Posts Tagged ‘relational evangelism’
As a follow up to my 3 part series on reaching the next generation with the message of the Gospel, I wanted to take a moment and recognize that ”creating an experiential framework” through which we can articulate the story of Jesus extends beyond what we do in service to our community. One reason for this is because a lot of churches struggle with developing a sustainable culture of service; we continue to help each other discover new ways of doing this, but it continues to be a journey. The main reason, however, is because we simply can’t be painting houses and feeding the hungry 24-7. We all have callings and families to care for, work, soccer practice, social lives, etc. Even when we make serving a priority, by it’s nature it can’t be done in a formal way on a constant basis. So, does that mean that our evangelistic efforts are confined to moments of compassion for the hurting? Not at all.
The concept we studied in the post “The Solution to Relational” revealed the profound (and simple) approach to evangelism Jesus shows us with His disciples. Remember that Jesus created a Gospel-shaped moment for his men by including them in the work of the miracle on the hill (John 6:1-13). The point isn’t necessarily that it served thousands, but that it connected those present to the power of the Gospel. This must be the focus of our lives–it is the essence of the Great Commission. When we live this way in the presence of friends who don’t know Christ, we inspire genuine curiosity about God that can lead to a demand for explanation. While we can look to John 6 and many other passages to find outrageous and memorable examples of this, it can also take place in the ordinary, everyday routines that play out in each of our lives.
Such was the case not too long ago in a cafe outside San Francisco. During a recent conversation with my brother Matt (@matthew_bond), youth pastor at Menlo Park Pres., he related a story to me that illustrates how we can create an experiential framework even in the less-than-extraordinary moments. Matt and his friend Jason were talking over coffee one afternoon in a local cafe down the street from his office. Sitting a table nearby was an older man buried in a book. As the man went to stand, he bumped his full cup of coffee, sending it through the air and ultimately… all over the table, the floor, and the book. Total mess. Then, without a thought, Matt and Jason both stood up. Matt grabbed a bunch of napkins while Jason dashed to the counter and grabbed a rag. As the man worked to clean up the spill, Jason and Matt joined in and made short work of the job. As quickly as they swooped in, Jason and Matt were back at a table, this time sitting outside. A few moments later, the man came out and approached them with what seemed like a stern look on his face. He looked at each of them, back and forth, and finally asked, “Was that you two in there? Did you come and clean up my coffee?” Matt and Jason hesitated for a moment, not knowing if he was upset or confused. “Um, yeah. That was us,” Jason said softly. The man continued to examine them. Then, “Why? Why would you help a person you don’t even know?” Matt and Jason looked at each other, trying to process the man’s amazement at this rather small expression of love. Now, as Matt pointed out to me, we would expect their response to be something that pointed to Jesus. For some reason, the dynamic just wasn’t obvious enough to either of them at the moment. “Well, it seemed like the nice thing to do at the moment,” Jason offered.
The point here is that we have the opportunity to create an experiential framework everywhere we find ourselves. Often times they will go seemingly unnoticed, but keep doing it! Some will be blown away by the Gospel and ask you to explain it. When that happens, don’t complicate the situation, just tell them. Let God be God and see where the conversation leads. No matter the outcome, let yourself experience the joy that comes with sharing Christ!
This is just one small story. I want to hear yours! Share with me how you’ve done this recently and what happened as a result (in the comments below.)
(Author’s Note: This post is part 3 of 3 in a series exploring evangelism in the next generation. To really understand the context here, please read the first two posts by clicking here.)
Matt Metzger (@mcmetzger) is the college pastor at Blackhawk Church in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s also a childhood friend of mine whom I’ve looked up to since I was 12. We still chat occasionally and I’m always blown away by his creativity and his passion to see young people follow Jesus. A while back he shared with me about some of the ways they engage people through their ministry. Here in Part 3 of my series on exploring the depths of relational ministry, I want to share Matt’s creativity and paint a portrait of what “creating an experiential framework” really looks like.
