5. Evangelism tends to be too focused on “the conversion event”. James Engel developed the Engel Scale to show conversion is part of a longer discipleship process that goes from complete ignorance of God to a faithful steward of God. Anything that moves a person from the low end of the scale to the high end of the scale should be looked at as evangelism. The study that showed that Americans who came to Christ later in life supports this. On average these people heard the Gospel 6-7 times prior to conversion. If it takes 6 – 7 times of sharing the Gospel, then each of those times is an important part of the path of spiritual transformation in the individual. Pushing for a decision each time may be unnecessary… even counter-productive. In fact, I have known of people who have come back to an Evangelizer the day after angry because they felt pressured to say what the Evangelizer wanted them to say. It is unlikely that such pressure brings real conversion, but it is quite likely that such pressure serves as a barrier to their responding to the message. Frank Gray developed the Gray Matrix that shows that not only is there a vertical axis (the Engel Scale) of cognitive growth, but there is a horizontal axis of affective (or valuing) growth. Anything that moves an individual from the left side of the axis (hostility to God and His message) to the right side of the axis (a favorable opinion) should be seen as evangelism. One might even add a third dimension for behavior. The behavioral conforming of an individual could also be considered part of the broader evangelism process. Some people would not care for this since it broadens evangelism to a point that it is hard to distinguish from other ministries… but why is it important to distinguish it. Shouldn’t evangelism be the natural outflowing of a Christian’s life.
6. Evangelism is too disconnected from behavior. The old saying that goes, “Your actions speak so loud that I can’t hear a word you are saying” is quite relevant here. If we are unable to show genuine compassion for a person, why should our words be valued? If our lifestyle is inconsistent with our message, why should we be taken seriously? If our message and lifestyle make the Gospel message appear ugly… isn’t that like putting a millstone around the neck of another and tossing them into the sea (drawing from the imagery of Jesus). Paul told Titus about the importance of decorating or adorning the Gospel with our actions (Titus 2:10). Actually, one of the best ways of sharing our faith is by sharing what God has done in our lives (and not just the happy moment– but sharing a true testimony, warts and all). Post-moderns, for example, may not value “objective truth” but they value personal experiences. Our testimony in Christ is part of God’s message.
7. Evangelism is too often tied to cultural or denominational change. Far too often I have had Christians come up to me to share their faith. As I let them know that I am a fellow believer… it becomes soon evident that they are in no way satisfied. That is because I am not “their kind of Christian”. They hardly take a breath before moving to why I am the “wrong kind of Christian.” I have also seen people sharing with unbelievers where the presentation of the gospel dovetails right into a presentation of their denomination or church. It is not clear whether the person sharing is able to tell where the Good News of Christ stops and the “good” news of their particular group begins. Related to this is the tendency to focus on cultural change. Some cultural things must change. But not all. We, when sharing the Gospel, must be able to distinguish between God’s message of repentance and our cultural imperialism. We as Christians often want to make others into our image, rather than Christ’s image.
8. Evangelism is too often done without understanding the other person and what they believe. This is related to previous points. But our ignorance of what others believe hurts our ability to share the Gospel in a way that would be understood and appreciated. We should understand the religions or belief systems that others have. Many of them take the time to try to understand what we believe. By understanding where genuine differences lie (and surprising common ground) we are likely to be able to prepare the ground for sharing God’s message of hope.
9. Evangelism does not give enough respect to the concept of “dialogue”. Consider four types of communication: Preaching/polemics, teaching/didactics , Argument/apologetics,, and Dialogue/discussion. Evangelism is generally thought of as being the first three types, especially the first and third. Evangelism can be one-directional talking (preaching or teaching) or it can be two-directional. But the two-directional method most often used is argument. Preaching and Argument tend to start from an adversarial, and sometimes disrespectful, position. Argument actually commonly pushes people further apart in their beliefs, rather than bringing them together. There is a “backfire effect. Perhaps it is worth considering the possibility of dialogue as a method. Since dialogue (respectful sharing of thoughts) tears down barriers and lessens misunderstandings, it can open doors to effective sharing of faith.
End of Part 2.
Go to Part 3.