I recently completed two books that converge on the need for change in how we approach evangelism in our modern cultures, “Seeking Allah Finding Jesus” by Nabeel Qureshi and “Fool’s Talk – Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion” by Os Guinness. Both fantastic reads that address so many of the issues facing the church, our management of current issues, and our need for a greater understanding of others.
If you grew up Christian as I did, you may have learned formulas for evangelism. There are a wealth of different programs and processes designed to drive someone to faith. I have learned through life that nothing is more of an enemy to evangelism than a program or formula.
The formulas left many friends with more questions that ultimately drew them from the faith. Programs and methods left me with many questions as well. I went looking to the Buddha, Islam, Hindu, and atheism to see if I had believed a lie. I found the message of Christ to be Truth; I had just received a poor version without content.
What is missing in the teaching of these methods was the need for relationship…the very thing that Christianity is about.
"In the West, everybody wants to make evangelism a method," said Paul Martindale, lecturer in Islamic studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. "Turning [camel] into a universal method is more dangerous than using it." (“Out of Context”, Christianity Today, March 23, 2010)
There is a dramatic difference between prayer with personal interaction and programmatic preaching. If your goal is to get someone to pray the “sinner’s prayer” then you’ve already stepped into the abyss. So many great intentions in seeking to do so-called “big moves of God” is to get the prayer prayed, invite them to a church and then hoping they follow up. Discipleship is lost to counts and those that experienced some emotion are now left to the latest feeling on the winds. The prayer is not the end, it is the beginning that requires a life of investment; An investment in individuals, a relentless commitment to life together.
If your goal is to get know others, walk through life with them, and meet their needs, then you are at the start of great evangelism. If you are seeking to love people whether they accept your message or not, you have discovered God’s pursuit of you.
The misuse of Matthew 14:10 has lead many people to an ugly Christianity.
As a seeker, Qureshi writes, “What I saw were men who would stand on street corners accosting the public with their beliefs. No doubt they reached a few, but they repelled many more. Unfortunately, I found that many Christians think of evangelism in the same way, foisting Christian belief on complete strangers in chance encounters. The problem with this approach is that the Gospel requires a radical life change, and not many people are willing to listen to total strangers tell the how to live. On the other hand, if a true friend shares the exact same message with heartfelt sincerity, speaking to specific circumstances and struggles, then the message is heard loud and clear.” ( Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, Qureshi, Zondervon, Pg. 120)
Christian evangelism methods are taught, but most Christians never receive or seek an understanding of where other people and faiths are coming from. There is a lack of seeking to learn and understand others. There is a simple-minded push for ‘rightness’ without context, contents, or care for how others think, feel, and believe. In the rush to keep things simple, followers of Christ are given incomplete pictures of other worldviews with a goal to manipulating those with varying opinions.
We should not seek to win arguments or manipulate with emotion. We should seek to learn, understand, engage and share. We don’t want to sway people with our technique, we want to help them seek, discover, and fall in love with Jesus.
As Francis Schaeffer wrote we should be prepared in conversation and relationship to provide honest answers to honest questions. The Gospel is true – a seeker will always find Christ in the end – we are to be present, available and engaged that we might share in the joy of their discovery.
“The Lord had instant discernment when he spoke to people. We do not have discernment like that, so we have to take time to get to know people, to love them, to pray for them and to listen to their stories,” says Os Guinness (“Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness, Inter Varsity Press, Pg. 127)
We must invest in people and relationships with those that see the world differently than we do. We must do so out of a genuine love and interest in them. While we as friends should share the Truth as we have found it, Truth must be shared in unique and individual ways - without looking for quick fixes or conversion. We must not attempt to force a method on individual people we love and care for as that is not how relationships work.
The number of people that qualify as “post-Christian” in the United States has risen from 34% in 2013 to 44% in 2015. (“Sharp Rise in 2015 for Post Christians”, Barna Research https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/728-america-more-post-christian-than-two-years-ago#.V4LubFfmt-U)
“Our privilege as Christians and apologist, by our lives and words, is to help people to hear, to listen, to understand signals of transcendence, and then to help them follow to where they lead.” Os Guinness (“Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness, Inter Varsity Press, Pg. 147)
The message of Christ is wonderful. To live as Christ in the lives of others is difficult, long-suffering, full of failures, but needed. When someone comes to faith they are not a count for you to add to an annual report, they are now your greatest life long responsibility.