Like a lot of ministries geared towards young people, Blackhawk is actively engaged in overseas missions. In one particular case, they’ve been traveling to Honduras for a few years now, building houses and playgrounds in a specific neighborhood. About four years ago, the trip began to evolve into something much bigger.
One of the older leaders in his church decided to go back to school, enrolling in the College for Landscape Architecture (LA.) He quickly developed some meaningingful relationships with his professors, perhaps because he was closer in age to some of them than the typical student at University of Wisconsin. As those relationships grew, a conversation started about the Honduras trip. They discussed what it would look like to bring LA students on the trip, along with the Blackhawk college ministry students. After exploring the idea together, the professors not only supported it, they even offered study abroad credits to the LA students who went.
For this to work, there could be no ‘bait and switch’ type attitude. The church promoted the trip ‘as-is,’ disclosing the underlying reasons and Christ-centered purpose for going. Despite this, LA students signed up quickly. Their job in Honduras was to design playgrounds for the Blackhawk students to install. Many of the standard missions trip elements were present–daily Bible study and worship–but none were mandatory. Instead of preaching, the experience of serving families in Honduras began to reveal the Gospel to these young people. Over the course of the week, many began to sit in on the Bible studies, and many found themselves engaged in deep conversations about spiritual things with the Blackhawk students. Matt tells me there was no ‘us and them’ mentality at all. The students were in this together, and their relationships with each other grew quickly and in a very short period of time. This summer, Blackhawk will head down to Honduras with LA students and students connected in the ministry for the fourth year. Many of the LA students from past trips are going again.
Matt shared with me some of his observations about the students and the trip that I believe can help all of us see the massive value in approaching outreach this way. Firstly, he described the role of relationship. This wasn’t about the church first asking, “With whom can I be intentional about building relationships, and then how can I share Christ with them?” The whole endeavor was built upon existing relationships. Remember that the conversation began when an older leader from the church enrolled in the LA program. His friendships with his professors grew over time, and out of that came the idea to serve together. They never used ‘relationship’ as a technique or mechanism to reach people. The sanctity of the relationships was revered and preserved because there were no pre-existing expectations placed on them. The trip was a partnership, not a tactic.
Secondly, he noted that most of the LA students seemed to be ‘predisposed’ to serving. They were excited enough about doing good that they were willing to deal with their ‘evangelical’ counterparts as bunkmates. A lot of these LA students had some interesting, if not defensive, attitudes about the church. In other words, you would be hard pressed to find them attending a weekend worship service because a classmate extended an invite. Yet, when invited to serve through the church, they jumped at the opportunity. From a generational standpoint, Millennials are innately service-oriented. Giving, serving, welfare, civic-mindedness; these are all concepts found deep in the heart of the Millennials. The last generation to be wired like this is the GI (Veteran) generation, born 1901-1924. For most people alive, the idea that a generation is others-focused is quite foreign. But this is how the Millennials see the world. And this is why the approach works so well with them.
Matt leveled with me, “Adam, if your goal is to see as many people pray a prayer in the shortest time possible, this model is not for you.” The reality is that many of our evangelistic strategies are failing because our metric for effectiveness is out of step with Scripture. Thinking back on our Biblical reference in John 6, we have to remember that Jesus didn’t finish His work with the disciples right then and there. He spent three and a half years with them, providing experiential framework over and over before they really got it. Matt doesn’t do an altar call on the last night of the trip. He allows those conversations to naturally develop long after the students come home.
If we subscribe to the Great Commission, then some of us need to recalibrate what we want to see as a result of our efforts. It’s so easy to feel good about seeing people come forward after a Gospel message. I’m not even questioning whether this can work or not–it does work! Countless people have come into relationship with Christ through hearing and responding. The problem is that because it works for some, we can tend to rely on this as our primary means of evangelism. If it worked for everyone, could you imagine how many people would be in our churches? I know of churches who see hundreds come forward every weekend, but the community isn’t getting any bigger. Where are those people? What happened after they came forward? Despite our best efforts to follow up, the fact is most of these people were caught up in an emotional moment and because there was no experience with which to match the message (or any relationship that an experience would cultivate) the person walks away. At best, they’re a little more open to Jesus… at worst, they go on believing that they’ve secured a place in heaven–they understand Christianity as a religious afterthought rather than an old life transformed into a new life by the Holy Spirit.
