Monday, August 29, 2011
THE Gospel: For Here or To Go? (Part 5 of 6)
PATTERNS OF EVANGELISM
One thing that’s also helpful to me is to realize that, contrary to popular opinion, there is not a formula to evangelism found in the New Testament. Several times in the Gospels we see various people who come to Jesus and ask point blank, “What must I do to be saved?” One of the most shocking things is that Jesus never gives the answer that all of us have been trained to give. Not once. Jesus never says, “Confess your sins, believe in me and repeat this prayer after me.”
What we see is that Jesus gave a different answer to this question every single time. He never gave the same answer twice. It’s as if Jesus goes out of his way to demonstrate to us that evangelism needs to be done in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, being sensitive to the specific heart of the one person we are speaking to, and not applying the cookie cutter approach to preaching the Gospel.
Let’s look briefly at the various answers Jesus gives to those who approached him asking about what must be done to inherit eternal life and see what we can learn from Him.
To Zaccheus Jesus simply acknowledges him in the crowd, invites himself to dinner and when Zaccheus repents of skimming from the taxes he’s collected, Jesus proclaims that salvation has come to his household. In the case of the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus commands him to sell everything he has, give it to the poor and become a disciple under Jesus. The man refuses and is allowed to walk away, seemingly unconverted. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, is told he must be born a second time. This confuses him and Jesus does little to explain what he means, leaving the teacher of the Law to work it out on his own time. The Woman at the Well is boldly confronted with the promiscuous lifestyle she’s been living and yet never feels offended or condemned by Jesus throughout the conversation. Finally, the Thief on the Cross is converted and welcomed into Paradise simply for realizing that Jesus was the promised Messiah. His only part in the process seems to be the amazing good fortune of being crucified for his crimes on the same day as the Son of God.
Many other examples of salvation in the New Testament reflect this same lack of pattern and tailor-made response to the Gospel message.
How does your personal conversion experience compare to these found in the New Testament? Do you see a common pattern in your own story?
When I look at this amazing variety of conversion experiences in Scripture it really puzzles me as to why we’ve made evangelism so predictable and uninteresting.
What’s more, our focus on evangelism seems to be in asking whether or not someone knows whether or not they would go to heaven if they were to die tonight? If anything, it seems the basic questions beings asked by Jesus and His disciples dealt with what one would do if they knew for a fact that they’d be alive tomorrow. The real question seems to be, “If you were alive tomorrow, who would you follow and how would you live your life?”
Are we asking the wrong questions?
HAVE YOU EVER FALLEN IN LOVE?
If you’ve ever fallen in love you know that it’s a scary, delicate and uncertain process. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get in the way of the natural progression of things. Other times we fall in love and we can’t even really explain how and when it really happened, only that one day we woke up and realized that we could not live without this other person in our lives. There is no science to the process of falling in love.
What I think we fail to realize is that, conversion to Christ is really a process of falling in love with Jesus over a period of time. When we make this process about a series of steps and a progression of words, we have seriously interfered with something that is far outside our ability to grasp and coordinate.
I can remember when I fell in love with my wife, Wendy, back in college. I can remember that first time I ever saw her, as she stepped onto the bus headed to a leadership conference we were attending with an on-campus student ministry. As she walked towards my seat and eventually sat in front of me I remember thinking, “Wow. Who is she? I’ve not seen her around campus.”
Before the bus left the parking lot she and I were engaged in small talk, she leant me new batteries for my Walkman and we barely interacted for the rest of the trip. A few weeks later I joined the Drama group she was leading, just to be near her. Over a series of months I got to know her. Finally I asked her to join me to see a local play and she turned me down cold. I was crushed.
Eventually she did join me and over time we got to know each other over the course of a year or so. After formally dating for a few months I asked her to marry me and a year later we were married.
Now, what if I took my own personal experience of falling in love and created a formula by which all others who wanted to fall in love must follow? Would that make any sense?
Hopefully we can plainly see that to expect everyone to fall in love the way that we fell in love is ridiculous. Yet, we have formulated a process for falling in love with Jesus and if people miss a few steps along the way we are quick to point out that they have failed to fall in love with Him in the acceptable way.
Doesn’t this seem foolish?
My prayer is that we will begin to see evangelism, and conversion, and discipleship to Jesus as an organic, creative, and miraculous process, as mysterious and marvelous as falling in love.
“And they will know that you are my disciples if you love one another”
–Jesus (from John 13:35)
Excerpted from the book "The Gospel:For Here or To Go?" with a foreword by Neil Cole here>