October 20, 2017

Evangelism: Resources, Methods and Content

heartlogo-sm.gifThis post is a survey of some thoughts about evangelism that I’ve wanted to share for some time in response to several discussions and posts in the blogosphere. I hope they are helpful in some way to those of you who do evangelism.

When I came to work at the ministry where I serve 15 years ago, the President was Dr. Barkley Moore. Dr. Moore was a man much like Jesus; a man whose vision of the Kingdom knew no bounds. He particularly believed that nothing was as important as sharing the saving message of Jesus Christ- the Gospel- with every student on our campus every day.

For those of you who don’t know, our School is a mission school where Christian faculty, staff and students work, live and worship alongside hundreds of non-Christians from all over America and the world. We offer an education for time and eternity to glorify Jesus Christ. At the center of our school day is a chapel service. In the majority of those services, and in gatherings on Sundays, we preach the Gospel from the Bible, model the Gospel in real life and engage in a constant work of evangelizing. One of my jobs is to train our staff in evangelism, and to provide counseling for all students who want to take any kind of steps toward Christ.

The most enjoyable part of my job is preaching the Gospel to the lost, which I do here at OBI about 130-150 times a year. In almost all of those sermons the gospel message of salvation is central. In addition, I do open question and answers with students, and answer many, many questions every year from all kinds of students and staff. I also teach Bible to between 50-60 students each year, and while that is a Bible survey, I take it seriously as an evangelistic opportunity. Not a day goes by that I don’t work with the Gospel message and the ways to communicate it with the lost and unreached.

I share all this to say that I think a lot about how to communicate the Gospel. It’s vital to all I do. Unlike speakers who are able to travel from place to place and reuse sermons and talks, I have a congregation made up of students and staff who are here for the year or all the time. I can’t reuse material, and I can’t recycle messages. So I must think about how to share the Gospel hundreds of times a year, in various contexts, in fresh ways. I don’t want to be less than faithful, and I don’t want to be boring. I want to be an apostle in the best sense of the word.

This is why I am so interested in reformed evangelism and in the Francis Chan video discussion going on with Frank Turk and others. This is about how the Gospel message is shared and I care deeply about that as a Christian and as a person called to do exactly what Chan does in Just Stop and Think, and to do it for atheists, burnouts, Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans, Mormons, secularists, atheists and any other belief or non-belief on our campus. What do I say to them? What do I believe about sharing the Gospel?

First, a bit on resources.

1) As a standard, I’ve been very impressed with the Two Ways To Live presentation from Mathias Media. Not all of our people like this presentation of the Gospel, usually because it’s a bit long in comparison to others. It’s careful theologically, and has a strong emphasis on the Lordship of Christ. It also shows an appreciation for some of the reformed critique of evangelistic presentations. It is balanced and the materials from Mathias Media are outstanding.

I usually preach this presentation in some detail once a year to the students. I make it available as a booklet or as a Bible study. I am available to lead classes or groups in the study. We train counselors to use it and make it available to all our staff throughout the year. I don’t believe there is a Gospel presentation anywhere as Biblically comprehensive as this one.

2) In evangelism training, I also recommend the following resources:

The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs. Simply the best book on personal evangelism you will ever read.

Tell the Truth by Will Metzger
. An outstanding book on reformed evangelism put together as a rich teaching resource. I don’t know of any book that’s more organized and teacher oriented than Metzger’s book. While this book has some of the typically overly cautious approach to language characteristic of some reformed evangelists, but it is a very good book that has stayed relevant and helpful for three decades.

A New Way To Be Human, Charlie Peacock. This is a book that works very hard at a conceptual and linguistic remaking of the Gospel into the kind of language common to an emerging, postmodern generation. It’s not trendy or gimmicky. It’s a serious example of what I hope any good preacher will be doing these days: Biblical content, fresh language. (BTW, this seems to be going out of print, so grab a copy.)

3) I don’t recommend the use of any small “tracts,” at least not any that I’ve seen so far. The same goes for “gimmicks” like Evangecube, etc. We use the Two Ways booklet, but it is not a tract. There are almost 15 pages of content. Small tracts have many problems; some with content, but mostly with the idea of “read, pray, receive assurance.” These kinds of tools replace substantial conversation and questions; they capture and force relationships and conversations to go in unnatural directions; they minimize and even eliminate important content. While God uses many of these tools, I have increasingly asked our people to learn, use, teach and share the message of the Gospel along the lines of Two Ways To Live.

I’ve ordered Just Stop and Think as a resource. I like it and so will our students.