After listening to Matt tell me about the LA students who have submitted to Christ through their experience in Honduras, and the students who haven’t, it became quite clear that while this approach is highly effective, it is no magic bullet. If that’s what you’re looking for in your ministry, I think you’ll be looking for a long time. Matt isn’t looking for THE way to reach young people with the Gospel. He has found a Biblical way that makes a lot of sense to the Millennial Generation. Isn’t that what we should all be looking for? The cool part of this is that you don’t need to go to Honduras to do it. My primary focus as a servant of the church is to develop this model in the local context. I would venture to say that we have many more opportunities to do this in our own backyard. It’s reproducable in that we can do it in Nebraska, New York City, Africa; anywhere. It’s contextual in that it’s built upon what’s happening right where you are.
Thanks so much for reading these posts. As I said earlier, we’ve arrived at a very important and special moment in history. Our choices and strategies today will have a trajectory-shaping impact over the next hundred years. I am grateful that you would engage in this exciting conversation! Please post your insights and ideas in the comments below. Also, I would LOVE to serve you. If we can work together to create evangelistic movement through your ministry, please email me at email@example.com. Blessings-
A few days ago I wrote a post titled The Problem With Relational. Though convicted by the ideas, I was convinced I would lose some virtual friends once I made it public. I was unfortunately right… I’ll miss the interaction with those who decided to disassociate themselves with me, but I would respectfully restate I fully believe in what I said. I have also immensely enjoyed the numerous conversations I’ve had over the weekend. My parents (who have been in next gen ministry since 1970) even got in on it and provided compelling and encouraging responses. I’m so thankful for everyone willing to engage this challenging conversation. I believe we are at a very special and extremely important moment in history, especially concerning the church. This is the largest generation gap in recorded history and we’re at the very end of the Modern Age. The choices we make in the next 10 years will be felt long into the future. The way we approach evangelism in particular could potentially determine eternity for generations.
In order to make sense of this post, I would encourage you to read part 1, The Problem With Relational. I’ll be referring to some of the language and concepts introduced there as we explore The Solution To Relational.
In my last post, I made the claim that the Church’s growing mantra of ‘relational’ ministry has led us down a dangerous road. I said, “By replacing the propositional with the relational, we have effectively perceived and employed relationship as a technique. This categorically violates the very nature and sanctity of relationship…” In other words, using ‘relationship’ as a device or mechanism to accomplish a ministry purpose destroys the very thing we’re trying to create. Our whole mission is to develop relationship with others (Christian community) and point people to Christ in hope that they discover new life in a relationship with Him. Relationship is at the heart of the Gospel, but using it to fulfill a purpose devalues everyone involved: you, your friend, and Jesus. The question I left for you at the end of the post was this: “So, if the propositional approach makes no sense to this generation, and if we are to preserve the purity of relationship by resisiting our present inclinations to use it as a means to an end, then where does that leave us?” What’s the solution? How do we engage this generation with the Gospel for the purpose of leading people to Christ and urging each other on in pursuit of deeper intimacy with Him?
Take a look at John 6 for a moment.
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. (John 6:1-13, ESV)
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35-40, ESV)
I have no doubt most of you know this story very well, but I want to explore it from more of an evangelistic approach. The first question needs to be, ‘who did Jesus perform this incredible miracle for?’ At first glance, we naturally assume its purpose was to satisfy the urgent hunger of the masses. And He certainly does, right? The disciples even collected 12 basket-fulls of leftovers–a sign that no one went without a full belly. I would contend, however, that Jesus had a larger purpose for His intercession. I believe Jesus did this (and many of His other works) for His disciples.
