Saturday, 2 November 2013

But are there different styles of evangelism?

The question has been asked:

'But are there different styles of evangelism? Can we preach the Good News and still respect other faiths? Have they got to come to our restaurant, or can we just keep telling how good the bread and the wine are there and how good the maitre d' is?'

And I think the three questions that form the whole are rather good - and make for some potentially interesting dialogue. So with that said let's try it for size beginning with part the first:

'But are there different styles of evangelism? 
The simple answer to this is, of course, 'Yes' or perhaps 'No'.  But that would be too simple wouldn't it? After all there are styles and methods and there are reasons (theological, cultural and personal) that might support either and, or, both positions.

It's a bit like saying, 'I fancy a curry.' A curry is a curry - full stop, but then the question is what sort: Mild, sweet, spicy, coconut, creamy, chocolate (a plug for tamworth's 'Champagne' Indian restaurant) - all fit the description 'curry' but there's so many of them!!!!

So if 'Evangelism is just telling people about Jesus' we're OK - there's just evangelism: But if, like curries there are flavours, temperatures and tastes to be considered, where do we find ourselves? Some will say that all there is is proclamation and everything else is false. It's a bit like the person who asked, "when you you convert them?' The key is that we don't 'convert them' but we bring them into a place where they can hear and having heard, discover Jesus, the Christ, for themselves.

Now some would say that the only way to do evangelism (and there's only ONE way) is to do it as they did it in the Bible - but of course those who make that statement are rarely seen opening blind eyes which see the lame walk and enjoy the deaf hearing the dumb sing. No, sadly what we find is minds that are closed, ears that see nothing except that which they wish to see and ears that are deaf to all but their own errors. There is one Lord but there are many different ways to evangelise - the consistency being who it is that we preach and proclaim and live and move in!

Let's start with the milder variants and progress up the scale shall we? Here's the forms of evangelism that I can pull out from the top of my head (bet there's many others I will forget) beginning with what I know of as 'relational evangelism':

Friendship Evangelism was a real buzz some twenty of years back. I was friends at that time with Leonard Albert, a champion of 'friendship evangelism' , who made it both attractive and demonstrated it to be an effective form of spreading the word. What this form of evangelism basically did was bring people into relationship with Christian and gave them the opportunity to share Jesus by lifestyle and proclamation (but not preaching at). Now some churches, groups and bodies (like CARM) reckon this is the means to hell in that it births heretics and syncretic Christians, the reason for this being that those who engage with this sort of evangelism preach a watered down gospel for fear of rejection.

Now whilst I can sympathise with this viewpoint, I have to say that it's a flawed and negative assessment on something that can prove to be an effective form of sharing the Gospel and in bringing others into the Christian family. The problem is that this, like 'Servant Evangelism' which follows is open to people who just end up 'being nice' and becoming friends and/or well-received and thinking that this is enough. Mind you, these are probably the same people who think that it's enough to bring people to church - another great heresy to which many subscribe. The other issue is that it can all feel a little false and cynical - sort of getting into relationship with people to bring them as a scalp to church. But if you become friends with people because you've really become friends with them and you, your faith and the way you live it is an advert for it - then who can say anything but 'Hallelujah!' ?

Servant Evangelism is like Friendship Evangelism in that it involves Christians engaging with people and 'doing stuff' for them or the community, but this form of evangelism can (in my humble opinion) become a little cynical in that some end up doing stuff to get the kudos (albeit ostensibly for God) or (equally bad) doing stuff without sharing the fact that they are doing it because they are Christian. I know of one such group down on the South coast who do some great work but neither use the name of jesus or share their faith - this is not evangelism, it's social action (which is cool of course - but not evangelistic)!

With both of these forms of evangelism it only becomes effective it the people who are engaging in it are ready to share their faith and this is where the 'old style evangelism' needs to be evident. The people doing it need to be secure enough to say who and why and what they exist for and be willing to state their positions on things without fudging issues of appearing to condone or support that which they don't. Letting our 'yes' be 'yes' and our 'no' be 'no' is extremely important - and crucial when it comes to evangelism. You cannot work on the theory that you can get people to be a 'bit saved' now and get rid of the other stuff later - all or nothing, in or out (Simple really isn't it?).

So we will move on to what I can think of as being 'proclamation evangelism':

Street Evangelism - This is more often than not the real 'Get out there and make the Gospel known' stuff. There's no doubt as to why you're on the street or in the shopping malls, precincts and the like - this is where we do the real stuff of preaching, engaging and entertaining too (one of the areas that humours, magic, drama and the like come into their own). "We are here in Jesus' name - preaching the Gospel, and doing it like they did in the Bible - so where are your sick? We can deal with that too!).

Mission, Outreach and Events (the evangelism formerly known as 'crusades') - these are opportunities to share what we think Christianity is all about in ways that those who are coming will know can expect - after all, it's a controlled engagement rather than people being mugged on the street. There has to be a willingness and openness to the message that they know is going to be presented. Just needs to be done openly, honestly and well (that means proper follow-up for those who come and good control of those who meet, greet and engage).

These two join well together to mirror the NT model of public evangelism that took places in the meeting places, streets and elsewhere. This is probably the nearest we, as Church, do in terms of Biblical evangelism.

So what's left?

Leafleting - Tracts, posters, notices of events and the like are all effective means of engaging in evangelism. After all, if they don't know you're there how will they know where to come? But they are support rather than primary engagement or encounter most of the time.

Prayer Walks - often thought of as 'just prayer' but in fact when the Church gets out onto the streets and prays publicly then things happen. Not only that but whilst we're out there we ask about prayer needs, form relationships and opinions (blinking loonies) and see people come to faith as prayers are answered (and as answers to prayer).

Prayer Triplets - the artillery of evangelism whereby three people get together and pray for specific people. This is something that I have seen work in that the ground is softened up long before the spade ever comes into contact with it.

Prayer is a mode and means of evangelism, even though it is often overlooked, and must never be discounted or ignored (so why do we do that so often I ask myself?).

So there we have it - a quick and dirty treatment of the different styles of evangelism (and we've left out the evangelistic service, the occasional offices, Easter, Christmas, Harvest and the so many other evangelistic opportunities we have).

I'll deal with the second question tomorrow - but hope this is an adequate response to part the first.


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