How Christians Evangelize

October 15, 2017 Series: How Christians __________

Passage: Matthew 28:16–28:20

10.15.2017      How Christians Evangelize

Scripture: Matthew 28: 16-20

 

Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

When I was in college I was a part of a parachurch campus ministry out of campus crusade for Christ. And every year they would go on a spring break mission trip called Big Break. They’d go down to Daytona Beach in Florida where the rest of the college world would be spring breaking and they’d set themselves to evangelize the spring breakers. They’d walk up to people on the beach otherwise having a good time and start to talk to them about Jesus.

 

I never went on that trip. I’ve been to the beach many times, I went there this summer with my family, and when I was at the beach you know what I wanted to do? Be at the beach. With my family. I didn’t want to talk to randos.

 

And it is this concept of evangelism that has come to dominate our understanding of what the term means.

 

I have nothing against people who walk up to people they don’t know and start to talk to them about Jesus or church. I have respect and admiration for people whose personality allows them to do that. But it’s not mine. I say all this because it’s easy to think that this is what evangelism is, full stop, and if you don’t have the personality type to walk up to someone you don’t know and start talking about Jesus then evangelism isn’t for you. I know that’s how I felt growing up in the church.

 

Oftentimes we conceive of evangelism as trying to get others to agree to a certain set of beliefs. We have a set of “if…then” propositions, we have a list of axioms that we need people to say, “yep” to. We have a specific worldview and we want others to give assent to our worldview.

 

But that’s not what evangelism really means. Evangelism is a word that comes from Greek that refers to a messenger bringing good news. Evangelists are literally bearers of good news. Think of the angels in the Linus bible verse from Luke: behold we bring you glad tidings of great joy. They were evangelists. Bearers of good news.

 

When have you been a bearer of good news? I wrestled in high school and there was one tournament that I was champion in my weight class. And I remember what it was like to tell people that I was the champion. I remember getting an email saying that I had gotten off the wait-list of the college I’d wanted to go to since I was six years old and coming down to tell my parents. Ironically, that was not the college I went to and that news was not good news for my dad who was quite happy that I’d become excited about attending a state school rather than the out of state school of my dreams. But hearing I’d gotten in was incredible news nonetheless. I remember not being able to keep in the fact that I’d ordered an engagement ring, even to the person I was going to ask to marry me.

 

When have you had good news to share? How did that feel? How have you shared that good news? What was it like to be a bearer of good news?

 

That’s what it means to be an evangelist. To be a bearer of good news. Let’s hear our Scripture passage again, the passage where the disciples and us are given a great commission, and hear it with an eye towards being a bearer of good news.

 

Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

This passage is bursting with good news. After Christ was crucified and raised from the dead, Jesus appears to the eleven disciples. Jesus says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. Rome doesn’t have the ultimate authority, death doesn’t have the ultimate authority, Satan doesn’t have the ultimate authority. Christ does. What amazing news. Go and spread this news, inviting people to follow the one who has the ultimate authority and won’t use it as Rome does or as Saran does, but will use it to love and serve everyone, even and especially the most vulnerable among us. And as we go to spread this news, Christ himself, the one who has ultimate authority over all things in heaven and on earth, will be with us always. Some more incredible news.

 

Evangelism is telling good news. It’s telling the good news that the story of God is playing out in our world, in our lives. It’s telling others that the grand story of redemption, a story we see laid out in Scripture, is happening here and now. It’s telling others that the story of God is playing out in their lives. It’s saying that God is with us. God is for us. Today. Now.

 

We have some of the best news of all time to go and tell. We have tons of people that need to hear it. And Christ himself is with us as we go to tell this news. So what is the hold up? What’s the problem?

 

In his book Evangelism in the Inventive Age Doug Pagitt argues that we have entered into a new age in the history of humanity. He says there have been four ages throughout the last two hundred years of American society: the Agrarian age, the Industrial Age, the Information Age, and now the Inventive Age. These ages determine what we think, what we value, what we do, and how we do it.

 

Pagitt argues that our understanding of evangelism comes straight out of the Information Age. As a result of the growth in manufacturing and shipping industries, people had greater access to books, newspapers, radios, and tv. Knowledge and information became the most valuable assets to culture. In that age, we revered people that spoke with authority who could give us knowledge that we ourselves did not have. Think of how we look at TV news anchors from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, as opposed to how we look at TV news anchors now. In that era an educated clergy brought to us knowledge about Christianity that we ourselves did not possess and we appreciated and relied upon their further education to unlock spiritual truths for us. The goal of evangelism became bringing spiritual truths to people who did not know them. Telling people about Jesus and Christianity who had never heard about them. Evangelism and apologetics became necessarily linked.