Consider the disciples for a moment. Strip away our knowledge of who these men ultimately became and just look at who they are at this point in time. The reality is that the disciples, though they were physically committed to following Jesus, could not at this time be considered ‘Christians’ as you and I consider ourselves. Exploring the validity of that statement is warranted, and I encourage you to do so as I have. I’ve heard some say Peter confirms his conversion just before his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, and some would even claim it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit initiated His indwelling at Pentecost. I believe it’s safe to say though, that at this point in time they were open to the idea of Jesus being God, but they were still on the journey towards that revelation.
So, if the disciples were seekers at this point, and if you consider that the miracle on the hill was done for their benefit, then what was Jesus trying to accomplish? The narrative tells us that while Jesus could have just gotten it done and over with on His own, He instead chooses to include the disciples in both the conversation and the actual work of the miracle. He includes Philip by asking him for a solution to the problem. He includes Andrew by listening to him offer a suggestion–one that to Andrew seemed a bit ridiculous but proved to be central to what Jesus was doing. He included the disciples in the distribution and the collection of the food. Then, later on, Jesus makes a statement. He uses bread as an illustration and makes one of His most powerful presentations of the Gospel that we have on record. Yes, Jesus had a larger purpose in mind for this miracle; the salvation and sanctification of 11 men upon whom He would build His church. He knew these men would not only need to be convinced of the Gospel, He knew they would need to be left with no question of their role in it.
Creating an Experiential Framework
By including the disciples, non-believers with whom He has a relationship, in the work of the ministry, Jesus creates an experiential framework through which He is able to articulate the message of the Gospel in a way that leaves no fodder for argument, no loopholes for relativism, and no room for anything but belief and joy. This is the key to reaching and leading the next generation today, right now.
I can hear some of you say, “Well, we’re doing that. It’s called contextualization.” There’s a key difference between contextualization and creating an experiential framework though. Contextualization seeks to understand existing culture and then develop the message of the Gospel in a way that makes sense in light of it. Creating an experiential framework is environmentally formational–instead of responding to an existing culture, it builds a new culture based on the Gospel. When a non-believer is invited into this new space, he becomes the vessel through which the Gospel flows into others. He experiences its joy, but that joy is often confusing to him and requires explanation. “I am the bread of life…” Verbalizing the Gospel no longer demands lengthy theological propositions to a non-believing friend who now has an experiential framework. Attempts at making sense of the Gospel through fragmented stories and illustrations becomes unnecessary. Like Jesus, we only need to tie the message back to the experience. This inevitably provides the ‘ah-ha!’ moment (Peter says later in John 6, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”) People really get it, no one is confronted, and more importantly, the sanctity of relationship is preserved.
Creating experiential framework means that the church needs to shift the way it sees serving in our cities and communities. We’ve typically approached serving in 2D, if you will. The first dimension is us, the faithful followers of Jesus, seeking to fulfill the mission He began. The second is the recipient of the service: the hungry, the homeless and the hurting. Our hope is that by meeting their physical needs, we will build trust relationships and begin to address their spiritual needs in the process. While countless churches are truly accomplishing God’s work through this approach, it often leads to a ‘project’ or ‘event’ mindset, where we compartmentalize these endeavors. The result is that we create a disconnect between our “Christian lives” and the rest of our life. When that happens, we fail to create an experiential framework and we lose our primary opportunities to point people towards Christ–the people who God places in our lives every day.
Our view of serving in the name of Jesus becomes 3D when we apply John 6.
Dimension 1: US
Dimension 2: THE NEEDY
Dimension 3: OUR NON-BELIEVING FRIENDS
This doesn’t mean in any way that the needy are somehow less important than the others–to Jesus, they were always at the center of His work. Meeting their needs was paramount for Him, and it should be for us as well. But Jesus was inclusive in His methods. In a blink, God could eliminate poverty and hunger completely. Have we considered that maybe He calls us to serve in order to draw us nearer to Him? Of course we have, but John 6 reveals to us that He intends to draw non-believers in also. I’m not suggesting that we start ordaining people who deny Christ, just that we include these friends of ours at the basic levels of serving. We’ve gotten used to inviting our friends to ‘be at’ the church, but Jesus was inviting His friends to ‘become’ the church.
