outreach program setup by the church to bring in community members so that they can see what is going on at the church, to be invited to attend Sunday services or to experience some ministry outwork.
Which Way Is Best

As I stated previously, I have been thinking about the various approaches to evangelism lately because my friend and I are always discussing it. My personal history includes what I would consider two approaches: confrontational and relational (lifestyle). I am not a proponent of confrontational style -- regardless of the outcome -- so for me, I am very comfortable with using relational means to encourage open dialogue. However, as I consider my role and my responsibility, I am thinking that I need to refocus my attention to gaining a better appreciation of the various styles of evangelism now.

Personally, I don't think there is a "best" way. I think that context matters, and I do believe that some individuals are gifted toward evangelism and apologetics (like my friend). Thus, some people are naturally inclined to evangelize a certain way, and that is OK. I also think that for many Christians, evangelism must be taught properly, and that means without emphasis on doing it one way or suggesting that there is only ONE RIGHT WAY. I think if Christians were taught several different approaches, say some apologetics and some interpersonal, they could become comfortable with what works best for them. Then with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, they could become effective witnesses in their families, among their friends and peers, and throughout their community.

Thoughts for Today

As the hour is getting away from me, my thoughts are turing toward my to-list and away from this topic. Therefore, suffice it to say, I am going to close with these remaining thoughts...

The Bible clearly advocates that all Christians are to be actively seeking the lost. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few because so many Christians refuse to witness to their friends, family, and coworkers. Why is this the case? Well, I think for most it is because they have experienced confrontational style most often, and whether they came to faith through this approach or not, they find the method to be a big turn off. Christians need to be taught how to evangelize relationally, intentionally, and in a style that suits their personality and preferences. They need to be shown how to do this, and how to give a defense for what they believe. What they need is a training course in personal evangelism that will equip them to minister right where they are at -- in the home, at work, down the street, at the ball park -- in the byways of life. Plus, they need to know that their attitude must precede any work they do -- they must be willing to do this work, to engage in it, and to be actively pursuing it. Lastly, they must remember that preaching the good news is just that -- it is about sharing wonderful, life-saving news with someone they care about and love. It is a GOOD THING!

My desire today is to learn more about relational evangelism (I just don't have enough time today to do that) so that I can help others learn how to share their faith in a real, intentional, and friendly way. I believe this is God's best for us -- to be relational as He is relational -- and to be friendly, intentional, and Godly witnesses for His name, and for His kingdom sake.

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