In a recent article in Evangelicals Now, Andrew Baughen reports on a gathering of UK evangelists with Tim Keller. The Clerkenwell Sympsium, as the gathering was called, explored an approach to evangelism that seeks to uncover the various barriers to belief and to suggest ways of overcoming these, so as to lead a person, using a conversational approach, towards an understanding of God’s point of view.
A. RELATIONSHIP BUILDING – Go to people as Christ’s ambassador
Lock 1: Truth suppressed by wickedness (Romans 1.18)
- Unbelievers avoid Christians when they know they will be challenged about their lifestyle.
Lock 2: Suspicion of any free offer (Galatians 3.3)
- Distrust of a sales pitch that seems to good to be true.
Lock 3: Privatisation of faith (John 18.38)
- ‘We don’t do God.’
- ‘Lovely for you but not for me.’
Lock 4: Cultural differences of relating and learning (1Corinthians 1.22, 9.19-23)
- Evangelism based on coming to an evening class with food, a lecture and discussion is very alienating to people not from an educated book culture or dinner party social culture.
Keys to locks 1-4
1. Invest time strategically in relationships with unbelievers – share your life, not just the gospel (1Thessalonians 2.8).
2. Encourage prayer triplets and other regular prayer for unbeliever contacts.
3. Seek the ‘person of peace’ God is working in and making open to the gospel (Matthew 10.11; Luke 10.6; Acts 16.14).)
4. Cancel internal meetings so Christians have more time to get to know unbelievers.
5. Establish a 50:50 culture where social events at church and in homes always have a mix of believers and unbelievers (Matthew 9.35-38; Romans 10.14-15)!
6. Use a website and quality advertising / fliers, etc. to increase awareness of the church in a local area as a ‘local service provider’ providing courses, children’s groups, Sunday services, etc., which are fully accessible to all (‘no experience necessary’).
B. RESPECT BUILDING – Model servant beliefs
Lock 5: Perception that church is not concerned about justice
- power hungry and imperialistic;
- morally weak / morally restrictive;
- politically silent on important issues;
- not concerned with social justice.
Lock 6: Experience of church as unfriendly
- interested in numbers not people’s lives;
- only interested in right kind of people / full of cliques;
- unfriendly and unwelcoming.
Lock 7: Perception of Christians as hypocrites
- protected from the community, not serving the community;
- isolated and out-of-touch;
Lock 8: Experience of Christians as Bible bashers
- Not interested in a dialogue – don’t listen.
Keys to locks 5-8
1. Seek to serve your local community. Think through how to explain the hope in us so actions don’t come across as preachy morality which others watch us fail to keep. Show that Christians are ‘investors in creation renewal’ always remembering that ‘people matter more than plants’ (Genesis 1.28, 12.3; Jeremiah 29.4-7)!
2. Care for the needy in your church community – distinctly love each other (John 13.35).
3. Give up-front profile in services to people of other races and classes represented in the communities you are aiming to reach.
4. Plan a quality of corporate worship which engages people.
5. Assume that guests are present on Sundays and look to ways of them feeling included in what’s being said from the front (i.e. avoid in-language, use of ‘we Christians’, assume a level of biblical illiteracy, etc.).
6. Have opportunities for Q&A after services so people can clarify, disagree and think through implications further.
7. Adopt an open approach in evangelistic groups – read a passage and allow discussion to go wherever it goes / let people see what they think, but intervene to make sure it doesn’t go down completely wrong path. Affirm the truths, don’t dwell on the wrong answers.
C. RELEVANCE BUILDING – Challenge defeater beliefs and propose distinct beliefs
Lock 9: The defeater off-switch
- Defeaters are ‘common sense’ consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people. Defeaters include contrary evidence (e.g. suffering and evil), the perception of God as angry, science and actions in the name of religion.
Lock 10: The tolerance off-switch
- Rather than people disengaging from Christianity because they think it is implausible, tolerance causes people to switch off because they think Christianity is positively harmful.
Lock 11: The pragmatic off-switch
- People in a pragmatic culture rarely ask, ‘Is it true?’ They prefer to ask, ‘Will it work for me; what is the most convenient or the least costly way to get through life?’
Lock 12: The self-sufficient off-switch
- self help: I can be and do and have whatever I put my mind to (success, recognition, acceptance);
- self reliance: I alone am responsible for my happiness and I don’t need to rely on anyone else (‘I did it my way’);
- self justification: nobody has the right to tell me what to do or think – I decide what is important and true (don’t need to be rescued);
- self selection: it is only true if it works for me.
Keys to locks 9-12
1. Understand your audience – their hopes, dreams and disappointments.
2. Deconstruct the off-switches.
3. Identify the idols people are clinging to and thus the ‘baseline narrative’ which is playing in their minds. Connect to the baseline narrative and the gospel grace they are forfeiting (Jonah 2.8).
4. Preach to the heart (affections) not just the mind and will.
5. Be willing to push your thinking – ask ‘so what?’ Don’t dumb down or be afraid to interact with anything deeper than just explaining the obvious. Unbelievers want to debate Ð be winsomely ‘in yer face’!
6. Ask the what if question: what if there is a new creation Ð a life after death where people receive new bodies and live on a renewed perfect earth?
7. Be prepared to be honest about how your faith impacts you – know the answer to the question ‘why are you glad you’re a Christian right now?’ and be prepared to give an answer for the hope that’s within you (1 Peter 3.15).
D. RESPONSE BUILDING – Teach Christian belief
Lock 13: Bible illiteracy (Luke 24.25-27)
- People don’t know the narrative of Scripture, or who Jesus is.
Lock 14: gospel inoculation (Lk 15: 28-32)
- A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Assuming that Christianity is a religion based on being good enough for God prevents people from grasping that it’s all about grace. Too light a view of sin prevents people from desiring grace.
Lock 15: carpe diem (Luke 12.13-21)
- All that counts is the present. Life is about pleasure now, not future consequences.
Lock 16: counting the cost (Luke 9.57-63, 18.18-30)
- Seemingly accept but not continue to follow Christ when the cost and lifestyle changes start to impact (parable of sower, Luke 8).
Keys to locks 13-16
1. Tell people that your biggest longing is for them to be with you in eternity – that puts the here and now in the very different light of the future hope.
2. Understand where the gospel impacts different groups’ baseline narrative – if they are performance driven, then grace is the starting point; if morally driven, then sin is the starting point; if justice driven, then the cross is the starting point; if success and Facebook profile driven, then new creation is a helpful starting point.
3. Go ‘along the grain’ of Scripture and teach the narrative of the whole bible: creation, fall, redemption, restoration
4. Teach Mark’s Gospel narrative of Jesus: identity, mission, call (see Christianity Explored).
5. Plan and communicate a cycle of evangelistic events so that there is an evangelistic course on a regular basis – don’t leave it too long before people can start a course.
6. Have a biblical fear of God – recognise in preaching his holiness and the reality of his absence in hell. Give a call to repentance and faith on Sundays – i.e. don’t just say Christianity relevant but vital. Maintain a gospel urgency and compassion which compels you to persuade by all means possible (2 Corinthians 4.11-21).