This is the second post in the series “Making Evangelism Less Fuzzy”. In the introductory post I suggested 3 broad contexts or “fishing pools” that a church interacts with simultaneously – Friends, Neighbours and Kids. Of course you may discern more or different “pools”, but I do recommend keeping it simple.
I defined the “Friends” pool as people whose names we know. People with whom we have an existing relationship. So “Friends” is a broad category that includes family, colleagues, acquaintances and even enemies! And it includes local neighbours in your street whom you know.
Evangelism with friends needs to take a different approach to that with strangers. In Acts 17, Paul does some magnificent evangelism at the Areopagus. As a newcomer to their setting, he brought good news in a way they could relate to. But should we then do the same thing among our relatives at Christmas lunch, or in the staff room at work? I think not. So here are some suggestions. They are by no means exhaustive – in fact barely scratching the surface. I am really just suggesting a framework with which real, tangible, practical conversations can be had that will lead to more fruitful mission.
1. Exemplary Life
The people we know also know us. They see us at our best and also at our worst. So the message, the impression they get from us is more action than words. Now, none of us are perfect. But that shouldn’t stop us from (a) being open about our struggles and failures, (b) being quick to apologize when we hurt or let people down, (c) thinking back over the history we share with people and making right, where possible, wrongs from the past, and (d) pressing on to live lives that are really worthy of the gospel. Putting off sin, putting on righteousness. “Live such good lives among the pagans,” writes Peter, “that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Let your light shine. Go that extra mile. Turn the other cheek. Love the people you know with the love of God.
I’d like to give three easy steps to this. But there’s every chance the easy steps have already been taken. It’s hard. All I can say is that in the ongoing pursuit of a godly life, don’t compare yourself with the people you’re sent to, or even with your fellow sacred agents. Fix your eyes on Jesus and press on into the transformation he wants to work in you by his Spirit. And spend time with heroes who will spur you on. I can’t read Peter’s “Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong…” verse without thinking about Daniel in Babylon and the practices that sustained him (prayer 3 times a day etc, but that’s for another post).
2. Prayer By Name
It’s a powerful thing to name people before God in prayer. And in this pool, you at very least have that advantage – you know people’s names. A church can hardly help but be fruitful evangelistically if it forms the habit of interceding for the thousands of people in its personal network by name. I just can’t see God letting it happen.
In my early days as a youth pastor we had the grand idea of forming the youth into a “Prayer Force”. In typical OTT style, we divided everyone into “squadrons” and each group was to pray for friends by name, a few blocks of the neighbourhood specifically, and an overseas missionary. Well, designing the logos and everything was fun, but putting into practice – well, it fizzled. My particular group met for a few weeks, gradually decided that “prayer-walking” our few blocks was less boring that sitting around praying. But even that didn’t last for long. I put it down as being an “odea” instead of an “idea” and moved on. But about a year later, our list of people to pray for turned up somewhere, and we were stunned to realize that fully half of the people on the list had come to know Christ! We were hopeless, but God wasn’t!
3. Literature Evangelism
Literature – in which I include video and other media – is a greatly under-utilized tool in evangelism. Too often when we think of evangelism we picture ourselves doing all the explaining – at least I do. But there are others who do it particularly well. Like CS Lewis. In the 60-second window of opportunity when my friend is open and interested, I could fumble my way through an overview of 2 Ways To Live or Bridge to Life or Four Spiritual Laws – but it’s likely to end up with what my friend YanYan calls “massive awkies” (significant awkwardness). Alternatively, if I use that 60 seconds to say “I think you might be really interested in this book – it’s by CS Lewis, you know, the guy who wrote the Narnia books and all that.” Well then, if my friend takes up and read, instead of 60 awkward seconds from me, they are likely to spend hours hearing from one of the most eloquent advocates of Christianity history has known. And the further advantage is this – the message is coming from CS Lewis, not me. I can have a safer conversation about my friend’s response simply by saying “Well, what did you think of that?” My existing relationship with my friend is not compromised – and if they are not receptive, the friendship lives to fight another day.
Churches could invest so much more in this. It does take preparation – that is, buying up great books (and videos etc) and having them handy to give away. Search them out. Apart from Lewis’ Mere Christianity, I have seen Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz be well received. The trick is to have a stash, a supply of a range of the best stuff. Any other suggestions or recommendations?
4. Invitational Evangelism
The same benefit applies to inviting a friend to an event that will feature a gospel presentation of some sort by someone else. You get to be the supporting friend, the beggar helping another beggar find food, rather than playing the soup kitchen to your friend – a power imbalance they would no doubt sense. Of course, it’s a bigger thing for a person to come to a Christian event with you, than for them to read a Christian book you lend them. So be wise with this.
5. Sudden Opportunites
Be on the look out and indeed pray for these! You never know what they are going to look like, but every now and then you’re with a friend and that window opens up. They might voice a deep wonder about the meaning of life. Or have a sudden emergency. Or be particularly cruel to you. These are powerful moments where your response is likely to get past their exterior defences. We all can think back over such opportunities missed. The trick is to be ready – somehow – for them. With experience and growth in Christian character it perhaps happens more naturally. But it doesn’t hurt at all to ask the Holy Spirit to help you spot the moment and be used powerfully by him in it.
OK, so that’s just a few thoughts off the top of my head. Leave a comment to fill it out some more. But this can be a great exercise to do in a group with a whiteboard.
Next post in this series will be on Evangelism with Neighbours… …stay tuned!