4) There is a lot done in evangelism that I am not familiar with or aware of. I haven’t used Ray Comfort’s material because it appears to be more of an “argument” method. I don’t use Alpha because of the charismatic issues which I don’t want to get into the picture at this level of evangelism. I have been disappointed with the Piper Quest for Joy approach for reasons stated elsewhere. I would like to try out Christianity Explained and other new resources. I am sure there are many great resources available that I haven’t used. Because I rarely leave our campus, I’m in the dark on a lot of what is done. If you know of good evangelism resources, I’d like to have a sample.

Now, some thoughts on methods.

5) I am deeply influenced by Ravi Zacharias and his use of existential concerns as a doorway into evangelism. Listening to Ravi’s messages and question/answer sessions has convinced me that it’s possible to get to the Gospel from many diverse places. In fact, one of the exercises I like to do with preachers is to ask them to play a game where I name any topic and they relate that topic to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. This is not just fun, but it suggests many ways to present the Gospel to students.

6) I want to be clear that in saying there are diverse ways to get to the Gospel message, I am not suggesting that we do anything to grab student’s attention and then go to the Gospel. For example, I know of many “Gospel Magicians” or entertainers who entertain an audience and then go from entertainment to the Gospel presentation. While this isn’t impossible and some do it very skillfully, I’ve always felt that this brought about more of a distance from the Gospel than was necessary. Entertainment can seem to engage serious issues, but I’ve found the shift in thinking necessary isn’t one that really brings a person to the point of considering the Biblical Gospel. Many shallow decisions come from the typical use of entertainment as a prelude to the Gospel.

7) I consider my audience carefully, and generally make a decision to speak to a particular kind of person in a given message. This year, for example, knowing that I have many students from communist China in my audience, I have chosen approaches that raise issues that are part of their experience in being visitors in our culture and observing Christians up close. I’ve also inserted many examples of Chinese Christianity whenever possible.

On other days I speak to the American student fed up with religion, or the atheist objecting to religion in general. The majority of my messages take their launching place from some experience of being a teenager or young adult. In that sense, I deal with typical existential questions: Meaning, love, death, morality, decisions, loss, family, purpose, joy, sexuality, conflict, forgiveness and so on.

I do a lot of different kinds of sermons, pay attention to the news, culture, student interests, campus events and so on. There are constant parallels to Biblical themes. There are always things happening that can open doors and bring us to something that intersects the Gospel.

Yes, I use a lot of humor, especially in our Sunday evening gathering. Humor is a great way to get an alternative point of view on any subject and the Bible is full of the humorous assessment of life.

8) I do use texts; in fact, a text with every message, but most of the time I present the Gospel I bring the text to the message in the second half of the presentation and do so thematically or with examples. I don’t find that an early use of the Bible in a message brings my audience along with me, but causes many of them to bail out early on their own assumptions about the Bible. I want my text to clearly speak to the question or situation that I have addressed and for that connection to be obvious after the student has invested some time listening and following me.

For example, I spoke this week from the second half of Hebrews 11, where the suffering of some of the faithful is vividly described. I related this to the experience of persecution of religious believers in some cultures. Remember that I have Chinese students in my congregation. I asked why people are willing to give up normality, freedom, respect and comfort in order to suffer for what seems like nothing? Why, especially, would some choose to go against the values of the majority in order to hold on to the beliefs of an executed criminal?

9) Once I have established a point of contact between existential experience and the Gospel as presented in the Bible, I make my choice of what aspects of the Gospel I am going to stress in the message- because I rarely cover all at once in any message- and how I am going to relate the total gospel to the audience.

Finally, what is my content?

10) I bank a lot on our existential knowledge of the fall. I believe that the fall and the fallen condition as described in the Bible is the best explanation for the human experience in every dimension. My students hear a lot about the Christian story that we are made in God’s image and for God’s glory. There are constant references to Genesis 1-3 and John 1. I am much indebted to Pascal in this approach. I want to offer my audience a way to describe and understand what it means to be human, and the key to that way is the story of our original created purpose and our current fallen condition.

In this sense, the “bad news” is the necessary prelude to the good news. I see the first steps of the Gospel as being a way to interpret, coherently and meaningfully, what no other message can interpret truthfully.

11) The use of the “law” is a diagnostic tool in my Gospel presentations. If I were teaching historically, I would obviously use it differently and fit it into the story, but I can’t assume my audience buys the Biblical story. For example, I might talk about broken relationships and focus on the Ten Commandments’ picture of relationships and how this diagnoses and measures our brokenness. At the same time, the law shows the original design of God-human/human-human relationships, and this is a beautiful thing that speaks deep into our collective memory. Use it and it cuts deep.

