The British missionary Lesslie Newbigin went to India around 1950. There he was involved with a church living ‘in mission’ in a very non-Christian culture. When he returned to England some 30 years later, he discovered that now the Western church too existed in a non-Christian society, but it had not adapted to its new situation. Though public institutions and popular culture of Europe and North America no longer ‘Christianized’ people, the church still ran its ministries assuming that a stream of ‘Christianized’, traditional/moral people would simply show up in services. Some churches certainly did ‘evangelism’ as one ministry among many. But the church in the West had not become completely ‘missional’–adapting and reformulating absolutely everything it did in worship, discipleship, community, and service–so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around it.
Individuals from across Christian theological perspectives have now affirmed a fundamental shift in evangelism in a “post-Christendom” world. We need to be completely missional – to adapt all of church life as if we are missionaries. Evangelism in this context has changed- both message and process. (I know the Gospel message has not changed. How and what is emphasized has.)
The message? This ain’t your grandma’s world, and what reached her for Jesus won’t reach her grandchildren — and certainly not her great-grandchildren.
Four cultural shifts have taken place. While I know them by memory, my recollection is to give credit to Rick Richardson and Gary Rohrmayer for the concepts.
The shifts are, 1) from apologetic argument to compassionate demonstration; 2) from large events to personal process; 3) from monologue to dialogue; 4) from short term presentation to long term relationship.
Here are seven responses to this missional situation.
7. Repurpose small groups to missional communities. Most small groups are focused on fellowship and spiritual growth for Christians. That is good, but out of balance. Missional groups find a “tribe” or neighborhood to serve. After a snowstorm, one missional church in Chicago went around and shoveled for everyone in their neighborhood. That kind of service gets people’s attention and leads to questions! A good resource on missional communities is the Soma family of churches. (www.wearesoma.com) Small groups need to be in benevolent mission. As Matthew 5:15-16 says, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.”
6. Pastor, are you leading in evangelism? As Paul said to his protégé Timothy, “…keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” Pastor, does evangelism leak out of you? Your vision, your preaching, your relationships, your example? I know, everything is said to begin with the pastor! Yet, in a hierarchy of priorities, what could matter more than the eternal destination of people? Leading the way in evangelism lets your church see what really matters.
5. Respect people. People are not a means to an end, and if you treat them like a means, they will know it. This is especially true of the emerging generations. They are media savvy and have grown up being the target of marketing. They value transparency and authenticity. In 1 Peter 3:15 we are explicitly told to have respect and integrity in our witness: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
4. Respect people’s process on the journey to faith. Remember, as our culture has lost much of it’s Christian memory, the journey to faith in Christ has gotten longer. Engage people in ongoing dialogue. Gary Rohrmayer has developed a pictorial tool that shows seven stages in people’s spiritual journey. Within the two main categories of “searchers” and “followers,” it allows a person to express where they are on the journey. By asking simple questions, they can be encouraged to move toward saving faith and missional living. Along with Gary’s wonderful book, “Spiritual Conversations,” these “Spiritual Journey Guides” are available at www.yourjourney.org. These tools can be used in relationships, classes, and communities throughout your church.
3. Learn the common concerns and questions. Those who engage in faith-sharing conversations know that the same hurts, concerns, and questions come up time and time again. Listening to people’s concerns and pointing them in the direction of good answers is key. There is no better statement of what our attitude should be than Colossians 4:6 – “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Justin Steckbauer further describes this posture at a site about the common questions people raise. “So give ground at times, find ways to agree with points and parts of their position. Identify with their position. Grant fair points when they make them. Be kind and compassionate, and very patient. Develop a friendship, a relationship. If losing the argument will mean bringing the person a step closer, so be it. The person raising an objection may not be listening to the argument as much as he or she is listening to the attitudes and mannerisms of the speaker.” https://bit.ly/2aI6UaJ Take the time to learn about people’s questions and always remember to have a gracious attitude.
2. Build relationships. Evangelism always has been and always will be about relationships. Relationship, relationship, relationship. Have I mentioned that evangelism is about relationships? One of the reasons “Alpha” and “Christianity Explored” are effective is because they focus on building community.
Remember, this means building relationships outside the walls of your church. In a recent blog by Thom Rainer on the 10 traits of healthy churches 10 years from now, 5 of the traits were outward-focused. https://bit.ly/2a9UG6j Missional churches build relationships in their community.
1. Pray for boldness and for the harvest. Evangelism is God’s work by God’s power. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to empower our witness (Acts 1:8). We are commanded to pray to the Lord for workers for the harvest (Matt. 9:38), to pray for clarity in sharing the mystery of Christ (Col. 4:3-4), and to pray that we may share it boldly (Eph. 6:19-20). Some will plant, some will water, but God will make the seed of our witness grow (1Cor 3:7). This is the unending hope and promise of evangelism! God is at work in seeking to save the lost. Join Him.