 

But as the great poet Bob Dylan said, the times they are a-changing. The Information Age has given way to the Inventive Age. What happened to get us to this point was the expansion and proliferation of knowledge. Everyone has access to all the knowledge we could ever need. Pagitt writes, “Right now, we live in a world filled with ideas and tools and discoveries we couldn’t have imagined twenty years ago. Bioengineered corn is grown in the African desert. You can carry a library’s worth of books in your hand and your entire CD collection in your pocket.” “In 1963 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office processed 90.982 applications. In 2008 it processed 485,312. While the U.S. population doubled in that time, patent applications increased by more than five times.” And I’m told that the amount of data produced in the last two years is ten times the amount of data produced from the beginning of time to 2015. Think about that. From the dawn of time to 2015 we produced one tenth the data that was produced in the last two years. This has profound implications for how we tell people the good news of Jesus Christ.

 

For one thing, we aren’t going to be telling people things they don’t have access to anymore. Even those that have no experience of the church can quickly google Christianity and consume an immense amount of information.

 

Another seismic shift in culture that we have seen as a result of the Inventive Age is that curation is of greater value than accumulation. This is what I mean by that. I can, with great ease, download an insane amount of music, for instance. It is no longer a virtue to have an immense music collection. Instead, the important thing is to have the right bands, songs, and albums in your collection. There is so much TV you can watch right now. It’s impossible to watch it all. So it’s not a matter of watching all of or a lot of TV…the key thing is watching the right tv. Curating our choices and managing our allegiances is the new currency in the Inventive Age.

 

Further, Pagitt adds “Children, young adults, and even older folks no longer wonder what they will be when they grow up. Now we ask, ‘What do I want to do with my life? How do I want to spend my time? What can I contribute?’” What becomes of paramount importance in the things with which we align isn’t are we backing the right ideology, but are the things with which we are aligning ourselves meaningful. Important. Making an impact.

 

Pagitt says that one of the big things that has changed is we have moved from beliefs as a jenga tower to beliefs as a web. Well, he doesn’t say jenga tower. That’s me. But he talks about foundationalism and how we looked at beliefs as stacked on top of one another, some beliefs being the building blocks of others. And we need to get the bedrock beliefs right in order to literally build upon those to other spiritual truths. So what we wind up doing is a jenga tower of faith. But that isn’t how people build beliefs anymore. Instead we have a web of truth.

 

Webs incorporate. Webs diversify. Webs allow things to go in differing directions in ways that don’t harm, but rather strengthen the overall ecology. We set up our beliefs in webs now which means that when we approach evangelism we aren’t asking people to build a new tower of belief, but to incorporate new beliefs into their ever expanding web. Which means beliefs are intensely personal. And it means our approaches to evangelism need to be personal and particular.

 

Here’s how this works. I recently watched a movie called Liberal Arts that resonated with me and touched me and was a deeply emotional experience for me. If I came to you and said this indie movie Liberal Arts is the best movie of all time you would not reply back, “You speak with authority, I will now build my understanding on what good movies are on the basis of Liberal Arts being the best movie ever.” Instead if you really value my opinion on movies, which its been established is questionable at best, you might go and watch Liberal Arts and incorporate your own view of the movie within the web of other thoughts on movies you have.

 

This is a silly way of explaining how we view authority, belief, and evangelism in the Inventive Age. First, there is no singular authority on anything. We no longer give complete assent to some sort of authority structure. We discover things ourselves and decide for ourselves what we will allow to have authority over us. Second, beliefs we don’t currently hold are evaluated by the beliefs we do currently hold and synthesized into that lager belief web. Third, we evaluate beliefs based on the personal relationship we have to the evangelist. You’ll watch a movie I recommend based on your relationship with me. The same is true for evangelism.

 

All of this means there is no one size fits all evangelism pitch. You see, if evangelism is telling other people that the story of God is playing out in their lives, the way that looks, the way God encounters them is going to be as particular as that person’s life. So telling that new is incredibly unique. It is incredible personal and it is based on relationship.

 

In his book, Pagitt looks at the nine different enneagram types. If you’ve ever encountered the enneagram you know there are enneagram people who swear by the enneagram. It’s also possible you’ve never encountered this thing and don’t know what I’m talking about. The enneagram is a personality inventory, similar to Myers-Briggs, that tells you some things about yourself. For the enneagram the nine different personality types each have their own deepest longing, their own greatest fear, their own driving emotion, their own struggle, etc. Pagitt then talks about evangelism in a way unique to each of the nine personality types. Pagitt talks about how God can meet each personality type in a different way. Pagitt talks about how the Gospel is good news to each personality type.

 

And what we see here is that God truly wants to meet people where they are. And God wants to use us to help God meet people where they are. Evangelism isn’t about walking up to random strangers and trying to get them to buy into a passionless list of logical propositions. Instead evangelism is deeply personal. It’s about helping people you know and love see that God loves and knows them. It’s about helping people come to know a God who is looking to redeem their lives, allay their deepest fear, and fulfill their deepest longing. It’s about helping people see the story of God playing out in their lives. But in order to do that, you have to know their stories.

