Someone once told me that there was no such thing as bad evangelism. His perception was based on the understanding that as long as the gospel was going out, it was good. But when Paul said, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed.” (Philippians 1:18 esv) did he mean that there were no bad methods for preaching the gospel? I don’t believe that is what Paul is saying. There are sufficient forms for the gospel and there are insufficient forms. As Micah so eloquently noted last Thursday, it is essential that we ‘proclaim the gospel’, not just live it out.
In this way, we must define ‘evangelism’. It’s interesting to note that major corporations like Apple use this term in their business model. To evangelize is to convince and maintain the affections of another. Apple use is to develop believers in the brand, who are more than just consumers. This technique has worked wonders for their business model, and to be honest, it’s made a believer out of me. I’m a die hard Mac guy.
The world we live in today is all about making believers out of each other. Social networks make their capital on the uniqueness of the next generation to advertise the products they use and willing open themselves up to advertisements for products they are interested in. Approval ratings for major corporations have risen, while the approval rating of the fundamentalist Church has plummeted.
In the Church’s best efforts to create converts, to win over beleivers, and to influence values, Christians have created an extremely unfavorable image. In the book UnChristian, which I reviewed last week, the authors suggested that part of the image problem the Church has today is a one-sided approach to making converts. Along with that, I thought it would be good to make some observations on some not so helpful approaches to evangelism.
I’ve had this method used against me. I say against me because I was offended when it was used. If the guy had used any consideration at all he would have figured out that I was already a Christian, but since he was so offensive, I decided to let him do his worst in order to observe. Plus, I didn’t want to be associated with him or offer credence to his methods.
I’m not a big fan of the Way of the Master’s approach to evangelism. My biggest reason isn’t because it is offensive, but because people who use it think it is the only way. I understand the need to convince someone that they are a sinner, but when your opening move is a roundhouse kick to the head, it doesn’t leave room for much conversation. First of all, not everyone needs to be beat down to be convinced that they are a sinner in need of a savior. Some are so overwhelmed with guilt, they are just looking for hope. Furthermore, brutally attacking people does not warrant a platform to be heard in our culture when you can find just about anybody to say what you want to hear.
Finally, the confrontational approach is too focused on getting the person to the point of conversion that they are missing vital opportunities to actually help them get there. LORD help you if you don’t get the person to convert on the spot, because forcing them to make a choice right then and there will lead to more problems than conversions: They say the prayer but don’t mean it, you have ruined any opportunity to have a follow up conversation, and/or their heart is hardened by your offensive nature which appears like hypocrisy.
The Confrontational method tends to be a one sided conversation, where the one doing the evangelizing is doing all the talking. Apart from a few ‘yes and no’ answers, the potential convert is blasted with a canned presentation that somehow lacks authenticity. There’s no room for adaptation, so the message seems rigid and completely contradictory to the beauty of grace that is being presented.
In complete contrast to the offensive attack is the subtle approach where Christians seek relationships which warrant trust before they present the gospel. While there are advantages to this form of evangelism, there are some problems with it as well. First of all, most people use this as an excuse to put off sharing the gospel till a more convenient time. Secondly, it doesn’t offer much hope for the chance encounters we make, or the single serving relationships we make on planes, restaurants, and grocery stores with people we only run into in passing. Finally, it tends to depend on the mindset of lifestyle evangelism, which Micah addressed, rather than the actual proclamation of God’s Word.
The relationship approach tends to miss vital opportunities to actually share the gospel and relies too heavily on general revelation without actually presenting the unadulterated gospel. As Micah mentioned on Thursday, give them the powerful gospel, not the inferior version.
Good or Bad Evangelism?
Certainly, these two methods are not overtly wrong, but they are not necessarily good either. We can’t simply use the excuse that because they have worked in the past, they must be sufficient. Even if there are no ‘bad’ forms of evangelism, certainly there are ‘better’ methods of sharing the gospel, and as Christians working out our faith, we ought to be pursuing the ‘best’ forms in which to express our faith. Too often I hear people using the excuse that there is no bad evangelism as a means of justifying their method. We need to be willing to critically observe the methods. They are not definitive in Scripture, therefore they are up for debate. If your particular method is somehow exalted above the chopping block, the problem might just be with you.
The preferred method that I use in sharing the gospel is the conversational approach. I like to do a good deal of listening to find out where the person I am interacting with is coming from. I start with questions and I look for opportunities to share the gospel. I attempt to be engaging. I avoid being the only one talking. I’m not trying to turn our conversation into a Sunday morning sermon. If you’re praying for doors to be opened, you’ll be surprised at how seamlessly the gospel can be integrated into conversations without seeming pushy. People are more likely to receive what you have to say if they’ve asked for it.
What I like about the conversational approach is that it seems to be balanced between the other two. Your goal is to clearly articulate the gospel but not in a way that the method is offensive. The gospel is offensive enough, your method doesn’t need to be. Looking for opportunities to share the gospel is essential. Praying that God will open the door is vital. Without the Spirit leading the way, there’s not much you can do other than make noise.
Evangelism must have something worth keeping someone engaged. If Apple had an inferior product, the only way that they could maintain customers would be to have the lowest prices and/or create a familiarity that enslaves the consumer in a fear of trying new things (i.e. Windows). In many ways, this is how many pseudo-Christian Churches function; they simply create a culture for their children, hoping that they won’t try other products. If what we have is so great, we ought to be fearless in how we present it. The worst presentation of the gospel is from someone who doesn’t believe what they’re saying. The world can see right through our inauthenticity. If we don’t believe it, they won’t either.
Whenever we share our faith, we must attempt to do so worthy of the gospel. We have been given a powerful truth. I say truth because that is what it is. We should not approach sharing our faith as a simple alternative way of living. We have been giving life. Real life. But this is no reason to strive to be offensive either. If we can learn to balance our understanding of the gospel with being both salt and light, we will be much more effective at fulfilling the great commission.