At this point, I believe that I would differ from some reformed evangelists in how I use the law. I want people to be broken before God and to long for relationship with God. Forgiveness may or may not be the primary CONSCIOUS aspect of where I want them to be, so I may not be trying to be bring people to a place of brokenness before the Ten Commandments per se, but before God and his original intent/design/purpose for human beings. In that sense, the “law within every conscience” is my primary tool, and the law on stone is a diagnostic.

The same is true with Jesus’ summary of the Law in “Love the Lord Your God with all… etc.” I use it as a diagnostic, with my real goal to be the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we were made FOR love and TO love. (Exciting!)

12) The single most difficult aspect of evangelism in my situation is working with the Biblical idea of God. At this point, I have to bank a lot on the accumulation of Biblical truth, because I don’t know of any way to do much more than begin to begin to talk about the character of God in scripture.

Thank God for Jesus! I preach John 1:18 over and over: Jesus shows us the God we can’t know otherwise. Many of my students have no coherent concept of God at all. None. Working to a God concept or a modest theology would be difficult enough, but putting the whole picture together is impossible. So I spent a lot of time talking about Jesus. I believe and deeply bank on the fact that God is known through his Son, Jesus and that when I describe Jesus I am giving my students what they most need: God himself as he desires to be known.

13) My students hear nothing as often from me as they hear the following sentence:

“Jesus lived a perfect life and died a perfect death in your place so that you can be in a right relationship with God.” Anyone sitting under my preaching will hear this over and over. What God has demanded of us, we failed to do. We are in debt and our lives are in a mess. The Good News is that God himself repaired this problem by his son, Jesus. By WHO he is, by the LIFE he lived and by the DEATH he died.

They also hear, in every message, that Jesus is our mediator and Jesus = salvation. I loath the kind of Christ-absent preaching that dominates so many messages. The generic “God” or “Lord” or so much folk Christianity needs to have a name, a face and a story: the story of Jesus, our Lord, God and mediator.

I talk about the fact that Jesus has already DONE these saving substitutions and actions for us in the past, but today Jesus is resurrected, ascended and reigning as Lord of the universe. He was raised from the dead to show his victory and God’s approval of what he’s done. He ascended to God’s right hand, and today he is Lord of all. I want the response of the students to be to the Lord Jesus Christ reigning, not to Christ on the cross. The Christian life is about Jesus reigning now.

14) My invitation/response is to “declare your loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ.” I like that phrase and it works for students today. This allows me to fit in repentance, baptist, church membership and so forth. Jesus has commanded confession, baptism and becoming part of his people as they live out Jesus as Lord in community.

The concept of declaring your loyalty to a new king and the kingdom he revealed is a powerful way to position the Christian gospel in a world of competing “Gospels.” From there, there are so many great places to go, apply and live out the gospel.

15) I don’t deal with justification by faith. Predestination. Election. I deal more with the experience of sin than the judicial vocabulary of sin. I don’t try to prove the scripture is true or that the resurrection happened, though I have detailed answers to those questions for apologetic presentations or Q&A sessions. I don’t chase theological rabbits. I don’t do exegesis in the pulpit unless necessary. I leave teaching and discussion of non-essential questions to other venues. I want to be known as a preacher of the Gospel, as a preacher who goes to Jesus in every message, and as one who proclaims the Lordship of Jesus as the response to the mess we’ve made in our rebellion.

16) Finally, to cover the ground that stirred all this up: I tell my students that God loves them. All of them. Every nation. Every tribe. Every kind of sinner. Every kind of attitude toward God and religion. To me, that’s the whole Bible, and arguing about theological pinpoints about exactly who and how God loves is an admission that the message of the Bible is lost in the trees.

The various ways to parse and subdivide the love of God are insignificant to my audience. I have students from families who have no idea how to express love, and some from families who don’t love them. Some of the stories in my school are beyond Hollywood. It’s essential for them to know that God loves a world of people that he, by any reasonable measure, shouldn’t love or redeem. They need to know that God’s holiness and God’s love meet on the cross and what emerges is the Good News of the Kingdom for everyone who believes, and in a very real sense, for every person who has ever lived.

It’s my life’s calling and my privilege to preach to these students. It’s been a sacrifice to live here, but the ministry is to be sent where Christ calls us to be, not to where we are most comfortable. When I look at how I’ve spent these fifteen years, the privilege to preach the gospel has been the greatest benefit and reward imaginable.

Comments

  1. Hi Michael.
    Two Ways to Live was developed by Phillip Jensen, formerly minister of St Mathias Church, Centennial Park [Sydney suburb] but now Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney.

    I haven’t heard Mr Jensen mention Tom Wright, but most Sydney Anglicans do not have a good word to say about him, despite the fact that he recently was a guest at Moore College, Sydney Anglican Theological College.

