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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Two Big Reasons Evangelism Isn't Working

  I found this article on the Desiring God Ministries page and, as usual, found some good insight into why evangelism today isn't working.

   We could go to a third world country, and find evangelism working in ways that it doesn't work in America. The dynamic is different. There is more community in nations that aren't so materially prosperous.

   But let's look at the article (written by Jonathan Dodson) and investigate what he has found to be true today, concerning evangelism. (Quotes from the article are in bold and italics).

    Here is his first question and answer. I am not going to comment at the moment, and we want to be careful not to read things into this that he isn't saying, but listen carefully:

The first reason our evangelism isn’t believable is because it isn’t done in grace for each person.
Paul isn’t just saying evangelism is our responsibility; he’s telling us to do it “in person.” Unfortunately, a lot of evangelism is an out of body experience, as if there aren’t two persons in a conversation. It’s excarnate, out of the flesh, not incarnate — in the flesh.
  Evangelism should be personal. Sure, there are ways to get the word of God out via the media, and we all know that God's word does not return back to Him void of it's purpose. But, one of the main characteristics of God is love, and when we love people, we won't treat them as projects or numbers. 
I like what he says about treating people like people, not projects. We think that we are evangelizing when we troll blogs and try to win arguments with people about spiritual matters, but in reality, we lose them. 
These approaches are foolish because they treat people like projects to be completed, not persons to be loved. Have you ever been on the other end of an evangelistic project? Perhaps from a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon at your door. Or a pushy pluralist at work? You don’t feel loved; you feel used, like a pressure sale.

   Evangelism is hard work. Not everyone is ready to hear the bad news, but they must be told. How we tell them matters quite a bit. Do we feel successful if we win an argument with someone who is opposing us? Can we love that person and take time to listen to their story, in order to understand the context of their life? 

     How many books are out and even classes and seminars where you learn how to give a certain answer to a particular objection? How many methods have an evangelistic speech to give or certain sentences to ask the person we are explaining the Gospel to? What happens if a person asks a question that is not covered in the book or the list of responses to objections? Are we ready to help a person understand what God is communicating to him or her?

Paul says “know how you ought to answer each person.” This means that most of your gospel explanations will be different, not canned. It also implies a listening evangelism. How can we know how to respond to each person, if we don’t know each person?

   I am reminded of a video made by Mark Cahill in which he went to a Gay parade in GA. He had a few conversations with people and none of the conversations were alike. I don't know what you think of Mark Cahill, and I know there are some problems with those in evangelism groups with him, but, this man has a handle on how to do evangelism right. We can learn from his experiences and conversations with people. 

   Mark Cahill does not go up to people and speak a couple of words of the Gospel with the hopes of people responding to it. He develops a conversation with people and some of those conversations on the video were very long. He asks a lot of questions and he is careful to let the other person speak. I noticed in one of the conversations he was having with a woman, her daughter, and a friend who was a guy. At the beginning of the conversation, the guy would not talk much. Most of the first part of the conversation was between Mark and the two women. The man was very conservative. But whenever any of them had something to say, Mark would stop what he was saying and give the other person the mic. By the end of the conversation, the man was opening up and talking as if he had been a friend of Mark's all along. 

    Friends, we are not going to persuade anyone of the value of the Gospel by winning arguments or controlling the conversation. People have blocks in front of their eyes that keep them from seeing the Gospel clearly. If we just keep ranting and pressing the Gospel on them, the blocks will still be there. They need to be removed and this could take a lot of time.

When Francis Schaeffer was asked how he would spend an hour with a non-Christian, he said: “I would listen for fifty-five minutes, and then, in the last five minutes I would have something to say.”

   I am a firm believer in talking with people about the Gospel. I want to hear their objections. I hate it when they make assumptions of what they think I am going to say to them. I never want anyone to feel like I am pressuring them to respond to the Gospel. But what I do want, is for them to take the word of God home with them, and have them ponder the words of truth. I want them to be disturbed, but not because I am the cause of their disturbance! I want them to wrestle with God's word. And if they feel comfortable enough around me, I want them to contact me for further help and information. 

