Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Four Things We Need to Understand About Evangelism

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I used to hear a lot of talk about evangelism, but not so much anymore. I hear a lot of people talking about what it is to be missional, but not much about evangelism. Maybe there are people talking about evangelism, but I don’t know them. I still hear lots of people talking about reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus. This is still very popular, but the language surrounding it has changed. Evangelism has sort of disappeared or gone into hiding. Why? Obviously, people have not abandoned the idea that we need to share Christianity with others, but more and more people are abandoning the methods that were once used. The evangelism of the 1950’s and 60’s, or even 70’s and 80’s, is no longer effective. This is not just my opinion. It is a fact. The statistics show that we are not even keeping up with the population growth. We are not even maintaining. We are losing ground. Now there are multiple reasons for this, but I believe one thing that is holding us back is our approach to reaching the lost. Some people are still using methods that are out of date, while others may have abandoned these methods but not replaced them with anything. Although the gospel always remains the same, people, cultures, and societies change all the time. It is not going to do any good to take a bundle of Bible tracts to a village that cannot read. There are major shifts happening in our culture in regards to how people receive information and how they learn. This affects how we do evangelism. As we move forward into the 21st century it is important for the church to continue to evaluate the culture in which we live, and contemplate how to best reach all the many people who need Jesus in their lives.

Reaching the lost is not about having all the answers. It is about having a continual conversation about what we need to do to help others. This conversation may look very different depending on where you live and who you are trying to reach. Here are four general principles which I believe are essential if we are going to be effective at evangelism.

Salvation Not Condemnation – When the mission of Jesus is described in the Gospel of John it is obvious that his mission is about salvation (John 3:16-21). Notice what is said in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” We find a similar purpose in the great commission texts found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The apostles are sent out to preach a message of salvation. This message is often referred to as the gospel. The word gospel means good news. It is good news for Christians and sinners alike. If we are going to be effective at evangelism, then we must begin with whether or not we are even bringing the right message to the lost. Is our message good news? Is the focus of our message Jesus? Are we preaching salvation or condemnation? Jesus came to earth so that people might be saved. He showed grace and mercy to sinners. This is why they responded so well to him. They were used to being judged by the Pharisees. The Pharisees even judged Jesus just for eating with sinners. Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. He showed them grace, and because of this many of them responded to his message of salvation.

Ears That Hear – This is a funny expression. Are not all ears used for hearing? Yes, ears are used for receiving audible sounds, but not everyone hears alike. I will preach a message on Sunday morning and what two people hear might be completely different. My message is the same to everyone, but what they hear is not always the same. We cannot control how people hear the words coming from our mouth. This is something Jesus and the prophets recognized. They repeatedly said that their message was for people who had ears to hear. They understood that we do not all hear alike. Some people believe that as long as you tell someone the truth they will accept it, but this is not so. Some people do not hear the truth coming out of a person’s mouth to begin with. This happens for various reasons. Perhaps the person telling them the truth was rude in their delivery, or maybe they never took the time to understand the person they were speaking to. There are all kinds of reasons why we do not always hear exactly what someone is saying. If we are going to introduce people to Jesus, we need to understand it often takes much more than simply telling someone the truth. We must listen to people. We must pay attention to their stories. We must get to know them. People are more likely to hear what we are saying if we listen first.

The Times They Are a Changing – I have already discussed how the methods of evangelism need to change with the times, but this is even more true when a culture is experiencing shifts in thinking, learning, and how information is received. There are times when it seems as if people in there 70’s and people in their teens are speaking two different languages. They have different vocabularies and different ways of understanding the world. A person in their 70’s may send a letter, whereas a teenager has never learned how to write a letter. A teenager may send a tweet, and a person in their 70’s may have never even heard of Twitter. It does not matter whether or not the changes happening in our culture are good or bad. They are happening and if we are going to reach out to people, then we need to know how to reach them where they are at. If you keep talking to a teenager about writing letters or to a person in their 70’s about Twitter, then you are probably not going to get very far. Evangelism involves us learning something about people and the culture they live in. If we fail to do this, then we might as well be talking to them in a foreign language.

Our Best Apologetic – The problem with things like the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate is that there is little movement between the two sides. It solidifies what people already believe. If you believed in evolution prior to the debate, then you likely still believe in it afterward, and vice versa. People hear what they want to hear. After the debate there were people on both sides claiming their guy won. I enjoy discussing ideas and hearing others discuss ideas, but debates and things like it are not very effective methods of evangelism nowadays. Our best apologetic is love. People recognize and pay attention to love no matter what side you are on. Jesus understood this. In John 13:35 he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is a powerful apologetic. People notice love. When you show someone love and kindness they look at you in a different light, and they begin to listen more closely to what you have to say. If we are going to reach people, then we need to break down barriers, not build new ones. Love can do this. Our goal is not to defeat others. Our goal is to redeem that which is lost.

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