    I would staggered if TWTL has been influenced in any way by Wright. For one thing, it must be about 20 years old, I would guess.

    Thank you for taking the trouble to share so many insightful posts with Christians across the globe. I especially enjoyed How God Ruined Church For Me.

  2. …the “law within every conscience” is my primary tool, and the law on stone is a diagnostic.

    The same is true with Jesus’ summary of the Law in “Love the Lord Your God with all… etc.” I use it as a diagnostic, with my real goal to be the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we were made FOR love and TO love. (Exciting!)

    Yes, I am using a similar approach when I preach. It was only a few years ago that I realised my approach to Christianity as solely “forgiveness” based was leaving me cold and dry, and others as a result. My generation and younger do not easily accept the authority of Law that does not stem from relationship. Love is now central to my understanding of Christianity: it is love that motivates God; it is love behind the Law; it is love seen in the cross; it is love that people need – even when they don’t realise it.

    Also, while writing some devotionals for 1 Corinthians 13 I realised that all sin comes from a desire for love (hence love being the opposite of all the negatives listed) – an unpopular idea among many Christians, but it is merely another biblical perspective on sin: we look to secure love for ourselves in everything other than God. Once loved by God, we can love others and so fulfill the Law.

    This is also why I have started to explore the relationship between love and glory. One view of God is that His glory is the most important thing to Him; another is that He is love and love is the foremost reason for His actions in history. I agreed with both, but couldn’t see how they worked together…

    Ok, I’m getting carried away…

    Thanks for your explanation on how you approach evangelism – I not only agree with your approach, there are things I can consider and learn from.

  3. Hi Michael.

    I work for Matthias Media, the people who publish Two Ways to Live. David Mackay is right (hi David!), Phillip Jensen, the dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney wrote Two Ways to Live. He’s not a supporter of the views of NT Wright, so it would be surprising if this was an influence. Graham Goldsworthy is a more likely candidate (author of Gospel and Kingdom), although Phillip himself is a sharp theological thinker.

    The Two Ways to Live Gospel outline was written in 1979, and used in follow-up training for the Billy Graham crusade in Sydney that year.

    Anyway, thank you for your positive review!

  4. David’s history of 2WTL is right, and I’d be incredibly surprised too if it’s got Tom Wright influences (rather than both being influenced by Scripture without American goggles).

    True Sydney disagree strongly with Tom Wright on justification, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t think he was great on questions about the historical Jesus, evidence for the resurrection, etc.

  5. steve yates says:

    michael,

    you say you bank heavily on the intrinsic knowledge of the fall – so do i. in fact, i think that approach is the most genuine and non-argumentative i’ve found. however, just a question (especially with your involvement with many kinds of students):

    how do you approach someone with a very humanistic worldview (i.e. someone who does not accept the fall and any inherint problems with humanity)?

    for glory…
    steve

  6. Ted Elmore says:

    Michael, excellent and helpful summary. Thank you for some resources I had missed.

    I used gospel tracts for many years as seeds. I also have moved away from using tracts and some of the canned presentations with the diagnostic questions for many of the same reasons.

    #7 – Helpful insight – thanks!
    #13 – “I loath the kind of Christ-absent preaching that dominates so many messages.” You are a man after my own heart!

    Thanks again.

    te

  7. Thanks for this post, Michael. Lots of good content that I’ll need to come back and mull over.

    I was wondering if you had an opinion on Evangelism Explosion. There are some people at our church who want to do it. While not terribly familiar with it, what I’ve seen seems kind of canned. It also seems to assume a Judeo-Christian worldview(in your sudience) which may have been more common 50 years ago, but is not so today.

    Any thoughts you – or anyone – may have would be appreciated.

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Michael. Very hearty and balanced.

    A question: what place does discipleship have in your presentation of the Gospel?

  9. You info is very helpful!

    My interaction with a couple resources mentioned.

    We are looking at the curriculum for Two Ways to Live. The DVD has some good dramatized conversations with examples of positive, negative, and confused responses. Our Crusade students find it a good alternative to their stuff.

    Our university students are also using the Capitol Hill Baptist Church version of Christianity Explained for some one one one mentoring with the lost. There is a former Catholic who is a member of our church who is using it with her younger sister who is still in High School. Feedback has been positive.

  10. Shameless plug — you mentioned Jerram Barrs book on evangelism, one can get an online class of Jerram teaching on the subject of Apologetics using the main points from the book of his you referred to here :

    Professor Barrs is one of the best teachers I’ve ever listened to. Took his classes at Covenant when I could — download them all the time.