Posts Tagged ‘sharing the gospel’
photo credit: http://www.maclife.com
I guess I’ve been a student of evangelism since I was a kid. I’ve learned and taught many of the current and prevailing Gospel presentations, many of which tend to be pretty complicated. One of them has 93 points in its outline! With all the complexity, I think we can sometimes lose the essence of the message, and worse, lose the listener to confusion. To be sure, the Gospel is not simplistic–in fact it’s wrought with paradox. But presenting it ought to be simple.
It’s just my opinion, but if you had to point to the best verbal Gospel presentation ever, I think it would be Jesus’ words in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Simple, and simultaneously for the individual and for all humanity. This one statement encapsulates both the doorway to the Gospel and the object of its hope. “Repent and believe…” tells us how to participate in the Gospel. “…the Kingdom of God is at hand” tells us what ‘in’ is–the Kingdom. It also tells us where and when–here and now!
It’s all there in one simple statement.
I think it’s a bit like the original iPod. Though its internal components were incredibly complex and made no sense to someone who wasn’t a student of the technology, it’s user interface was ridiculously simple: one giant button. Literally anyone and everyone could access and utilize its inner workings.
If we’re going to build Gospel presentations or teach people how to engage in conversations about the Good News, shouldn’t they be like the iPod?
photo credit: http://shinilkumar.blogspot.com
Over the last few years, I’ve had a handful of evangelistic experiences with friends who, at one point in their lives, made what seemed to be a viable, authentic commitment to following Christ, who have now slowly wandered away from their faith. Lately I’ve been thinking that we don’t spend nearly enough time talking about how to engage meaningfully under these circumstances–most of the church’s focused evangelism training measures are geared towards sharing Christ with a person who has, to that point, operated outside the worldview and culture of Christian living.
But how do you share answers to life’s biggest questions with someone who already knows them?
I believe this issue will become increasingly critical in the US and other developed, ‘Westernized’ nations over the next few years (in fact, it very much has already). The reason is that these cultures are becoming saturated with the ‘information of Christianity.’ Regardless of the plentiful misconceptions out there, most people in the colonized world have heard in one way or another that Jesus is the answer. The two responses are obvious: one person will ultimately agree and follow Him, and ten others with choose to disagree and continue their search. For both types, the issue isn’t that they haven’t heard. It’s that they’ve heard and made up their mind already.
Great for those who choose to submit, but what about those who walk away? Is the Christian community even thinking about them? Have we written them off? Because we shared the Gospel using our ‘tool of choice,’ EE, FAITH, Two Ways To Live, Way of The Master, Romans Road, 4 Spiritual Laws, does that mean we’re out of content and we have nothing left to say? Are we ‘shaking the dust off our sandals’ and moving on? If so, why???
I have to believe in God’s perfect timing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short time on Earth, it’s that the details of God’s will are His. I don’t have to know them. He’s revealed His larger Will through Scripture, and it’s up to us to be faithful followers… even if that means going back to a person multiple times. My friend Chris said it well when we were team teaching a few years ago. He asked our audience of pastors and Christ followers, “Who of you, by a raise of your hands, gave your life to Christ after the first time you heard the Gospel?” Silence. Not one hand went up in a room of 50. “How about after the second time?” Still nothing. “After the fifth?” One hand went up. Chris got to ten times I think before we finally saw the majority of hands go up. Ten times! If this is true for us, it seems like a double standard to immediately dismiss a person if they reject Christ after we share.
I alluded to this a moment ago, but perhaps the issue is our training. Most of it fits within a pretty narrow scope of what, when and how we ought to share Christ. When we’re faced with a situation that falls outside of those parameters, we’re on our own to figure it out. I’ll bet this is when most Christians lose interest in continuing on in their evangelistic efforts. It’s probably not even a ‘shake the dust of your sandals’ kind of attitude. It’s more likely, “I don’t know where to go from here. We weren’t really planning for this…”
Alright. I’m going to outline the approach I find myself using in situations like these. I’m only going to outline them, because I want you to process them and expand upon them in the comments below. I want this post to be truly communal and collaborative. So PLEASE engage in the discussion! There are tons of people who need to learn from you!
Far too often we pray that God would bring us the low-hanging fruit. Our passion deteriorates, though, for the stubborn ones. We justify ceasing our prayers for these people because we’re convinced there will always be those out there who eagerly want to know more–who are genuinely searching for Christ. “Lord, bring me in front of those people. I know I’ll be able to impact them.” Go back and begin praying for the people in your life who have said ‘no’ in the past. You’ll find out that more than a few of them were really just saying ‘not now.’
