The fear of the E-word

In the November issue of Presbyterians Today, I share an article that gives 3 basic steps to overcome your personal fear of evangelism.

Sometimes called “the e-word,” as if evangelism is an unspeakable curse word, personal evangelism is generally not a regular discipline among believers in mainline churches because of associations with pushy street preachers.

Here is a snippet from the article:

Street Preacher EvangelismWhen it comes to personal evangelism, the street preacher is the negative go-to stereotype. The common reaction is “I don’t want to do that.”

Though a few are indeed gifted to be effective street preachers (and I’ve done it myself in parks and city streets), the rest of us want a more natural way to share our faith.

Easier done than said

The problem for many people is that talking about faith is difficult.

In the final hours of my mother’s life, she whispered, “I’ve always believed in Jesus; I just didn’t talk about it.” Others have told me that they hope that their good behavior is enough of a sermon that they don’t need to say anything. Ernest L. Gardner III, interim pastor at Philadelphia Presbyterian Church in Mint Hill, North Carolina, says, “I have found that cradle Presbyterians are more accustomed to having their church doors open to visitors than [they are] to engaging others directly about what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

There are many reasons we choose not to talk about our faith. We don’t want to participate in high-pressure tactics or in the kinds of emotional manipulation seen on television. We don’t want our friends to think we’re foolish or simple-minded. Nor do we want to be perceived as combative or disrespectful of others’ deeply held religious beliefs. Laura Long, pastor of Clinchfield Presbyterian Church in Marion, North Carolina, says, “People don’t want to be perceived as nosy about another person’s beliefs.”

We may feel that we lack the skills or knowledge to effectively discuss being a follower of Jesus. I remember hearing an evangelist compare, point by point, the beliefs of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. I began to panic because I knew I couldn’t give a presentation like that. When we’re challenged about the existence of God, or about why we believe that God is love and that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, we may feel as if we can’t give a reasonable defense of our belief.

In a way, we sometimes undermine ourselves. If we aren’t nurturing our relationship with Christ, we’ll miss out on God’s work in our life; we won’t recognize how God is transforming us, leading us, using us, or teaching us. And that can affect how we witness to others. According to pastor Geoff McLean of Christ Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia, “If we don’t appreciate the changes that God works in our life, we have little to say . . . about the relevance of following Jesus.”

Finally, we may feel uncomfortable about sharing our faith because we haven’t thought about how to explain the gospel in a simple way. A friend once asked me, “Chris, what is the gospel?” My obtuse, 10-minute, directionless explanation taught me that, even though I had two seminary degrees, I couldn’t explain the gospel in simple terms. I was not prepared.

I interviewed a couple of Presbyterian pastors, some of whom are using the Engage curriculum on personal evangelism.  That resource is one that I can recommend.  It uses some of the same principles that I teach in my own evangelism seminars about watching for spiritual thirst and engaging people in intentional conversation.

To read the 3 basic steps I share, click through to read the whole article, or read this snippet:

These basic steps can help:

1. Talk about your own experiences with Jesus, not just your church.

Talking about your church is easy, but talking about your own experiences is more meaningful. You might describe how the wisdom of Scripture is helping you in some difficult season in your life. You might talk about how you see the Lord answering particular prayers. Or you might describe how the Lord has used you in some ministry.

2. Talk about how you became a follower of Jesus, not just a member of your church.

I’ve found that many Presbyterians have difficulty answering the question “When did Jesus become real to you?” It’s not that they don’t have faith but that they lack words to express that faith. Think back to some season in your life when it was clear that you had an encounter with Jesus. Try to describe that experience without using overly religious words.

3. Talk about the gospel of Christ, not just your church’s weekend message.

You may find it easy to talk about Sunday’s sermon or even why you were moved by the anthem the choir sang. While those are good to talk about, we need to know the core content of the gospel of Jesus Christ and be able to explain it in a meaningful way to people who may have never read the Bible.

Due to space requirements, I didn’t put a fourth one in there, but here is one that I would add:

4.  Talk about the difference Jesus has made in your life, not just your church programs that do good.

You may find it easy to share how you give to the food pantry, tutor a child, or repair the car of a single mom.  But how has becoming a follower of Christ changed you?  Could you share your hope filled testimony story in two phrases?

TAKE THE NEXT STEP

As you ponder how you and your congregation might grow as evangelists, know that you are not alone in this sometimes difficult journey.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Evangelism and Church Growth ministry area is here to support you.