   This reminds me of a story of D.L. Moody in an evangelism encounter he had one night. Under a street light, Moody was sharing the Gospel with a businessman. The businessman was not happy after that and must have complained to his boss. The boss came after Moody and hollered at him for evangelizing the businessman. Moody was disappointed in that situation. Had he done something wrong? A couple of days later, there was banging on his door. The businessman banged on Moody's door to tell him that ever since he talked with him a couple of nights before, he had not had a good night's sleep! Moody was able to minister the Gospel to this man! 

A second reason people find our evangelism unbelievable is because it is foolish.

Paul isn’t just telling us evangelism is personal; he’s telling us to do it with wisdom. Wisdom possesses more than knowledge; it expresses knowledge through understanding. It considers life circumstances and applies knowledge with skill. Another word for this is love.
     Evangelism should be personable. The Gospel is the Gospel and nothing will ever change it. But the way we reach people with it will vary with each person. 

   The Gospel should be administered in love. After all, God is love. Love is not another word for tolerating sin. It is not a word that allows us to stay in our sins. In a way put by someone, it is not a 'pampering love'. 

   God loves us. That doesn't mean that He is giving us permission to sin, just because He 'understands'. I used to think to myself, if God loves us so much, then He would not send us to hell. But rather than God just allowing us into heaven with our sins, (which He can't do anyway), He provided a way for us to not only be forgiven of our sins, but also for us to be free from sin and its entrapments. His love made a way for salvation. It doesn't skip over the need for salvation. It provides the person with salvation. 

   Perhaps we are so afraid of creating false converts if we talk about God's love, or even if we show or experience God's love. Somehow, we think that people will misunderstand about sin if we have love in our hearts for God and for them. But nothing can be further than the truth. We can evangelize out of the love of God in our hearts. God will make it clear to those who are His, concerning His love and their need for a Savior. 

Love is inefficient. It slows down long enough to understand people and their objections to the gospel. Love recognizes people are complex, and meets them in their need: suffering, despair, indifference, cynicism, confusion. We should look to surface these objections in people’s lives. I was recently having lunch with an educated professional who had a lot of questions. After about thirty minutes he said, “Enough about me. You’re asking me questions. I should ask you questions.” I responded by saying, “I want to hear your questions, but I also want to know you so that I can respond to your questions with wisdom.” He told me some very personal things after that, and it shed a lot of light on his objections to Christianity. 

       Love is also inconvenient. It involves time and dedication. We as Americans today are not used to doing things that are hard. 

Rehearsing a memorized fact, “Jesus died on the cross for your sins,” isn’t walking in wisdom. Many people don’t know what we mean when we say “Jesus,” “sin,” or “cross.” While much of America still has cultural memory of these things, they are often misunderstood and confused with “moral teacher,” “be good,” and “irrelevant suffering.” We have to slow down long enough to explore what they mean, and why they have trouble with these words and concepts. Often they are tied to some kind of pain.

    Some people are so troubled by certain things like, 'What about those who never heard the Gospel?' and 'Why would a loving God allow children to die every day from hunger?'. Don't ignore these questions. When you are talking to a person, and if you have not allowed him or her to express what they are thinking or ask questions, they are not even going to hear what you are saying. 

  Again, I go back to an incident explained by Mark Cahill. He was sharing the Gospel with people and a young man was very angry. Mark was able to develop a conversation with this young man, and the young man opened up and explained what his difficulty was. His sister went to a youth meeting one night and was raped afterward. This young man experienced a lot of emotions and pain because of that, and when he heard Mark explaining the Gospel to him, it reminded him of that painful event which involved some bitterness toward Christians, I am sure. 

We need to explain these important truths (and more), not simply assert them. When we discerningly separate cultural misunderstanding from a true understanding of the gospel, we move forward in wisdom. But getting to that point typically doesn’t happen overnight.
We need to see evangelism as a long-term endeavor. Stop checking the list and defeating others. Be incarnate, not excarnate, in your evangelism. Slow down and practice listening and love. Most conversions are not the result of a single, point-in-time conversation, but the culmination of a personal process that includes doubt, reflection, gospel witness, love, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
And remember, don’t put pressure on yourself; conversion is in God’s hands. We just get to share the incomparable news of Jesus.
In sum, how you communicate the gospel matters.
  So, there you have it, an article rich in wisdom on the subject of doing evangelism. I hope this is helpful to all my readers. The article was written by Jonathan Dodson, for the Desiring God Ministries. 

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