 

The next step in all this is how do we proclaim the good news in the midst of people’s lives? How do we see how the story of God is unfolding in the lives of people around us? Pagitt offers three things we can do as precursors to evangelism.

 

Listening

 

Pagitt writes, “Evangelism in the Inventive Age will require listening not only to someone’s words but also to the story they are living.” This isn’t just something that everyone can do should they just put their mind to it. Active listening is a skill that needs to be developed by Christians who seek to bear Christ to the world in our new age. How often are we listening, how often are we really listening to the people closest to us?

 

But we also have to go a step further. We have to really engage with the people around us. We have to ask deeper questions than how are you doing and don’t the Redskins stink this year. We have to ask not just what is going on in people’s lives, but how they feel about what is taking shape. Oftentimes people give us opportunities to go deeper. More often than not, we don’t take them.

 

You see, when a tired parent talks about all the obligations and activities going on in her family’s life she is not communicating mere facts. Perhaps she is wanting to talk about the exhaustion she feels on a daily basis. Perhaps she is hinting at feeling like she is never enough, that she fears she is inadequate. Perhaps she is needing to hear that there is a God who gives her rest. Perhaps she needs to hear that God’s grace means she is enough. Can we listen to what is being said and plumb the depths of what is left unsaid? Can we be truly present to the people God has placed in our lives?

 

When evangelism is first about listening to another person, then the other person becomes the focal point in the exchange. Rather than the other person being a means to my own ends, namely conversion, I must fully be present to and really truly love the other person. And if we are going to convey the love of God to someone we have to approach them from a place of love. And so we listen.

 

Going first

 

Our starting point is listening, but that won’t mean we don’t have an active role in the conversation. Oftentimes one of the best ways to bring the conversation to a deeper place is to go deep first yourself.

 

Being vulnerable is hard. Sharing the deepest longings of your heart, being open about your fears and anxieties is scary. Opening your soul to another takes courage. Nothing can forge a bond of trust like going first. If there’s resonance in another’s story to your life, share your hopes and fears.

 

So many of our conversations begin surface level and stay surface level. We can ask questions that will help get the other person to go deeper, but sometimes they might resist. Who wants to be the first one to get vulnerable? Who wants to risk the embarrassment of oversharing? Why not place that awkwardness and anxiety onto ourselves and be the ones to go first. Take the onus of moving the conversation forward onto yourself. Be the one to risk. Be the one to go deep.

 

Non-identical repetition

 

Pagitt says, “The notion of non-identical repetition is that some stories in our lives repeat over time.” It’s why so many stories in the Bible have resonance even for people who don’t claim to be Christians. The story of the Good Samaritan, of altruism and self-sacrifice connects with us on a basic human level. The story of the Prodigal Son, of a son rebelling against his father, of a son seeking forgiveness from his father, of a brother brooding over the poor choices of his junior sibling…these are universal stories. We see stories from Scripture re-presented in other media, in literature, in music, in tv and movies. Les Mis is the greatest musical of all time and it’s a story that is all of our stories: a man finding redemption and then offering redemption.

 

Whether we see patterns emerging in our own lives or in the lives of others, whether we see traces of Biblical stories in our lives or the lives of others, whether we see traces of other stories in our lives or in the lives of others, pointing these stories out can be the bridge to showing others how God’s story is working out in their lives.

 

I have long known that I was the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. But I never knew what to do with that. And then I read a book where the author was riffing on both characters in the story. Every time we talk about the Prodigal Son we talk about the redemption that the younger brother finds. It’s obvious. It’s the point of the whole story. But this author talked not only about the redemption that was there for the younger brother, but also the redemption the father offers the older brother. How the older brother views his life as toil and the father says this is all for joy. How the father forgives the older son for the wrong beliefs he had about his father. How the son was welcomed to see his life serving the father as one of happiness and joy. How the son had already claimed his reward if only he would see it. I listened to the author talk about that story and saw how my story fit into this story of redemption.

 

The Bible is a treasure trove of stories of redemption. Perhaps the key to evangelism is helping people to see their story through the lens of one of the Biblical stories of redemption. And in that way seeing themselves as redeemed.

 

The Inventive Age presents unique challenges to Christians who would seek to live out Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations. Our fundamental task is no longer one of education. Our fundamental task is no longer to disseminate information. Rather we are called, we are tasked with helping other see how their lives, their stories are caught up in the mighty acts of our God in the world. We are called, we are tasked with helping others see their stories as part of the grand story God is writing on our world and on our hearts. We are called, we are tasked with helping others see the story of God at work in their lives.

 

So go! Go into all the world! Go into Montclair and Manassas. Go into Dale City and Dumfries. Go into Lake Ridge and Four Seasons. Go into Woodbridge and Potomac Shores. Go into Stafford if you would brave 95. Make disciples of Jesus Christ. Help others see Christ alive in our world and in their lives. And lo Christ will be with us even until the end of the age. Thanks be to God. Let us pray.

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