Sharing the Faith, Lecture 5: Approaches to Sharing the Faith Selected Scriptures Introduction In this morning’s lecture, we are going to address issues surrounding the different kinds of approaches we can take in sharing our faith with non-Christians. Is there a proper approach? Should we share the gospel with perfect strangers? Should we share only with people we know well? Should we share to large groups, like in a lecture, church sanctuary, or football stadium? Should we stand on street corners and pass out Christian literature – tracts, books? Should we engage in open-air preaching? These are important questions for many reasons, not least that there is a tendency for groups who engage exclusively in one form of evangelism to suggest, or at least imply that their approach is evangelism, while any other approach is not. This, it seems to me, is true of every type of evangelism we could imagine, but in my experience it has been especially true of the individuals and organizations (even churches) who emphasize what we might call “perfect stranger,” or “initiative” evangelism (taking the initiative to bring up how to be right with God with someone you’ve never met before). Unless you are talking to someone you’ve never met about Jesus every week, you are being unfaithful to evangelize. Now I don’t mean to pick on organizations that support this kind of evangelism, I think that this approach has a role to play in the church’s evangelism. The problem is not that they engage in or even that they promote this type of evangelism; the problem is that they imply that it is the only legitimate way to engage in evangelism. What I want to do this morning with you is to address five things. First, and what we’ll spend the most time on, is that there is more than one approach to evangelism set forth in Scripture and that therefore the church should be involved in each of them. Second, I want to talk about how these approaches need to be socially and culturally appropriate as they’re adapted to a contemporary context. Third, I’ll suggest that there is an approach that is the most effective way of reaching non-Christians and why – though it is not meant to be done separate from the other kinds of evangelism. Fourth, that each type of evangelism is not for everyone – all of them are for the church, but not all of them are for every member of the church. I’ll elaborate on this when we get there. And fifth, I want to encourage you to begin to own at least one of these approaches for yourself (our assignment will be precisely that). Biblical Approaches to Evangelism Let’s begin with what has been called “Preaching ‘synagogue’ evangelism.” This is perhaps the most common kind of evangelism we see taking place in the book of Acts. When Paul and his comrades entered a city, the first place they went was to the synagogue. Going to the synagogue strategically put them immediately in touch with two kinds of people: Jews and “God-fearers.” What a Jew is from the perspective of the New Testament should be obvious; a “God-fearer” needs some explanation. When the Bible (specifically the book of Acts) talks about “God-fearers,” it is making reference to Gentiles (non-Jews) who have embraced the true and living God (the God of the Jews), but have not gone the whole way to become Jews themselves. These are people who already believe in the Bible and the God of the Bible. Therefore, Paul’s strategy was to preach the Bible to them and to reason and persuade them from the Scriptures that Jesus of Nazareth was (and is!) the Christ that they’ve been looking for. Acts 17:1-4 is a case in point. Turn there with me. <Read the text> What is perhaps most interesting (and something that you should put in the back of your mind) is that Paul did not engage in this kind of evangelism every day – he engaged in it on Saturdays (when the Jews and God-fearers gathered for worship and instruction from the Scriptures). It was like he preached a three-part sermon series. I’ll get to the significance of that later. My point right now, however, is that Paul began his evangelism through the synagogue with a group of people already convinced of the existence of the true and living God and the authority of his word. From there, he filled them in where they had gaps in understanding. He “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence” that Jesus is the Christ. The closest approximation to this approach at Redeemer would be our twice-a-year outreach events, events that are by and large geared toward people who would feel comfortable to go to church, which in our culture translates to churched nominal Christians. People who are familiar with church (perhaps even who attend somewhere regularly), call themselves Christians, but are not. This is preaching or “synagogue” evangelism. What are some other ways we might apply this approach to evangelism to our contemporary situation? (I preach to Christians and non-Christians routinely; Christians bring friends to church; response classes for people who are interested in what they’ve heard; visiting church visitors). The second kind of evangelism is what I’ve called earlier “initiative” evangelism. I didn’t make this term up; I first heard it from a Campus Crusade staffer who discipled me in college. And I’m quite certain he didn’t make it up. Initiative evangelism brings the gospel to the streets and initiates gospel conversations with perfect strangers. This takes place in the New Testament as well. Turn back to John’s gospel and read 4:7-30, 39-42. <Read the text> Here you see the Lord Jesus stopping to rest and get a drink as he waits for his disciples to bring the food when he meets a woman coming to the well to draw water – a Samaritan woman, which was two strikes against her. First she was a Samaritan, a people group for which there was long-standing hatred and bigotry on the part of the Jews. Second, she was a woman – who for the rabbis was something for which