Toward a More Respectful Evangelism

IMG_2442Consider the following two scenarios. The first one is completely true. The second is typical of countless, undoubtedly numbering in the billions, of encounters that have occurred throughout the history of Christendom.

Scenario 1: Na’aman (not his real name) came into our ministry tent at a festival in the UK. Na’aman was an atheist who was deeply troubled and hoped we could help. We told Na’aman that we would be calling on our Creator for wisdom so that we could help him. Though he was an atheist, he was ok with that. We did not suggest to him that he needed to acknowledge the Creator. He got some serious and very visible healing for some very painful emotional wounds. Over the course of the remainder of the festival, it was obvious he was experiencing a peace that he had not possessed previously.

Months later, I was at the Burning Man festival in the U.S. On a brilliant, hot morning, I was shocked and delighted to see Na’aman walking across the playa in my direction. He had found me! No easy feat at a festival of 70,000! We talked for a long time about a lot of things. Na’aman’s life had changed. His relationships with others had changed. He was at peace. I talked to him briefly about my Creator. I didn’t preach at him or push him to do anything. We had a big hug, and he went his way, promising to stay in touch.

Scenario two: A man is approached on the street by two others. Pleasant conversation occurs, but the man wonders what these two men want. Soon, the two begin talking about Jesus. The first man is polite, but on guard, because he knows from experience what is coming. Sure enough, the two men begin to press for some sort of acknowledgment about the things they are telling him. The first man politely thanks the two, says he will keep their suggestions in mind, extracts himself from the encounter, and goes his way. Or, in a variation of this scenario, the two become belligerent and the first man becomes angry.

In one of these scenarios, a seed was planted. In the other, a wall was built.

In his book, “The Celtic Way Of Evangelism”, George G. Hunter III writes: “Bluntly stated, the Roman model for reaching people…is this: (1) present the Christian message; (2) invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians; (3) if they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship. The Roman model seems very logical to us because most American Christians are scripted by it! We explain the gospel, they accept Christ, and we welcome them into the church. Presentation, decision, assimilation —what could be more logical than that?”

Hunter goes on to contrast this with what he calls “the Celtic model”, which he attributes to the early Celtic saints beginning with St. Patrick: “(T)he…Celtic model for reaching people: (1) establish community with people or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith; (2) within fellowship, engage in conversation, ministry, and worship; and (3) in time, as they discover that they now believe, invite them to commit.”

I personally prefer and even more light handed approach than Hunter seems to describe. I try follow as closely as I know how the example set by Jesus himself, who was seemingly aloof and hands off (by Roman and evangelical standards – in other words, by those of Christendom), always leaving the choice to the individual. Operating under this model, it’s not unusual to see people doing Kingdom work alongside believers before they actually come forward to state that they, too, believe. I don’t ever want to be accused of “selling” Christianity, or of pushing anyone into making a decision. I just want to do the best I can, poor as that attempt may be, to be Jesus to others.

It’s frustrating and extremely difficult to explain to traditional church people that, by far, the biggest obstacle to people coming to Jesus is the way the church has behaved toward those on the outside, and this includes the way the Gospel, or Good News, is communicated, which seldom sounds like good news at all. I once had a witch tell me that, though the group I was part of (which was ministering in Salem, MA – witch city USA) was cool, we were not the church. He then pointed to a street preacher with a bullhorn about a block away who was yelling at people, and said, “THAT is the church!” It’s heartbreaking to have to try to overcome a lifetime of negative experiences in the heart of a non-Christian when you represent such a tiny minority of believers.

We are living in a post-Christian society, for a lot of reasons, perhaps, but one reason is that Christendom has made itself irrelevant. It’s troubling and embarrassing to me that for most of its history, the Church has not behaved like Jesus did. I used to think just like the Church I am now finding fault with, and I remember being troubled that Jesus was terrible at “closing the deal”; Why didn’t Jesus ever lead anyone to Christ?? He was a terrible evangelist! That is how I thought, because that is how I was taught. Hunter attributes this mindset to Western logical thinking.

It’s refreshing today to see so many believers moving toward a more Jesus-like approach to Kingdom living. Within the institutional hierarchy of the church, though some leaders are recognizing the rightness of this, most of them are finding it very hard to make the switch completely. That is because hierarchy, as we understand it, is contrary to any genuine expression of the Kingdom. But that’s a subject for another blog post.

I welcome all comments, especially those who may take issue with my remarks.

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2 Comments on “Toward a More Respectful Evangelism”

  1. Jeffrey Stevens says:

    Thank you Dennis for sharing your story. In some instances I find it mirrors my own journey I appreciate the courage it took for you to write about your personal experience in the Faith. Your thoughts here gave me encouragement. May your life continued to be blessed with enlightenment as the evolution of your Faith continues.

    Jeff Stevens

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  2. Katie Malone says:

    Leading by example ,, planting seeds ,, Sometimes I feel like I have been a horrible example of a christian ! But then someone tells me that I’ve had an effect on their decision to follow Christ or they look at me and ask ,, ” So where do you go to church?”. I picture myself on a path and God has left me a popcorn trail. I try to leave the trail where it is so others can see it too and follow along ,,, most days I eat it! Which causes those following me to get lost ,, but I go back to the Lord with my head hung low ,, apologize for eating his clues and ask him to replenish my supply,, lay them down again.
    Last week i saw a man on the corner yelling thru a bull horn bits of scripture. There were others crowding the corner having conversations with passersby. I purposefully put myself in their midst hoping they would approach me,,,but they didn’t. I crossed the street thinking ,,, not many people will follow their popcorn. But The Spirit quickly reminded me,,, God is everywhere and he will use anyone anytime anywhere. That settled me and gave me peace. I can’t imagine me ever approaching someone about their belief in Christ and also asking them to make a decision there in front of me. But I do believe that for some that will be how they meet him. I am grateful I met him thru attraction of Christian begavior,, I followed the lead of someone else’s example. They planted a seed in me ,,, and I truly believe that for many many more ,, this will be how they meet Jesus. I’m super glad that you are a farmer of Christians ,,, planting seeds. You may never be around to witness their growth ,, but that’s not why you do it 🙂

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