For the sake of your eyes I’m going to finish here, and in a few days I’m going to post Part 3 and give some phenomenal examples of what creating an experiential framework looks like today. That’s right–there are churches and ministries who are doing it and the stories are astounding. In the meantime, I would love your insights. Please join this important conversation and comment below.
The push for a relational approach to evangelism and ministry in general is without a doubt a direct response to long-standing church culture that has over-valued propositionalism. Younger leaders (Gen X and Millennial especially) view attempts to urge a person to faith in Christ by way of intellectual assent as inauthentic and even manipulative. The solution, at least according to many, is to shift away from logic and towards relationship. Seems like an obvious choice, but this presents what I perceive to be a catastrophic problem.
The real issue with propositionalism is not a personal one; it is generational. Boomers (born 1942-1961) and Silents (born 1920-1941) place a high value on logic and therefore almost require truth to be presented by proposition. But that view is not shared by Gen X’ers (born 1962-1981) and Millennials (born 1982-2001); they revere experience over most anything else. However, the issue of trust does concern us personally–it transcends generational tendencies. Here’s the difference though: In the older generations, trust can only be violated; in the younger generations, trust can only be earned. So if you’re dealing with a people group who is generally trusting, even during the intitial stages of acquaintance, and that people group values logic (i.e. Boomers and Silents), then propositionalism would naturally be a highly effective way to engage them for the purpose of sharing truth. There’s nothing wrong with it–it makes sense, it’s authentic to the generation, and it works. In fact, to the Boomers and Silents, it’s… get ready for it… relational! You see, relationships are defined not by time, but by trust. And it generally takes less time to build trust among the older generations than it does for the younger ones. So, the opposite of (hence the solution to) propositional is actually NOT relational.
Here’s the problem: By replacing the propostitional with the relational, we have effectively perceived and employed relationship as a technique. This categorically violates the very nature and sanctity of relationship. The moment we even acknowledge an intention to ‘use’ a relationship for any purpose, it is no longer a relationship; it becomes a vehicle. That fundamentally changes the way we view the other person. It ultimately devalues him and it damages our integrity.
Now, please don’t misinterpret the point here. Relationship is absolutely critical to evangelism, discipleship and Christian community. But it is no more essential now than it ever has been. If you’re a Boomer who grew up in the fifties and sixties, you likely placed a high value on relationship (you still do, I’m certain). When you dismiss “relational” or “friendship” evangelism for example, it’s because to you it seems a bit redundant. The primary complaint members of older generations have against the relational approach is that it lacks substance–but you’ll rarely ever hear a Boomer claim that relationship is unimportant. To them, because trust is initially assumed, relationship is inherent. However, our culture has shifted towards distrust and skepticism, and so trust generally requires more time to establish. We’ve confused this process with ministry strategy, and so we build outreach methodologies that demand measurable outcomes from relationships. From the world’s perspective, setting these kinds of expectations on our relationships can potentially even place us on a level with some of those notorious swindlers we all read about…
The bottom line for me is this: Jesus compels his disciples in Mark 12:31, “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (ESV) In Romans 5:8, Paul describes how Christ provided the perfect model, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV) Paul goes on to distill the nature of this love in Ephesians 5:2, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (ESV) Love is characterized by what we offer, not by what we receive. Sustainable relationship depends on this principle and exists exclusive of any expectation of profit (spiritual or otherwise). A ministry strategy that corrupts this becomes inauthentic and manipulative–just like what we claim of propositionalism.
So, if the propositional approach makes no sense to the younger generations, and if we are to preserve the purity of relationship by resisting our present inclinations to use it as a means to an end, then where does that leave us? I will address this in my very next post, but I’m extremely interested in hearing your thoughts. Do you agree? Disagree? What do you believe is the solution?
PS- I thought I’d include this incredible clip of Danny DeVito from the movie The Big Kahuna. He does an amazing job of describing this concept in his character’s own words.
This is one of six new videos we shot to supplement the current XEE DVD content. Thanks to Pastor John Poitevent and our friends at Christ Fellowship in West Palm Beach, FL for partnering with us on this project. Let me know what you think! And check out the rest of this series at my YouTube Channel.