The Best Method Is The One That Works For You (How To Evangelize?)
"Now there are varieties of gifts..." 1 Corinthians 12:4
I was in a really good mood after worship last Sunday. Everything before, during, and after worship went just right. Though every Sunday at LFPC is special, last Sunday was especially good.
James and I hung around until everybody left. After checking a few things, we locked the doors and went to the car. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I watched some guy crumple an empty pack of cigarettes, throw it to the ground in front of the church, and then take off. After picking up the crumpled and empty pack of cigarettes, I took off after him.
I had a lot of time to think about what I would say to him. Once he figured out that I was following him, he started driving around in circles in the downtown area of New Kensington. I just kept following him. I was on a mission.
He looked a little nervous. And I remembered how hall of famer John Mackey, arguably the best tight end who has ever played football, used to intimidate his opponents. "When I used to play against certain guys I knew were scared," he snarled, "first play I'd pop them upside their head. That was the end. I didn't have to worry about them the rest of the game." It's like Al Capone used to say, "The best way to convince somebody is with a smile on your face and gun in your hand."
Well, I had a smile on my face, no gun in my hand, and no knowledge of what could be in his hand; except, of course, for his last cigarette. But after standing by and watching an armed robbery several years ago at the McDonald's on Troost Avenue in Kansas City, I've decided there is nothing innocent about being a bystander when somebody is getting emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, or physically dumped on or ripped off. There was nothing innocent about standing by and watching the Jews being carted off to the ovens. There is nothing innocent about standing by and watching the slaughter in Yugoslavia. There is nothing innocent about standing by and watching some people beat and bruise and batter and brutalize other people. And lest anyone suggest one crumpled and empty pack of cigarettes can hardly compare to the many kinds of injustices which continue to pollute our planet, unchecked little wrongs can usually do grow up into uncontrollable big wrongs. If we don't get rid of weeds when they're small, they do a lot of damage later on. So I don't stand by and watch anymore. I learned my lesson back on Troost. I get involved. And I followed that guy until he stopped in front of another Presbyterian church, fully conscious of the fact that I would keep following him until he stopped, and waited for our confrontation.
I got out of the car, briskly walked over to his car, handed him the crumpled and empty pack of cigarettes, watched as he seemed to sigh with relief, and said, "I don't want to make a big deal about this, but you dropped this in front of the church. I don't think it's right to dump your garbage on the street. If we're going to keep this community clean, everybody has to do his part." "I'm sorry," he said. "Blessings on you!" I replied.
It wasn't a bad exchange. As I followed him around town, 1 prayed and thought about the best way to approach him. I didn't want to insult, argue, or fight. I just wanted to tell him it's not right to dump garbage on the street. I wanted to suggest something better.
Evangelism is all about suggesting Someone better. Evangelism is pointing people to Jesus as the only way to wholeness, happiness, joy, and eternal security. That's the goal of evangelism. It never changes. People have always needed Jesus and people will always need Jesus. That's why we evangelize. The goal is set.
But how we get to the goal changes. The methods of evangelism change with the times. Pencils gave way to typewriters that gave way to computers. The telegraph gave way to the telephone. Radio has been overshadowed by television. You know what I mean. Things change. Jesus doesn't change. He has always loved us and will always provide the best for us through faith in Him. But things change. And how we communicate the Gospel changes too.
There are a lot of ways to point people to Jesus. Everybody's got an evangelism handbook filled with thoughts, ideas, and strategies that have worked for them. But just because one method has worked for them doesn't mean it will work for you or me. As Paul wrote, "There are varieties of gifts...varieties of services...varieties of activities" (see 1 Corinthians 12).
Not every one will be led to adopt the same ritual or organization of procedure," wrote Robert E. Coleman in The Master Plan of-Evangelism (1963), "nor should we want everyone to fit into the same mold. Variety is in the very structure of the universe, and any method that God is pleased to use is a good method, though this does not exclude the possibility of improvement in our way of doing it. The Master gives us an outline to follow, but He expects us to work out the details according to local circumstances and traditions…New and bold approaches will need to be tried as situations change, and not every thing tried will work. One unwilling to fail in the determination to find some way to get the job done will never get started, nor will the person afraid to try and try again make much progress." It brings to mind a few lines from Loren A. Mead's The Once and Future Church (1991) about "an apocryphal church board whose members all died in a church fire because they could not figure out the proper way to use Robert's Rules of Order to adjourn the meeting." On a more serious note, he explained his concern: "It is also true that the forms and structures, the roles and relationships of the churches we have inherited were formed by paradigms that no longer work for us. We live in the memory of great ways of understanding how to be church and to be in mission. Those memories surround us like ruins of an ancient civilization. Our educational institutions and our structures of leadership and service are likewise conflicted and at war with themselves."
