Following my previous post, here are the final two ways that we can move toward becoming a gospel evangelist in 2013.
2. Learn What Evangelism Actually Is
Richard Peace in Conversion in the New Testament says that “how we conceive of conversions determines how we do evangelism.”
We often think of conversion as a moment in time where things click, the coin drops, and people pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” being born again to eternal life forever. This type of understanding of conversion likely stems from Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road in Acts chapter 9.
The American church typically highlights this view which has given rise to the majority of the evangelism methods that people are trained in from The Way of the Master to tracts to the glorious evangecube. This is one type of conversion story and we can likely point to many people where this is the case, but this isn’t the only way or even the predominant way that scripture presents conversion.
Richard Peace goes on to highlight the difference between the conversion of Paul and the conversion of the Jesus’s disciples, inviting us to take a broader view of evangelism that sees it as part of making disciples. John Finney, in Recovering the Past: Celtic and Roman Mission, labels this conversion paradigm as the “Road to Emmaus” that involves a longer process than the Damascus Road experience. This approach usually involves sharing life with someone and a number of meals, developing a relationship while discussing Jesus and His impact on our lives.
The American church, like much of America, prefers the microwave version of conversion that happens in a moment, so we have largely neglected the Road to Emmaus oven version of conversion. The reality is that we must embrace both and be prepared for both because we don’t know when God is going to decide to show up in a moment with someone like He did with Paul, or if God will choose to wait years, patiently allowing them to come to know His love through Jesus Christ.
Types of Evangelists
When we embrace the event and the process as valid ways of evangelism, it lessens the intimidation that can often come when we are exhorted to share the gospel with others. In the book The Permanent Revolution, the authors identify four different types of evangelism that can help us identify how we are naturally wired in relationships to pursue and grow in evangelism. He labels them as the investors, inviters, convincers, and conversers; helpful categories for us as we consider doing the work of an evangelist in 2013.
The Investors. Investors embrace the process method of evangelism. They seek to walk through the highs and lows of life with people, seeking to invest a lot of time, emotion, and energy into a few close relationships. The majority of us wouldn’t label this as evangelism at all, but if we don’t label this as evangelism we will lack the intentionality needed to continue to pursue conversations about Jesus and His gospel. Our prayer life will not include interceding for these people in our life.
This could mean you approaching your workplace with a greater vision towards moving your long-term relationships to deeper conversations. Leveraging your lunch breaks and intermittent office conversation to share how the gospel of Jesus Christ is transforming your views on life. It could be the family you know through your local school or sports league that your children are friends providing you an opportunity to demonstrate a life following Jesus throughout normal activities.
The Inviters. Inviters looks for opportunities to include people in more strategic environments where they can be exposed to Christian community and the gospel of Jesus Christ. These are people who seek to include as many different people as possible at their birthday parties, big events, or meals in hopes that they would connect and engage with others who could develop relationships to share the gospel.
They have a special ability to make people feel comfortable enough to explore a new environment and I’ve seen these people in our church invite and connect with new people, then connect them with others in the community that have discipled them and led them to a greater understanding of Jesus and what it means to be His disciple.
This could change the way you view cookouts, the Super Bowl party, or your next birthday party. View these regular and everyday events as opportunities to invite both your Christian friends from church and your neighbors while encouraging your Christian friends to seek to establish conversations and relationships with those they do not know.
The Convincers. In America, we call them salesmen or the “closers of the deal” at work. These are people who are able to make an incredibly compelling gospel presentation. They are gifted with the ability to use a short amount of time to present the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that brings people to a decision.
These are largely responsible for the evangelistic materials we see throughout the church because they are skilled at reducing the gospel presentation to an easily transferable conversation without reducing its content. This is challenging for many of us, but others are naturally excited by the thought of sharing their faith in a brief amount of time.