they thanked God for not being: “I thank you that I am not a woman.” Well, here Jesus takes the initiative to share the gospel with this despised person, to tell them the truth about himself. I suppose he could have just as easily sat there and rested, kind of closed his eyes, sat back, and gave the “leave-me-alone-I’m-resting-on-the-plane” vibe. But he did not. Instead, knowing her condition, he chose instead to preach the gospel to her – to initiate a conversation with her about himself. This is just one example of hitting the streets to initiate gospel conversations is this form of evangelism. What makes it unique is not so much the boldness to talk to a perfect stranger, but to approach someone who was marginalized by society – a Samaritan and a woman. Another example of this comes from the life of the Apostle Paul. Turn back to Acts 17 and read vv 17-18. <Read the text> Here we read that Paul was speaking not only in the synagogues, but also “in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.” It’s hard to miss the language of anonymity here. Whoever happened to be in the market place (where everyone was doing business, buying and selling) was treated to teaching from the Apostle Paul. Paul took the initiative to bring the gospel to where the people were. Here at Redeemer, we have brethren like Mike Boardley, Casey Nygren, and others who routinely hit the streets with the message of Christ, talking to whomever will listen. This is initiative evangelism. What are some other ways we might apply this approach to evangelism to our contemporary situation? (Door-to-door evangelism; booths at fairs or at malls, parades, and expos; outdoor concert and speaker; tract and CD distribution). The third form of evangelism I’ll call deed, or mercy evangelism. It is a way of concretely expressing the gospel by entering a person’s life at the point of their felt need and meeting that need unconditionally so as to enter their life more fully to address all that God wants to give them. We see this in the New Testament especially in the miraculous mercy ministry of the Lord Jesus and the apostles. Turn with me back to the book of Acts. <Read Acts 3:1-12> Now in this example, the healing of this lame beggar became an opportunity to address the crowd who had come to Peter and John in a hurry, amazed at what had taken place. Now although we cannot engage in a healing ministry (in the same way that the apostles did), our ministry of mercy is identical insofar as we bring God’s mercy to bear to overcome the effects of our fall into sin by the gospel – sickness is overturned by the gospel; Christ bore our diseases on the cross. And we bring that to bear in the lives of the sick when, for example, we give them medical care, take care of their basic needs, and earnestly pray for their healing. In Peter’s case, and in ours, this can become an instrument by which the world will observe in amazement as we sacrificially meet the needs of people for their sakes (out of compassion and love) such that we will be given greater credibility and a hearing with non-Christians. Or, as with other examples we could cite, the healing itself becomes symbolic of the healing of soul that the Lord wants to give the spiritually sick. For instance, in Mark 2 (and par.), Jesus heals a paralytic after declaring the forgiveness of his sins. The healing of body is of a piece with the healing of his soul and represents all that God ultimately wants to do for sinners. Here at Redeemer, this is taking place through our effective and growing ministry of mercy that is overseen by the deacons. This is deed, or mercy evangelism. What are some other ways we might apply this approach to evangelism to our contemporary situation? (Each of us having individual ministries of mercy; spearheading a mercy ministry within the church). The forth type of evangelism is what has been called “Apologetic ‘Mars Hill’ evangelism.” This is Paul’s approach in Athens. Turn again to Acts 17 and read vv 19-34. <Read the text> Paul clearly engages with the culture and points out the ways in which how they live and what they do and what they read suggests an implicit knowledge of the true and living God. From here he straightforwardly moves to communicate the message of the cross. What is also interesting about Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill is that he does so in a respected place for intellectual, religious, and philosophical discussion. He is given a seat at the table by the cultural elites he had met in the market place who found his message compelling. Moreover, Paul brings the message to these people in the language they speak. He does not invite them to the synagogue or Christian gathering; he brings the message of the gospel to where the people are. This is apologetic, “Mars Hill” evangelism, and to my knowledge, this kind of evangelism does not take place through Redeemer. What are some ways we might apply this approach to our contemporary situation? [Regular column in major newspaper or generally respected periodical; radio talk show on a respectable radio station; addressing associations of academic or media elite or other opinion-makers; books aimed at unbelievers that command broad respect [e.g., Mere Christianity] or from respected elite audiences (e.g., philosophical works)] The next approach to evangelism that we see the church involved with is found in Acts 19:8-10. <Read the text> This approach we could call “Dialogue ‘lecture hall’ evangelism” – Paul reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus for two years. Now there is good evidence to support that this lecture hall was used by the resident lecturer (like a college professor) in the early morning. Paul got to use the space from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. At 11:00 am, public activity came to a standstill – in fact in the ancient world, more people would be asleep at 1:00 pm than at 1:00 am. Nevertheless, Paul, after