Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Irresistible Evangelism?

I receive a weekly email from Group publishing that provides tips for children's and other ministries. The quality of the "tips" are hit and miss, but I found this week's tip particularly interesting (and to be filed in the "miss" category). This week's tip was entitled "Irresistible Evangelism" and is transcribed in bold type below. I've got some issues with what Group publishing considers "irresistible evangelism," so I put my own commentary in regular type. Judge for yourself.

As evangelistic results in the United States and throughout the Western world reach all-time lows, perhaps it's time to ask whether the problem is the messsage or the messengers.

Ok, they asked, so I'll answer. In one way, the message IS the problem. The Bible says that men are haters of God, and at enmity with God, and that the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. In other words, sinners are naturally hardened to the gospel. So when they hear the message of "Repent and believe," they immediately don't like the message. This doesn't absolve them of their responsibility to respond, however. So in one sense, the message is the problem.

In another sense, the message is NOT the problem. Because if the message is true, then it doesn't matter how unattractive it is. Even if it is disagreeable, truth is truth. It is therefore the responsibility of the hearer to respond to truth.

The problem certainly can't be the messengers. The messengers have been screwing it up for the last 2000 years, and yet people have come to salvation. If the success of evangelism depended upon the messengers, we'd be in a lot of trouble. Thank God that he's the one who does the saving, election, and work. This does not, however, absolve Christians of their responsibility to be obedient to the great commission.

If the most popular books on the shelves of your local bookstores are any indication, people are very interested in spirituality. On the Internet, spiritual sites receive hits more frequently than sites with any other nonpornographic subject matter. So how can we become (and train others to become) messengers who not only get heard but see the fruit and positive results that God desires?

Most spiritual books and websites that deal with spirituality are popular because they deal with what John MacArthur calls "Christianity Lite." In other words, it's a brand of Christianity that exists to solve a person's problems, meet their emotional needs (more on that further down), assure them success, and make them feel good about themselves. None of these things are at the heart of the true gospel. So it's not accurate to say that spiritual books and websites (Christian or otherwise) are popular because people are searching for God. They're usually just seeking to gratify themselves in some way.

On the topic of conversion, there is no biblical guarantee that any evangelist will ever live to see the fruit of his labor. God does the saving, and God works in his own time. Consider Noah: that man preached for hundreds of years and didn't see one convert. Did he change his message? No.

The messages that are likely to get through to a person's heart are the messages addressed to that person's individual needs. People have four layers of needs, and we frequently need to work through those layers in turn.

When you boil it all down, people only have 1 need: salvation. Plus, where the heck are they getting these "four layers of needs" from? Is that based on science? Also, it's not accurate to think that you have to peel away the layers of people like an onion in order for them to listen to you or interact with you. Again, truth is truth, whether I know you or not. It definitely helps to have a holistic approach, but it is certainly not necessary or vital for "successful" evangelism.

1) Physical needs. We start by meeting physical needs creatively and consistently. To do so, we must learn the skill of active kindness.

See above. I'm all for meeting physical needs, but they are not an end in an of themselves. They also aren't a means to an end. People can have all of their physical needs met and still go to hell. Also, how much time should I take to meet physical needs before I introduce the gospel. However long it is, isn't it possible that this person could die while still in the "having their needs met" period? Christians are always supposed to be loving and meeting needs. Do this in tandem with sharing the gospel.

2) Emotional/Relational needs. To better meet people's emotional and relational needs, we must brush up on active listening skills.

Ok, but what does this have to do with evangelism? Plus, I fear that far too often Christians just "talk" to people without ever asserting any biblical truth. If all we do is listen to each other's feelings and emotions, no one will ever believe anything.

3) Directional needs. To help people in the big directional questions of their lives, we need the skill of active wondering. This usually takes the form of asking questions that provoke people to think deeply about things and discover new insights-often giving you clues to the best way to approach them in layer 4.

"The skill of active wondering"? Give me a break. The only question people need to think deeply about is, "what will happen to YOU when you die?"

4) Spiritual needs. Once we've worked through the first three layers, people will subconsciously grant us the right (and credibility) to practice the final skill, active sharing.

Again, I'd just like to ask: what happens if the person I am "witnessing" to dies in layer 2, before I got to layer 4? Have I taken too much time meeting their needs? This whole model smacks of relational or "friendship" evangelism, and it just doesn't work - it's not practical, it's not realistic.

Also, I disagree with the notion that I have to earn the right or possess some sort of credibility in order to be heard. Either the message is true or it's not. And when I think about it, I can't think of ANYWHERE in the Bible where Jesus or the apostles EVER used an evangelistic method like the one listed above. Certainly Jesus and the apostles met the physical needs of others, listened to their stories, and asked them the "big" questions of life. But they never did it as a means of witnessing to them.

Our lives, as ordinary and mundane as they may seem, can have a wonderful and eternal influence on the lives of others!

Indeed, however the influence will be most effective, and most "irresistible" when done biblically.

No comments: