“The Church is the only organization that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.” - William Temple (Church of England, http://bit.ly/29Wpx6K)
Let’s be honest. It is hard to swallow that your church doesn’t exist for you.
Pastors feel pressured for their church to grow. Members want a place of spiritual vitality and real friendships. But if our heart reflects the heart of God, we have to affirm that the church – your church – exits for the benefit of its nonmembers. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Jesus came to give up his life for others, and he calls his followers to do the same.
In this third blog, we look at the last two cultural shifts that have taken place with evangelism in a postmodern context. As outlined previously, theses 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.
From Monologue to Dialogue
They shared the gospel with me, and I was shocked and angry.
You are probably thinking that I was an unbeliever and someone was obnoxious or did a “bad job” in sharing Christ. Nope. One my most maddening experiences was when someone shared the gospel with me as a Christian. I was not only a Christian, I was an ordained pastor.
My wife and I were in the midst of a life-transition and we were looking for a church. A church we had visited (and later joined) sent a team to our home. They had been trained in a certain method of sharing the gospel. And they were going to do it -- no matter what!
Because we recognized one of the three faces at our door, we invited them in. We quickly told them that we were Christians, that my wife had been trained in the very same method of sharing Christ they were trained in, and that I was an ordained pastor. None of that mattered. They had gotten in the door and they had an agenda. Seated at our dining room table, they shared the gospel with us.
That could have been a positive experience of mutual faith. But it wasn’t. They paid no attention to our story. They needed to “make sure we were saved.” Thanks be to God, they were not representative of that church.
We were blindsided by a monologue. Someone had a message to deliver, and they were going to do it. It is hard to explain my feelings at that point. Somehow, I felt demeaned. I don’t think it was my pride, but rather that I was “depersonalized.” This is an extreme example of monologue.
I have learned that people actually want to have a dialogue about God and faith! If they feel safe. People have spiritual questions and also hurts in life. People who will listen to their pain and dialogue about their questions usually gain a hearing to share their own faith story. There are many resources available now to seek to engage friends in dialogue. “How to Share Your Faith Without an Argument,” http://bit.ly/2ap0sVl Gary Rohrmayer’s “Spiritual Conversations,” (You Tube: http://bit.ly/2acKvye ; Your Journey Resources http://bit.ly/2ap6ZQ6 ) and Bill Hybel’s, “Just Walk Across the Room,” http://bit.ly/2aSYOK4 . This "style" of resource has been around for about a decade now, and many more have appeared. I will list others in our next blog.
From Short Term Presentation to Long Term Relationship
My wife developed a relationship with “Sue” as she provided some remedial educational services to her daughter. As is so often true, Sue started having questions as she faced issues in her life. First, her dad died. Second, her kids saw the movie “Prince of Egypt” (yeah, this story goes back a ways) and started to ask her questions about the bible. Knowing my wife was a Christian and a pastor’s wife no less, she asked her a question. “You’re a spiritual person. Could we start talking about religions?”
Notice: She wanted to talk about Religions. Not Christianity.
My wife wisely said, “Well, since I know Christianity the best, how about we start there?” Sue agreed. It started a journey where Sue started coming to church – but it was several months before she came. And after she finally did come, I think it was a year before she came to faith in Christ. And it wasn’t through my wife. Sue needed to share some past issues with another woman who had lived a lifestyle similar to hers. After Sue came to faith, her daughter did. And then her son. And then her sister-in-law. And then her nephew. Once the Holy Spirit began to work in this family, the floodgate opened! Even now, it brings a tear to my eye.
I asked Sue along with several other people if she would be willing to share her faith journey as a part of a video to be shown on Easter. I think she had been a Christian for about two years at that point. What she said, I will never forget. What God finally used to draw her to faith was that she came to be a part of a community. She was not only considering truth-claims, but if there was something different about the relationships among Christians.
The shift in our Post-Christian world is this: People often want to Belong before they Believe.
In the U.S. long term relationships and a longer process are the norm in people’s faith journey. This leads me to ask you some questions.
Do you care enough to invest in people – even for years – to see them come to faith?
Pastors, do you explain the gospel in various ways regularly in your sermons, helping people to understand the Good News over time?
Christians, what is the fellowship like in your church? Do you love unconditionally and include outsiders in that circle of love?
Pastors, are you modeling an evangelistic lifestyle in building relationship with those outside of the church?
We will have a fourth and final blog in this series. I realized I needed to explain the missional shift and end by being ruthlessly practical.