This morning I read a post on another blog about the diverse ways God reaches man and it got me thinking about my writing and how it’s changed over the past year. Hyper-calvinism tells us all we need to do is share the gospel, share the gospel, share the gospel and zap, the Holy Spirit reaches down and brings man to salvation. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s some truth to that in that apart from the working of the Holy Spirit, man cannot come to salvation. However, this approach–what I like to term, gospel tract saturation–fails to take into account human reasoning, and a great deal of the Bible.
I believe the Holy Spirit works in conjunction with the intellect, penetrating through the darkness that keeps man in rebellion against God while illuminating truth. Belief is assent at a heart and intellectual level. Taking both aspects into account strengthens our message.
Effective evangelism occurs in relationship.
Dropping a gospel tract at countless doorsteps won’t cut it. Oh, sure, perhaps five percent of those visited will probably make a confession of faith, but likely becaue someone else already laid the groundwork and you just happened to be there to reap the harvest.
Notice Jesus’ instructions to the disciples when He sent them out in Luke 9:1-6
1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
When they reached a new village, they were to stay in one house. I believe this was to establish community. The age old saying is so true–people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Perhaps we need to spend as much time relationship building as we do proclaiming.
Effective evangelism adapts their approach to the listener
One of my favorite examples of this is in Acts 17. When speaking to the Romans, Paul reasoned with them, displaying the coherency of God.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
And notice what God says in Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
Throughout Scripture their appears to be a pattern of the Holy Spirit working through human logic. This is not to say the gospel message is adapted, but instead, how we present it. The person sharing the message takes time to learn the unique barriers to faith held by each individual.
Effective Evangelism Takes the Time to Understand Their Audience
Notice the passage in Acts. When Paul entered the city, he observed the culture of the people around Him. He noticed their idols–their barriers to faith–then addressed those barriers in his message, demonstrating the superiority of the gospel message.
Have you ever talked with someone and felt like they didn’t hear a word you said? Or asked a question only to have them provide an irrelevant answer? A few nights ago, as I gathered among other believers, we talked of this very thing–how people came to Christ, and one man in our group asked an interesting question. The leader began to address the question, but never did, because he was too focused on 1) the information he wanted to convey and 2) how he interpreted the question based on number 1. The problem with this was, although the speaker reached his goal, he failed to reach his audience.
Effective Evangelism Addresses the Barriers to Faith
Why is it so hard to reach this generation for Christ? Because they have years of contradicting information filling their brains. Some may not even know Creator God. That sounds ironic to us and I have heard countless sermons on how every American understands Christianity. Do they really? And if so, what version? The tidbits they see on billboards? The Christianity presented through universities, which devote texts upon texts attempting to demonstrate why the Bible is a myth and the resurrection a fable? Unless someone clearly laid out the truth to them, there is a good chance they may not know it. And in absence of a clear presentation of truth, they likely have formed an explanation of their own making.
“Let’s say we approach a twenty-four-year-old person with the intent of proclaiming the gospel to him. He has spent twenty-four-years doing what he wanted to do, establishing habits, and developing his own value system. Almost everything fed to him is contrary to the words of God. Let’s say we spend an hour with him, during which we clearly explain the Christian faith. Now what do we expect to happen? We expect him to conclude that the direction he is taking in life is wrong…Getting substantial results from proclamation presupposes some advance preparation of the hearers (planting and watering).” (pg. 72, Petersen, Living Proof.)
What about the examples in Scripture–those who heard the gospel and instantly converted? According to Petersen, they’d already been prepared. Time and time again, as you read the conversion accounts provided in Scripture, you’ll notice these people were often called, “God-fearing Jews from every nation” (Acts 2:5), or they were “a worshiper of God.” (Acts 16:14) Most often, those who made instant conversions already had a foundation upon which to build. When Paul spoke to Gentiles, who didn’t have a foundation for Creator God, he took the time to build it.
Effective evangelism speaks with humility
No one wants to feel stupid. No one wants to be cajoled into faith. Truly, most people want to feel as if they’ve arrived at the conclusion themselves. Our goal then is to gently guide our listener or reader into discovery, asking thought provoking questions and pointing them to the truth of Scripture.
So how does this apply to writers? As we write, we must always be alert to our reader, praying for wisdom, anticipating possible objections to faith, and addressing those barriers with God’s truth, found in His Word.
Let me give an example. Joanne Sher and I are working on a biblical fiction tween devo. As we write each story, we think of the unique challenges and obstacles our readers, students between the ages of 9-13, likely face, and make sure our main characters encounter the same struggles. For example, if I’m writing a story on obedience, it won’t help my reader if my main character instantly obeys. To truly be effective, my character must struggle with obedience as my reader would, then reach a catalyst that moves them from disobedience to obedience. In doing so, my goal is to help my reader reach the same catalyst.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you agree or disagree? What are some effective ways you believe to reach others for Christ?