Sunday, June 14, 2015

Winsome: Doing the work of an Evangelist when you're not one.

Over the last decade much has been written about the need for the Church to recover it's missional identity. It's been a long overdue correction to the way we see ourselves as Christians. Christ followers are not just becoming more like Christ in character. They are also becoming more like Christ in mission. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Biblically, the call to be  a missionary is not merely for those who pack their Gospel bags for  distant shores, although those people are to be applauded. It's more than bringing people to hear the Gospel preached at some sort of crusade, although that can be helpful too.We're all missionaries, all of the time, in every place we find ourselves, in joyful obedience to the Great Commission. Most of us will spend most of our days being missionaries in our own zip code, loving and serving our neighbors towards faith in Christ. This is some of what it means to be missional.

Perhaps one of the words that's been lost in the missional conversation though, is the word evangelist. It's a Bible word, and it means someone who is a herald of the the Good News of Jesus. The problem is that for some of us the word evangelist conjures up images of a man in a white suit taking up an offering for his new private jet, and because we don't want anything to do with that kind of Christianity, we are now more user-friendly-seeker-sensitive-chatting-non-threateningly-over-fair-trade-coffee-missional! My  concern with this is that as we build bridges of love and service with those who don't yet know Christ, we may have lost the boldness to call people to walk across them. We may have lost the ability to winsomely call people to repent and put their faith in Christ. This is what an evangelist does. They take the gap and call people to cross the bridge.

There seem to be so few real evangelists in our midst today. And so it may be most appropriate for us to take heed of Paul's words to his young protege' Timothy. "Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."(2 Tim 4:5) Do the work of an evangelist. This implies that Timothy was not one. Certainly not by temperament. He was timid.  Nor by gifting. He seemed more pastoral and a bit apostolic. But Paul didn't let him off the hook because of his temperament or gifting. He was called to win some people to Christ. And so are we.

So how are we to do the work of an evangelist when we are not one? This has been my story, and I feel like I've learned some helpful  things that have seen some people come to faith over time.

1. Look for a person of peace
When Jesus sent out the 72 he told them to look for a man of peace went they went to a new town and stay with him the whole time. (Luke 10:5) For me, a man of peace is someone whose heart is already warming to the Gospel. They are asking questions, but not as excuses not to believe. They are looking for reasons to believe. Examples of this are Zaccheus, Nicodemus and the women at the well in the Gospels. Also Lydia, Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts. We are to love and serve everyone, but keep our eyes open to these people of peace, and concentrate our efforts on them.
2. Look for a Gospel Gap. 
I always tell the Story of God in the Bible to seekers as soon as I get a chance. It's like a 4 act drama: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. One of the things I love to speak of is the impact of the Fall in Genesis 3. Then I will say, "This is how Adam's sin has caused me to be broken. How has Adam's sin impacted you?"Authenticity is a bridge for people to hear the Gospel. Normally, if a person will admit that they struggle with some kind of brokenness, they are on track to recognizing their need for a Redeemer. It's what I call looking for the Gospel gap.
3. Look for an opportunity to pray for people.
By this I don't mean, "Hey man, I'll keep you in prayer." I mean, actually asking if there is anything that I can pray for them about, right then and there. Very few people resist prayer. I even ask of I can place my hand on their shoulder, and I will ask God to show Himself to them. Often, before people cross the line of faith, they sense the presence of God in prayer. Prayer is like the dinner bell to the table of grace. It causes people to hunger for God.
4. Have a reasonable grasp of why you believe what you believe.
Any person dialogue about Christianity will come around to some  hot button topics. An ability to give a reason for you faith is helpful. You don't need to be an academic to have a simple, but informed opinion about Creation, the basic differences between Christianity and other religions, the Old Testament prophecies that were accurately fulfilled in the gospels, and Biblical ethics on sexuality. (homosexuality will always come up.)
5. Be ready to explain the difference between Moralism and the Gospel.
There is a great harvest of God-fearers in Southern California; people who think they are Christians but are really just moralist therapeutic deists. In other words, they have been preached a message that  God wants to help you to live better and be happier. The Gospel is not good advice to be taken. It is Good News to be believed! So share the Good News and then be ready to take the gap.

 Of course, all this needs to happen in the context of patient, loving service. But let's not forget to carry a sickle with us as we go. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.