  • To watch the Engage video series, download related resources, and order the three-part printed curriculum: pcusa.org/engage
  • To partner with New Beginnings as you envision a new future for your congregation and come up with a strategy to make it happen: whatisourfuturestory.com
  • To connect with staff, find more resources, and get information on the next Evangelism and Church Growth Conference: pcusa.org/ecg

photo credit: nan palmero via cc

Is Relational Evangelism in the Old Testament?

God's been good to meA reader submitted a question about evangelism in the Old Testament.

I’d love to be steered toward some Old Testament passages that relate to “Relational Evangelism” any passages come to mind?

Part of how I answer the question is rooted in how I define evangelism and relational evangelism.  So let’s start with these

My definition of evangelism

I consider evangelism as the entire process

  • of a person awakening to their spiritual restlessness
  • seeking answers to that restlessness
  • hearing how Jesus is the way God satisfies that thirst.
  • hearing about our sinful condition before God.
  • hearing the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and our need to repent
  • the call to place faith in Christ and live as a follower of Jesus.

Every conversation about faith, every rumination in the late night hours, every invitation to church, every sermon heard, every bible verse read, every small group conversation all become “seeds” that that the Lord uses in the drawing process.

Since I’m a Presbyterian pastor, I choose to use an excellent definition of personal evangelism, as adopted by the General Assembly (1990).

Joyfully sharing the good news of the sovereign love of God, and calling people to repentance, to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, to active membership in the church, and to obedient service in the world.

I’ve written about this definition before.  See these articles:

This definition of evangelism has guided me since the early part of the last decade and I have chosen to live it out in my own personal lifestyle of evangelism.

Evangelism involves me telling the first hand stories of God’s activity in my life.  In the course of doing that, I can talk about how I started my relationship with Christ and how my friends can do the same.

A stricter definition of Evangelism

A stricter definition of evangelism would focus exclusively on the presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ.

In this view, all of the process leading up to the sharing of the gospel would be “pre-evangelistic” seed planting.  An example of this is seen in Doug Cecil’s book “7 Principles of the Evangelistic Life”

Evangelism is an event and not a process. We are to do the work of an evangelist. The definition of evangelism has two main parts: information and invitation. One part without the other is out of balance. One should not think of presenting an invitation without any information. And likewise, providing only the information without an invitation to trust Christ will leave the listener frustrated and still unsaved. After a person trusts Christ, instruction in the spiritual life starts the person down the road toward spiritual maturity.”

On the one hand, I agree with his definition of evangelism.  A strict biblical interpretation of meaning of evangelism would be the actual proclamation of the gospel.

On the other hand, I would see all the appropriate activity and conversations leading up to that particular moment as part of the evangelistic process as people walk through stages of their journey to Christ.  He would call that “witnessing.”  It’s a slight difference of nuance.

My definition of Relational Evangelism

Before getting to some Old Testament passage, I need to share my perspective on Relational Evangelism.  This style focuses on doing good, living good, so that your lifestyle attracts spiritual curiosity.  “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” Matthew 5:16 (NLT)

I look at relational evangelism this way:

  • Living in such a way that your faith is obvious AND
  • Being intentional in talking about the gospel
  • In the context of intentional relationships

It is living in such a way (actions) and speaking regularly (Words) that your friends know you are an approachable Christian they can talk over their own spiritual issues.

Relational Evangelism in the Old Testament

In one sense, evangelism in the strict sense is not seen in the Old Testament.   Since the proclamation of evangelism is Jesus centered, you’ll not find evidence of such in the Old Testament, which only foreshadowed Christ.

However, we can see that the covenant people were to be active witnesses of their faith.

They were to live out their faith and tell stories of all that God had done.

The exhortations that speak to me the most are found in the Psalms.  The people of Israel were to tell of the goodness of the Lord.

Psalm 73:28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

Isaiah 63:7 I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.

I see where parents should teach their faith to their children

I see where believers were to talk about God’s goodness and faithfulness.

The Psalms are full of summaries of what God has done in history so that people could remember the stories.

I would argue that all of this is a predecessor to relational evangelism we practice today.  The members of the covenant community were called to talk about their faith with their friends.

Coaching Corner

Can we tell of ALL the deeds of the Lord with our non-Christian friends?  Can we share “the many good things He has done?”

Think back over the last 30 days. How have you seen God’s kindness at work in your life?

You might see evidence of God’s work in:

  • Guidance
  • Healing
  • Love
  • Forgiveness
  • Speaking to you
  • Growing a particular fruit of the Spirit
  • A season of testing
  • To be a blessing in the life of another

With whom can you share a story this week?