spending his early morning in tent-making, would spend the rest of his day lecturing to as many people would hear him. Apparently, he garnered a significant audience insofar as v 10 reports that “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord.” This we might say is a very “intellectual” approach to evangelism. It allowed not only for a monologue from the lecturer, but question and answer, debate, and discussion from the listeners – again, like a college classroom, appealing to the intellect and the understanding, patiently teaching and handling objections until the people were persuaded of the message. This is dialogue, or lecture hall evangelism, and to my knowledge is not taking place through the ministries of Redeemer. What are some ways we might apply this approach to the contemporary situation? (Evangelistic lecture, dialogue at colleges/grad schools or artistic/cultural institutions with a Christian perspective on a subject of broad interest; evangelistic breakfasts/luncheons in business centers, clubs to talk and dialogue on subject of broad interest to business people; an artistic presentation and evangelistic talk and dialogue in public concert space or theatre). The final kind of evangelism we see in the New Testament is by far the most common form of evangelism we see taking place through the congregation itself. So far, the preponderance of evangelism we have seen has been done through “specialists” – the apostles! The last kind of evangelism is what we may call networking, friendship, or “household” evangelism. A New Testament household was made up of more than mom, dad, and 2.5 kids. It included the nuclear family to be sure, but it also included several generations of the same family, servants, the families of servants, friends, and even business associates. Now today in the Twin Cities, peoples’ households do not look like this. But that’s not the point. The reason New Testament households were targeted for evangelism is because the household made up the believers’ social network. So essentially, Christians shared their faith with people in their social networks. Our social networks include, of course, family, extended family, and friends, but also neighbors (people who live in close geographical proximity to us – though this is less important in the suburbs than in the city) and colleagues in business and recreation (co-workers and softball teammates, fellow band members). Perhaps you can think of more. These are people who know you and people you know –they aren’t perfect strangers. From the perspective of the New Testament, this is the most common kind of evangelism for Christians, regardless of their giftedness. Let’s look at a few examples from the gospels and the book of Acts cf. Mark 2:14-15; John 1:41, 45; Acts 10:24; 16:13-15, 30-34. <Read the texts> So what happens? Christians share their faith with the people they know the best. This is networking, friendship, or household evangelism. And to a certain degree this is taking place at Redeemer, but not, I think with the regularity it should. What are some ways we might be more effective at applying this to our contemporary situation? (Small group meetings with non-believers present; home discussion group targeted at unbelievers; home outreach event [Apostrophe, evangelistic dessert or reception with friends]; personal evangelism with friends, relatives, associates over coffee or meal.). So here are six biblical approaches to evangelism: (1) preaching, synagogue evangelism; (2) contact, or initiative evangelism; (3) deed, or mercy evangelism; (4) apologetic, Mars Hill evangelism; (5) dialogue, or lecture hall evangelism; and (6) friendship, or household evangelism. Being Culturally Appropriate Now that we’ve seen the various approaches to evangelism in the New Testament, I’d like to make a brief comment about being socially and culturally appropriate. One common thread that runs through every approach we have seen in Scripture is that at the time they were culturally acceptable ways of talking about religion; appropriate venues for sharing the faith. And when we think about adapting them to the contemporary context, we need to keep this in mind. For example, when Paul entered the market place in Athens in Acts 17 and preaches the gospel to whomever happened to be there, you must understand that this was a common venue for engaging in this kind of dialogue. In other words, people would not have thought that Paul was a weirdo to engage in this kind of dialogue in the market place. It would have been normal. After all, it was the philosophers who heard him who invited him to give a presentation at the Areopagus. Now today, though the church needs to retain the principle of taking the initiative to share the gospel with people we’ve never met, there are better and worse ways of doing this. One ministry promotes “open air preaching” of the kind that was common in the First and Second Great Awakenings in the United States. Now in the 18th and 19th centuries, this would have been much more commonplace, an occurrence that was not odd or unusual. Today, however, if I were to set up shop in the parking lot near the door of say, a mall (if it weren’t private property) and start loudly preaching the gospel to passers-by, most people would think I was nuts and it would actually undermine the message I’m so zealous to proclaim. Another example I’d give is door-to-door evangelism. This seems to be a less and less appropriate way to engage people in conversations. Now it still happens – I get kids trying to sell me wrapping paper to support the bocce team – but it’s rare. And even then, I think people feel irritated not by what’s asked for, but the approach. So we can’t simply look back at the New Testament (or even church history) and just copy an approach without first asking of its cultural appropriateness…which is what we’ve been working toward this morning. The Most Effective Approach