If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, undoubtedly you’ve been exposed to one or more “proven” methods of sharing your faith. In my lifetime, I’ve been exposed to a few of these. They have been helpful in narrowing down the message, helping me get more comfortable sharing the gospel, and summarizing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
But there is a danger of relying too heavily on evangelistic methods or tools. Here are three that concern me:
1) We send the message to ourselves and our hearers that the gospel is simplistic. The truth is that the gospel is simple–simple enough for a child to grasp, Jesus said (Matthew 10:14-15). Paul articulated a one-sentence gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. And yet, the gospel, while being simple is not simplistic. There are many mind-boggling aspects about which we will never understand. We will never fully grasp the Incarnation, how Jesus could be fully man and fully God. We’ll never fully understand the Trinity. We’ll never fully understand how Jesus could rise from the dead and can live in us through the Holy Spirit. Peter said in his letter that the prophets who predicted it didn’t understand it and the angels, who daily behold God’s glory, long to know it. Paul said a few times that God’s grace–it’s vastness and richness are “unsearchable” in Romans 11:33 and Ephesians 3:8. The gospel is a beautiful treasure whose value we will study and love for all of eternity. Sometimes, in an effort to be simple, we reduce the gospel. We restrict it to the language we prefer or the method we use, or our favorite verses. As if that’s all the gospel is. We forget that the gospel is both simple and yet beautifully magnificent.
2) Methods tend to emphasize an impatient, one-shot-only approach. One thing that has hurt my own personal evangelism, at times, is the idea that I have to “close the deal” with people. That I must push them so far that they must bow their head in repentance, right here, right now. Now there are some gifted evangelists who routinely bring people to a point of decision on their first try. But for me, and I suspect for the rest of us, it will take many conversations over a long period of time before someone crosses the line from death to life. The problem with “proven methods” is they often convey the idea that if you do it right, it will work every time for every person, all the time. This is just not true. Some may understand and see the Light. Others may need time. Furthermore, closing the deal puts the evangelistic onus on the person, rather than trusting the Holy Spirit do His work in converting the sinner. If it’s all on me and I must execute perfectly the “proven method”, then if that person doesn’t nod their head and accept Christ, I have failed. This can also lead to false conversions–someone nodding their head in agreement to get me off their back. Rather, I believe it is God who does the saving and He uses flawed, human vessels to share His message. His timing is different than ours. Evangelism is not about “how many you lead to the Lord this week” but faithfulness in sharing the gospel when you have an opportunity. When you are free of having to use a method, you are free to allow the Spirit to work in you to apply the Scripture to each person’s specific spiritual questions. If you embrace a whole-Bible, big-gospel approach, all of God’s revelation is available to you to apply to the person God has called you to evangelize.
3) Methods tend to create a false gospel dichotomy. What I mean by this is that when we reduce the gospel to a method, we tend to think the gospel is something for the unregenerate sinner and not for me, the Christian. We think it’s something we tack on to the end of a moralistic message rather than the power of God that enables us to live daily for Jesus. In other words, we convince ourselves that because we are “in”, we don’t need the gospel anymore. But the gospel is big. What saves us from eternal death is what empowers us to be His disciples. When we stop thinking we need the gospel, that it’s the big bad sinners who are in need of grace–we lose our humility and begin to embrace a religious moralism that doesn’t need Jesus in order to work. This is at odds with New Testament theology. When you read the letters of Paul, for instance, he always grounds what we are to do with who we are in Christ. Christianity is not simply about “not doing bad stuff” but transformation and regeneration. It’s not a new lifestyle, it’s a new life.
Summary: I’m not against evangelistic methods, but I think we should hold them loosely. We should shift our approach based on the audience. And we should not think that the gospel is merely the few cherry-picked verses I’ve chosen. Remember, the gospel is simple, but not simplistic.