7 Observations from Fox News’ Kristen Powers’ Testimony

Christianity Today recently released an article you may have seen, Fox News’ Highly Reluctant Jesus Follower.  It’s a worthy article to read Kristen Powers’ first hand personal testimony of how she became a follower of Jesus.

Kristen Powers' Testimony

It is getting a lot of airplay at the moment (I must have seen it 30 times already in personal Facebook feed, and uncountable times in my Twitter feed).    If you haven’t read it yet, click on the link to read it.

Her testimony shows me 7 important principles of personal evangelism that we can all remember as we share our faith in Christ with people who mean a lot to us.

7 Principles Seen in Kristen Powers’ Testimony

1.  Evangelism is a process.

Some people would define evangelism strictly as an event – the verbal proclamation of the gospel.  Instead, I see evangelism as a process.

The conversion process is not always instant or dramatic like the Apostle Paul’s.  Powers’ story tells us the whole process of her life.

She covers the journey of awakening, gathering evidence, reflecting on information learned, doing some reading, and talking out loud with friends about what one is learning of God.

It is a process of sowing, watering, cultivating, tending, weeding, and preparing a fruit for harvest.

2.  Spiritual thirst propels a search.

Spiritual thirst is what opens the doors to great spiritual conversations.   Spiritual thirst is the underlying motive that people have to seek after God, to start and continue their search for God.  Powers experienced spiritual thirst in her restlessness that kept propelling her to return to hear Tim Keller’s sermon.  That Spiritual thirst also propelled her to seek out that friend who recommended the Bible Study.

I write about this elsewhere on the blog, so follow this link to the spiritual thirst tutorial

3.  God can reveal Himself

Powers writes about a mystical encounter with Christ that even she had a hard time processing.  God can choose to reveal himself to a person who is seeking Him.  It can be part of the process that God uses to bring about a faith awakening.

4.  A good question can help the process.

Powers’ boyfriend asked a critical question at good time.  The force of that question was life changing.  It triggered the restlessness that lead to an intense search for the truth.  Sometimes, people need to hear a question, not a proclamation.

Imagine the boyfriend had shared the gospel at that time.  The results could have been dramatically different.  Wisdom continues to show us that sometimes, we need to be patient in the process.

5.  People need time.

People need time to

  • Consider the new information being shared in the teaching
  • Clear up misconceptions about God.
  • Trust Christians (as many have likely encountered aggressive evangelists).
  • Be willing to surrender to Christ.

Even though we have an urgency to share the gospel, we know that people need time to process.

6.  A credible witness.

A credible witness can change a person’s perspective.  The gentle witness of Powers’ boyfriend helped her journey to faith.  This is where lifestyle evangelism has an important role in demonstrating the work of Jesus in a person’s life.

Keller’s preaching also presented a credible witness.  The logic and reasoning helped persuade Powers to the truth of Christ, even if she was unwilling to accept it personally for a season.

Relational Evangelism works.  Your life can help change a person’s mind about Jesus.   

7.  People need a safe place.

Redeemer Presbyterian became that safe place.  The Bible Study became that safe place.  Questions can be asked, answers can be sought.  Pre-Christian people making the first steps to come to a Christian small group are demonstrating a step of faith on their part. To some extent, that is a reflection of their spiritual thirst.  It tells me they are open to studying spiritual things and perhaps might actually seek a relationship with Christ.

Small groups can be a wonderful place to explore the truth, consider the claims of Jesus, and wrestle with those claims.

My own Personal Evangelism Teaching on DVD

DVD Evangelism Conversations

I have a DVD (or digital download) set that focuses on a conversational style evangelism that would be effective in:

  • casual conversation between friends
  • causal conversation between strangers

Read more about the Effective Evangelism Conversations in the store.  I believe it can help you understand the process of evangelism as I teach it.

It is a recording of a live seminar I gave in 2012.

Give This Book to Your Spiritually Thirsty Friend

One spiritual conversation is just not enough.  The Lord will use many conversations to help bring your friend to Christ.  But sometimes, you’ll want something that you can give your spiritually thirsty friend something that they can read and ponder over.

Books are good for this.  Invite your friend to read one with you and discuss the chapters over the next several weeks.

So what is a book you can recommend to your spiritually thirsty friend?

Book Witnessing Tool

[Read more…]

Are you a Genesis 3 Christian?

I listened to the testimony of an adult woman from Guatemala.  She is 2nd from the left in the image. Her journey to faith brought me to tears, and once again aroused my desire to help other people share the good news of Jesus Christ.  As you read or listen her story, ask yourself this question:  Where would you start with the gospel?  Genesis 3, or Genesis 1? [Read more…]