Simply, the best method is the one that works for you. Again, as Paul wrote, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." Our Lord has gifted us with ways through which to honor Him. And there are methods of evangelism ways of pointing people to Jesus that will work for us. There are methods of evangelism that will fit into our abilities and personalities.
But how can we know which way is best for us? How do we know if we're called to a particular method of evangelism?
I have often been asked, "How do I know who I'm called to be and what I'm called to do?" And the people who ask that question want more than a two-feet-planted-firmly-in-the-air response. They don't want to hear, "Well, uh, you'll just know." They want to know who they are called to be and what they are called to do so they can live within our Lord's will for their lives. They want to know their call (K A NTOC) or who our Lord wants them to be and what our Lord wants them to do for His glory.
We discover our calls through feelings, friends, and facts.
We discover our calls through feelings. When Jung was asked if he believed in God, he said, "I know God." An inner feeling or knowing is one of the ways we discover our call. Do we feel called to something? Do we feel called to marriage or a job or a sport or a ministry or whatever? Do we feel it in the deepest recesses of our hearts, minds, and souls?
In a recent address to the graduates of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Sam Calian said, "First of all, we congratulate you…Secondly, you should not be deceived into thinking that by accepting your degree this evening you have mastered divinity or have mastered ministry. The essence of divinity is unknowable and the ultimate art of ministry is a gift of the Holy Spirit to those who are contrite of heart" (Monday Morning, August 1992). Sam was saying our Lord is the Author of ministry and provides the gifts we need to do ministry. He was also pointing to the fact that our Lord reveals through His Holy Spirit how we can serve Him. Jesus put it this way, "The Holy Spirit ... will teach you everything" (see John 14:25-26). And the most effective way to feel or know our Lord's leading through His Holy Spirit is through worship, prayer, Bible study, Holy Communion, and The Church.
But how do we know what we feel is right? How do we know we're hearing the word of God for our lives? Maybe it's gas! Or maybe it's another voice. Maybe it's auto-suggestion. How do we know our feelings are right? We look to our friends and the facts to find out if our feelings are right.
We discover our calls through friends. Friends, people who love Jesus and love us and want the best for us and love Jesus and love us enough to tell us who and what they really see in us, help us to discover our calls. When they're not sure, they'll say, "Hang in there!" When they're sure we're in the wrong business, they'll say, "Hang it up!" And when they're sure we're doing the right thing, they'll say, "Keep it up!" Hang in there! Hang it up! Keep it up! Our friends help us to discover our calls.
We discover our calls through facts. In The Preaching of the Gospel (1963), Karl Barth concluded, "It's not a question of whether one wants to preach. It's whether one can preach." Or as our hunting buddies like to say, "That dog'll hunt." The facts tell us if the dog can hunt. And we'll know if we're called to something once we try it on for size. If it fits, no problem. If it doesn't fit, we've got to shop some more.
When it comes to evangelism, we know we're doing the right thing or using the right method when people head in our Lord's direction. We know we're called to a particular method of pointing people to Jesus when people are persuaded to invite Jesus into their hearts, minds, and souls as Lord and Savior. Or as Charles H. Spurgeon wrote in Lectures to My Students (1875), "In order…to prove a man's call, after a little exercise of his gifts…he must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts, or he may conclude that he has made a mistake…his commission is without seals until souls are won…he cannot be sure of his vocation till results are apparent."
My dad used to say, "Son, you think manual labor is the second baseman for the Phillies." One of the great problems in today's church is our paralysis of analysis. We need a "Just do it!" campaign in the church. Today's church reminds me of Dwight L. Moody's response to a man who criticized him for the way he did evangelism. "How would you do it?" Moody asked, When the man replied that he didn't do it, Moody said, "Well, I prefer the way I do it to the way you don't do it."
In Your Fourth Day (1973), Al Blatnik urged, "Make a friend, be a friend, and bring your friend to Christ." And the best method for doing that is the one that works for you.
Dr. Robert R. Kopp Logans Ferry Presbyterian Church New Kensington, PA