For me, the MOST IMPORTANT part of engaging with a person who has ‘already heard’ is: listening. Don’t gloss over that. Listening is probably the most difficult thing to do in a conversation. We pay lip service to its importance, but most of us fail to discipline ourselves well enough to make it the centerpiece of our interactions. But if it’s not, we’re sunk. Simple as that. In one friendship, I spent a year and a half just listening. A YEAR AND A HALF! I kept my mouth shut and just let him process. Every sentence that came out of my mouth ended in a question mark. After all that time, he finally asked me a question…
…The answer I gave him changed everything. That was the moment he truly came into a relationship with Christ. One answer to one question. The reason it came to that is because the words were simply not my own. I was determined to fully trust the Holy Spirit to populate my language. I had never heard those words come out of my mouth before, I had never seen them in evangelism training, and the words probably wouldn’t have any impact on any other person. It was a moment where God spoke directly to my friend, and I just got to be there when it happened. The result speaks for itself… he is growing daily closer to God and actively leading others towards Christ. It is one of the greatest stories I’ve ever been a part of.
Pray. Listen. Trust. It might sound simple, but it isn’t. Simple is having a planned presentation. This is messy. You’re dealing with the messiness of people, the messiness of sin, the messiness of an initially rejected and often misinterpreted Message. Sharing Christ with someone who has already heard requires you to let go of time constraints and conventional evangelism metrics. If you can do it, though, my experience bears witness to the incalculable joy that God is waiting to pour over you.
OK, the phone lines are open. Someone please write the rest of this post. What have you found effective in reaching out to friends who have already heard? What has failed? What attitudes must you have? What’s your approach? What am I missing? What do I need to change about my process?
photo credit: http://stickyjesus.com
I want to tell you about a very good friend of mine. Her name is Tami. Our friendship is like many of my friendships–built on trust, respect, admiration, humility, faithfulness, prayer for each other’s families. We’ve known each other for about a year now, and she has quickly become one of my biggest advocates (and I her) and a mentor of sorts. We probably touch base every other day or so as we partner together in ministry on various initiatives. I feel like I’ve known her my whole life.
All this sounds pretty normal, right? Well, there’s one little caveat… I’ve never actually met Tami. Face to face. In person. We’ve never even been in the same city at the same time. That’s right. Tami and I connected over Twitter and continue to grow as friends and co-laborers over that platform as well as Facebook and Skype. My friendship with Tami is a great example of just how much our world is changing through Internet technology and social media.
Even in recent years, many have chuckled at the idea of ‘virtual’ friendship, and companies like eHarmony still have stigma attached to them. Despite the tendencies for many still to balk at the notion of meaningful human connections over the web, the fact is this is the way our world is shifting. I can bear witness to this, from my friendship with Tami, to mornings where I will have personal conversations with people in Russia, Malaysia, South Africa, Ghana, Jamaica and Fort Lauderdale (where I live), all while sipping the same chai tea in my local Starbucks. The fact that our world is growing exponentially more connected every day has tremendously profound and exciting implications regarding how Jesus followers ought to live out the Great Commission.
This is the reason why Tami (@tamiheim) and her friend Toni (@tonibirdsong) have collaborated to write @stickyJesus: How To Live Out Your Faith Online. In this super-easy-to-read book, Tami and Toni provide an incredible blueprint for us to meaningfully engage online in a way that honors and points to Christ.
Of course, more and more resources are produced on this topic as we go forward, but this is a book that you absolutely must read. The reason is simple but staggering. While most books like this explain cultural context first and then talk about how to retro-fit the message of the Gospel accordingly, @stickyJesus approaches the idea from the opposite direction. This book articulates the unchangeable Gospel context first, and then reveals how we can invite our lost friends into that space via the social sphere. If you know my writing, you know that I believe this is the foundational principle from which most thinkers on the subject of evangelism fail to originate their ideas and methodologies. Most begin with current culture, I think we should begin with the Gospel. And so do Tami and Toni.
Whether you dabble on Facebook or curate an influential cross-platform network, it is critically important that you read this book as soon as you can. For the casual participant, it will provide a language and framework for natural intentionality in your online interactions for the sake of making Jesus known. For the social media savvy, it will recalibrate your skill set for eternal significance and provide a wise ‘voice over your shoulder’ as you craft your status updates and responses each day.
