In her classic work, Out of the Saltshaker, Rebecca Manley Pippert opines:
“Christians and non-Christians have something in common: we’re both uptight about evangelism.” She also confesses, “There was a part of me that secretly felt evangelism was something you shouldn’t do to your dog, let alone a friend.”
The anxiety Pippert identifies is something I address in my workshops on “Becoming good news people” across the country. These interactive, participatory learning experiences empower people to plant the gospel where God has planted them.
What is it about evangelism that causes our palms to sweat and our pulse to race?
Part of the challenge involves a postmodern aversion to truth claims and gospel proclamation. We need to recover proper confidence in the gospel and announcing the amazingly good news of Jesus. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17).
If I had five cents for every time I heard the following axiom attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, I’d be a wealthy man: “Preach the gospel at all times – and if necessary use words.” This aphorism undermines the validity of gossiping the gospel and heralding the message of salvation.
‘“Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning,” says author Mark Galli. “It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets, Jesus and Paul put on preaching. Of course, we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.”
Further, author Ed Stetzer plays missional mythbuster: “A godly life should serve as a witness for the message we proclaim. But without words, what can our actions point to but ourselves? A godly life cannot communicate the incarnation, Jesus’ substitution for sinners or the hope of redemption by grace alone through faith alone. We can’t be good news, but we can herald it, sing it, speak it and preach it to all who listen.”
Part of our missional challenge is we’ve subscribed to unhelpful approaches to evangelism that set us up for disappointment. In particular are the unhappy ideas that evangelism is just for salespeople and the particular preserve of extroverts.
Rely on the Spirit
We need to be liberated from the undue pressure of sales pitch evangelism with its canned presentations. We need to step into the adventure of messy, Spirit-led evangelism.
I recently had the privilege of preaching at the historic First Baptist Church in Vancouver. Between services, I chatted with FBC senior pastor Darrell Johnson who offered a helpful definition of evangelism: “Evangelism involves eavesdropping on a conversation between a human being and the Holy Spirit and entering into the conversation when invited by either party.”
Evangelism isn’t all about “closing the deal.” Yes, we need to unashamedly announce what God in Christ has done for us and urge people to be reconciled to God. We need to be invitational people who invite people to follow Jesus and engage in the spiritual midwifery of leading people to Jesus. But first and foremost, we need to be led by and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The good news is it’s not up to you or me. The Holy Spirit is God the Evangelist and we have the privilege of joining him in the enterprise of evangelism.
Be open to redirection
Transformative gospel communication has two dimensions: illumination – the blessed work of the Holy Spirit – and explanation. This is gloriously illustrated in Philip the evangelist’s exchange with the Ethiopian treasury official buzzing along a desert road in his chariot. (See Acts 8:26–40.)
Philip receives divine guidance and redirection; the Spirit of God tells him to go close to the chariot (v. 26, 29). Philip shows up where God is already at work and encounters a man on a quest for God: “He had gone to Jerusalem to worship” (v. 27). During the return trip to his homeland, the treasury official is poring over arguably the most Christ-centred passage in the Old Testament. Philip steps into a divine appointment.
The impetus for this redemptive encounter is heaven redirecting Philip from the epicentre of a spiritual awakening (Acts 8:4–25) to a desert wasteland. Philip displays receptivity to the guidance of the Spirit.
May we all have that same receptivity to be redirected by the Spirit!
Bill Hogg is national missiologist with the C2C Network. Fasten your seat belts because Bill will explore the art of spiritual conversation in his next installment of “Hogg wild: Adventures in missional living.”
An opportunity to be equipped for mission
I want to help people overcome bashfulness and fear about sharing the gospel and see God’s people equipped and released into making much of Jesus. To that end, I offer training weekends called “Becoming good news people.” I deeply value your prayers that God would use this ministry as a catalytic resource.
Let’s pause for an infomercial from gospel ninja and church planter Rob Chartrand, who offers a sense of what happens during these weekend workshops:
“Crosspoint Church [Edmonton, Alberta] hosted the ‘Becoming good news people’ seminar in November 2013. We invited Bill Hogg to bring his experience and expertise to us, that we might be gospel-centred communicators. Bill tirelessly served for the entire weekend. He trained our local C2C regional church planters on Friday, taught the full-day seminar on Saturday to a group of over 50 Crosspointers and spoke at our gathering on Sunday morning. The seminar was a tremendous success. As a young and growing church plant in our third year, we needed a faith-filled ‘kick in the pants’ to remind us that each of us is a missionary where God has placed us. Bill immersed us in gospel fluency and inspired us to be on mission with God in the world. Through the use of story and personal example, he motivated us to expect great things from God as we pray and live as sent people.”
When I engage in an evangelism training weekend, I have seven outcomes in mind. The goal for each workshop participant is that they will:
- Be refreshed!
- Open up to the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the enterprise of evangelism.
- Think and act as a missionary where God has placed them.
- Be empowered in gospel fluency.
- Have greater confidence in telling God’s Big Story and how God’s story has collided with their story.
- Be motivated to live on mission in their communities.
- Press into prayer evangelism.
For more information, go to www.c2cnetwork.ca.