to Evangelism Having surveyed the various types of evangelism, and having given a word on cultural appropriateness, let me make a third point briefly. This point answers the question that goes to which kind of evangelism is most effective. Well, the answer is that both church history and modern research has shown that the last kind we looked at, friendship, or household evangelism is the most fruitful kind. How many of you came to Christ through a personal relationship with a friend, family member, or colleague sharing their lives and the gospel with you over time? Most of you. Friendship evangelism has distinct advantages to the other types because of the person’s familiarity with you. If you are a trusted friend or family member, the fact that you have become or are a Christian makes the faith more credible to them. “I trust Joe and he became a Christian, maybe there’s something more to it than I thought.” By observing you over time, they also have a better view of what the Christian life is all about. How it works in a person’s life – in and through all its messes. Moreover, the unbeliever is in the driver’s seat and therefore your evangelism tends not to be manipulative. Your unbelieving friend gets to raise questions and determine the rate at which the process goes forward. There is no canned approach – the nature of the case makes it impossible. But this kind of evangelism is also the most relationally demanding – because it requires that you be a person who is being transformed by the gospel. Your life is the main thing that attracts and persuades your non-Christian friends, not your lips. This kind of evangelism demands a life of pursuing holiness through repentance and faith. Now even though friendship evangelism is the most fruitful kind of evangelism, it should not be understood to exist in a vacuum, separate from the other kinds of evangelism, which leads me to my next point. Not One Approach for Everyone, Every Approach for the Church All of the approaches to evangelism I’ve highlighted are necessary for a healthy, growing church. The church should be doing all of them. They are methods used by the church in the New Testament that should be adapted and applied to our contemporary context. And because they are all part of the church’s toolbox for evangelism, we must realize that they are mutually informative and therefore should be integrated. In other words, they work together in concert with each other so that the church may be effective in evangelism. For example, even though most of us came to Christ through a personal relationship over time, you were also exposed to the gospel through the other kinds of evangelism. Now just because the other types were not directly instrumental in bringing you to faith, that doesn’t mean they had no effect. Watering has an effect on your garden from the moment you plant it to the point at which it begins to sprout and then bear fruit. It’s just that the effectiveness of watering goes undetected…until the harvest. We can’t get down on ourselves simply because someone did not respond immediately to our evangelistic efforts. As long as we’re faithful to engage in all of them as a church, we can trust God that he will bear fruit for us in our evangelistic endeavors. One of the practical theology professors at Westminster Seminary, John Leonard, a man who was a missionary among Muslims in France has said that none of the biblical methods of evangelism we’ve outlined above proved very effective…and we need to be doing all of them. So then, which one should you do? Well, seems to me that one or more of these (and not others) may appeal to your gifts and personality better than others. So engage in the one (or two) that work for you – the kinds of evangelism that will utilize your gifts and abilities, desires and personality best. And besides, I don’t think that the real problem is that we misidentify the most effective form of evangelism; it’s that we don’t do any of them – or at least hardly do any of them. Pick one and do it faithfully. Pick One and Do It Faithfully That’s my last point – pick one and do it faithfully. And as we’ve seen, the one that has the most universal application to Christians is household, or friendship evangelism. Let’s all begin to pray for the people in our own social networks and take advantage of opportunities to share our faith in the millions of ways that come about as we live out the implications of our Christianity before them. Let’s ask God to use us to lead non-Christians to the knowledge of God. Amen. Sharing the Faith: Assignment 5: Picking an Approach Of the six biblical approaches to evangelism that were highlighted in Lecture 5 – (1) preaching, synagogue evangelism; (2) contact, or initiative evangelism; (3) deed, or mercy evangelism; (4) apologetic, Mars Hill evangelism; (5) dialogue, or lecture hall evangelism; and (6) friendship, or household evangelism – which one best fits your gifts and personality and why? Have you ever had a bias toward a particular kind of evangelism, such that you looked down on the others? If so, which one(s) and why? How might the kind of attitude addressed in #2 adversely affect your individual effectiveness and the wider church’s effectiveness in evangelism? Do you think it’s fair to say that everyone can be engaged in household evangelism, and perhaps even should be engaged in it? Why or why not? Choose four people to pray for, making a list of four people that fit these qualifications: (1) We hit it off well together; (2) we share some common interests; (3) this person would probably enjoy being with the people of Redeemer either in the public worship or small group; (4) this person is open to me. Start praying for their salvation and your boldness today. Come to class ready to share their names, to pray for them with the class, and to discuss how the Lord used you this week to communicate something of the gospel to them as you lived life together.