I’m writing this post as more of an endorsement than a review on purpose. I’m hoping that once you’re done reading it, you will simply be inspired to click on the link below and get the book now. Endorsements tend to work better that way sometimes… Anyway, if you’ve read the book, please include your thoughts in the comments. If you read this and then read the book, please come back and let us know your thoughts.
I post this with a thankful prayer for my friendship with Tami, in hopes that her and Toni’s wisdom might have the same impact on you as it has on me for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.
Blessings and #LiveSticky!
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.)
I reached a place beyond my limits yesterday.
My brother Matt (@matthew_bond) and I rode our bikes from Menlo Park, CA to Half Moon Bay–a 23 mile journey that took us through a forest, over a thousand foot high mountain, and ultimately to the Pacific Ocean. For many, this would have been a low-intensity Sunday activity, but for me it pressed my body to the very breaking point of my physical capabilities.
It began to look bleak only 20 minutes in when I suffered a severe cramp in my foot. Later my brother would tell me that when he saw me fall to the pavement in pain he was convinced we would be turning back at any moment. I kneaded the cramp out and climbed back on with determination, only to wince as the cramp returned immediately. The night before our ride, I watched a documentary film that followed a well-known German cycling team through the 2004 Tour de France. Its images of crashes, gashes, concussions and perseverance flashed in my mind as I pedaled up the long gentle slope in front of us. If they could do that, then I could do this. We continued forward towards the main 4 mile climb which wouldn’t begin for another 30 minutes. Matt set up a draft that allowed me to recover and rest–30mph over flat and and lazily descending roads to our final checkpoint.
We rested for a moment at the base of the mountain and Matt gave me one more chance to back out. “We can either continue or go back, but if we continue now, we will have to finish no matter what.” I looked at him through clouded eyes. “This is not a choice. We’re going.” He half smiled and climbed on his bike. Around the first corner the ferocity of the ascent confronted me. Steeply up a narrow winding road we went, at a snail’s pace. The pain increased rapidly and my heart began to pound out of my chest. A mile in, as I was losing all sense of my situational awareness, I suddenly felt a hand on my lower back. I glanced to the left and saw my brother arduously spinning with one hand on his bars… he was pushing both of us up the mountain–legs for him and right hand for me. His calm voice occasionally broke the ambient hum of my breath, my bike and the traffic around us. “This is a good pace. Keep pedaling. We can almost see the top. Keep pedaling.” More images of emaciated German cyclists nursing their wounds and launching day after day into the Pyrenees switchbacks strobed behind my eyelids as I fought total collapse.
Finally we reached the summit after 23 minutes of blinding agony up 829 vertical feet. I unclipped and sat down. My lungs burned as I shallowly pumped the 40 degree air in out, in out. Stars danced in my periphery. I couldn’t put a single thought together. “That was… sick,” I heard my brother quietly cheer. For him really, it was nothing. He’s done over 40,000 miles on his current bike in the last four years. But for me, with just over 200 miles in the last 2 months, it was the impossible made possible. The last 7 miles led us down the western face at 50mph–an experience more frightening than painful–to a beached fishing trawler (which painted an accurate portrait of my emotional disposition at the moment), and finally to a small cliff–a club-level seat to the Pacific sunset in Half Moon Bay. We had done it. But how?
As I wax contemplative about what happened yesterday, it occurs to me that living a Gospel-centered life significantly compares to my cycling experience. If you’re truly living out the Gospel, then you will almost immediately come up against barriers–cramps that will try to convince you to quit early. Realistically, those cramps will never really go away. Living like Jesus isn’t about overcoming obstacles, it’s about hope-fueled forward movement despite the things that stand in your way.
Perhaps the most compelling revelation came to me as I thought about the ascent. The motivation and determination to do something impossible came not from my focus on the present, but from what I had observed in those German warriors, and from the hand of one far more experienced, placed firmly on my back. We cannot expect the impossible from ourselves if we refuse to study those who have gone before us or deny the assistance of those around us who are stronger. In order to share and live out the Gospel every day, we must FIRST saturate ourselves with the Gospel itself by humbly looking to those who have done it before and those who are doing it in front of us.
Ephesians 4:11-13 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (ESV)
This is the first purpose of evangelism, to build up the body of Christ–each other–in order to accomplish what we see as impossible; that is the expansion of God’s Kingdom through the news of a Savior and Redeemer. Before you set out to change the world through the Gospel, you must first live as one changed by the Gospel. You must share the Gospel with yourself. You must become an internal evangelist.
If they can do that, then I can do this.