Whether you are a convincer or not, it is helpful to spend time thinking through how you can share the gospel in a concise manner. I’ve heard one suggestion of thinking through common conversations and how the gospel of Jesus Christ redefines and intersects those regular conversations you most commonly have.
The Conversers. Conversers are often characterized by a question-led evangelism, leveraging the interests and concerns of other people and connecting those ideas with the gospel. They even prefer to let the conversation be dictated by the other person, asking questions that tend to reveal someone’s worldview or the major issues they are currently facing in life.
We see this in the life of Jesus with the woman at the well, asking questions and initiating a conversation that eventually exposed her to the living water she truly longed for.
As I read these descriptions in The Permanent Revolution, I was amazed at how I had seen this throughout our church, but have not often labeled it as evangelism. The more I considered it, the more I realized how much we can short circuit our own evangelistic efforts simply by writing off ourselves as not evangelistic because we have a narrow paradigm for the word.
These descriptions could free us up and inspire us to identify the natural ways we can proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ that we have not even imagined before. If 2013 will be about blessing others with the good news of Jesus Christ, we must embrace a broader view of evangelism to seek a conversion that makes a disciple of Jesus Christ instead of simply someone who agrees with their need of a Savior.
3. Evangelism Starts with Prayer
We often view the Great Commission as the time when Jesus first sends out His disciples to go and make disciples, but this wasn’t His disciples’ first mission. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out His disciples after instructing them in how they should be on mission.
The greatest preparation He gave them came in the previous chapter, Matthew 9:36-38: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
There is so much from this passage that we can learn about evangelism, but the most important is that it begins with prayer. I’ve heard verse 36 used often to exhort people that the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, so we must go now and be on mission! It’s a truth, but it is a truth motivated by guilt rather than motivated by a heart for the harvest that Jesus has.
Prayer Accomplishes What We Can’t
Prayer does more than we will ever realize in us and in others. The scriptures are covered with descriptions of how prayer is a means by which God accomplishes His ends and if we would do the work of the evangelist, we must do the less glamorous work of being faithful in prayer.
In prayer we acknowledge that God is, as the scriptures say, “Lord of the harvest.” He is the one who pursues people first, giving understanding to the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6) and imparting the Holy Spirit so that they are born again. Salvation is an act of God and when we begin in prayer, we submit our requests to the One most concerned and most powerful to act. Unless God works in people, all of our efforts will fall short. This shouldn’t cause negligence or laziness, passively waiting until we see signs that God moves; it should lead us follow Jesus’s example in praying to God for Him to move.
This communicates our trust and hope in a powerful, sovereign God able to do more than we ask or imagine. It not only communicates something to God, but it changes us in the process.
The By Name Initiative
During our series on Galatians, our church participated in what we called the By Name Initiative to pray for one person every day for 6 weeks in hopes that they would come to know the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We encouraged people to pray for one of their friends or family, connect with them and share the gospel of Jesus Christ through word and deed.
It was amazing to watch the transformation of the people in our church, the compassion that grew from praying for their friends, and the love that grew for those they prayed for. People were baptized at the end of it and even more people were invited into and able to experience a community shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are launching a new website later this month for the initiative to provide churches with stories and resources to cultivate a prayerful church for the mission of God.
When we pray to God as Lord of the harvest for more laborers (as Jesus instructed), we find ourselves transformed into the type of laborers God desires. We can become those who see crowds and other people not as inconvenient, but with compassion wanting them to know Jesus as the Great Shepherd of their lives.
Follow the Call in 2013
In God’s call to do the work of an evangelist, we are invited into a prayerful mission alongside a community of Christ followers. This community is diverse in gifts, race, economic status, and political affiliation, but united with Jesus as King and with His mission as our vision for life.
Making resolutions for 2013 is a good idea, but it should not stop with how to make a better you, it should be you considering how Christ could use you to bless others with His message and mercy.
What if 2013 was the year the church did the work of the evangelist in your city? How would your office, your neighborhood, and even you be changed in the process?