12 months…12 ministries EVANGELISM (#4)
BY PETER BIGGS
Let’s face it… in our culture evangelism is not cool !
The whole idea of conversion (especially from another religion) is frequently viewed by our culture as offensive. However in considering evangelism it is timely that we honour the recently deceased evangelist Billy Graham.
Billy Graham was perhaps the most significant religious figure of the 20th century, and the organizations and the movement he helped spawn continue to shape the 21st.
In Vancouver’s recent Celebration of Hope with Franklin Graham held at Rogers Arena, some 36,000 lled the venue over three nights. Many people responded to the appeal each night and came forward (I have been reliably informed resulting 466 commitments with a further 389 people making a commitment during the lead up training classes).
Interestingly the majority of attendees were from visible minorities. This is significant. Secular post-modern millennial urbanites who live in a ‘post-Christian’ era are more likely to find such an ‘evangelistic rally’ offensive.
Contextualizing – without compromising
Evangelism should not be stereotyped. Although such rallys can be effective they are not the only way of evanglism. As Christians we need to contextualize (without compromising) the Gospel.
Today is a different time/culture/worldview. If we went to minister to rural tribes in South America we would need to relate the unchanging truth of the Gospel to their language, their worldview. Perhaps we’d use stories, even bridge from their superstitions about the ‘spiritual’ (the Apostle Paul did this in Acts 17 to the Athenians).
The same is true today of our Lower Mainland culture and the post-modern mindset that does not accept objective truth, and has little knowledge of Jesus, God, Bible… etc
Norm Funk is Lead Pastor of Westside Church in Vancouver. His mission field is one of the western worlds most secular. “We need to exegete our city first,” he says. He means taking time to listen and learn belief systems, values and prejudices. “James Emery White’s book Rise of the Nones – Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffliated shows that for every one person who comes to Christ, four now categorize themselves as ‘none’,” Funk says.
How do we start?
We start with two foundational understandings
1. He (God) has planted eternity in the human heart. Ecclesiastes 3:11
2. The state of people without Christ is objectively about eternal life, but there is also an also existential loneliness and inner need described as a ‘God shaped blank’.
3. Love – God centeredness and other centeredness. It’s about them (not our ‘religious agenda!). We reflect the love of God and as Jesus did, seeking to relate to people individually, caring about those things that concern them.
“Row your boat around the Island of a persons life until you see where to land” said the English Anglican evangelist Michael Green.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect 1 Peter 3:15
Ed Hird – Rector at St. Simon’s Church, visited every home in Deep Cove (some 13,000). He found around 2 percent of people very receptive. He left the Gideon’s Gospel of John. “Evangelism is waiting for those ‘moments’,” Hird says “ Those may be births, deaths, sicknesses, job loss, family breakdown…” How we respond to these moments varies.
Funk talks about Westside’s mission including a strong emphasis on church planting (see North Shore – snaphots of faith on page 23 ). An important facet of this is creating ‘community.’
Funk also emphasizes, even in his secular context. “We do see people every week impacted by the preaching od God’s Word” he says. Westside’s Community Groups [Westside has 50-60 through the lower mainland] are encouraged to do ‘micro-mission projects’ in their neighbourhood. ese could be block parties or simply coming alongside individuals in need.” Westside also recently ran the Alpha Course.
The Alpha Course
One highly effective program is the Alpha course. It spread during the 1990s, initially in the UK and then internationally, as more and more people found it a helpful and informal way to discuss questions about the Christian faith. In April 2016, Alpha introduced a renewed Alpha Film Series, where traditional Alpha content is shown in a series of lms, featuring stories and interviews. is series is mainly presented by founder Nicky Gumbel, but others as well. It is a 10 -12 week series where participants enjoy
a meal together, watch a video on key areas of Christian faith and are encour- aged to share in small discussion groups. In essence Alpha gives people a piece of a jigsaw so that they can begin to see a picture of Christianity. ere is no pressure to ‘make a decision’ at any time.
One Pastor commented, “What I love about Alpha is that it’s not really a formula, it’s just community, around a table, with the gospel of Jesus and an openness to the Holy Spirit.”
Stephen Mulder is Associate Executive Director for Alpha Canada. He comments, “We live in a ‘post Christian culture’ – Canada is rapidly moving to secularize, although studies show 67 percent identify as ‘christian/catholic’ but there is a risingnumber-now25percentthatanswer ‘Religion:? none’.”
Current gures show 108,000 Canadians have been through Alpha (likely a conservative number as many courses don’t register).
Mulder also mentioned, “Fifty Lower Mainland High Schools are involved in student led Alpha Courses.” ese are kids of Millennials – sometimes referred to as Gen Zs.
A ‘process’ toward conversion?
For many who have become Christians who look back, they can trace a number of key people/interactions that led up to them deciding for Christ. It might be helpful to think of con- version more as a process – let’s say from 1 to 10 (1 having no faith, 10 becoming a Christian).
For many who have become Christians who look back,
they can trace a number of key people/interactions
that led up to them deciding for Christ.
The ’low numbers’… …being a witness
All Christians are to be witnesses. Ken Bell (Rector at St. Timothy’s) and his friend Pastor Todd Wiebe (Sutherland Church) partner in something called ‘Tasting Room eol- ogy’. “We approach a local food or drink business and o er to bring 20-30 or more out to visit their business. Some owners are Christian, some not. Church people invite neighbours, workmates… e business gives out samples and gives a talk. Todd or I end with a simple word. It is what you might call ‘pre-evangelistic’. We’ve made some great contacts outside our church world!”
This is simply relating to people, many of whom have no idea about Christianity.
The ‘high numbers’… …what about the ‘R’ word?
“Looking back to Billy Graham’s sermons he would call peopletorepentance,itwasoftenacalltoreturntosome- thing the hearer had some idea about. at was a ‘pre- Christian’time.Weliveina‘post-Christian’timeofBiblical illiteracy,” says Ken Bell – Rector of St. Timothy’s Repentance is described in Scripture as a gift from God and comes about after being convicted by the Holy Spirit of sin. It does involve submission to the authority of God, His Word and His ways… your kingdom come, your will be done, … forgive us our sins Matthew 6 (NLT)
The dangerous prayer… ‘thy will be done’
Shawn Vandop, pastor at Main Street Church, Chilliwack says,“Here’sthedangerousprayerIchallengeusalltopray each day this week. (Psalm 139:23-24).
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
It is important we trust the Holy Spirit to convict a person. It might be a hidden sin like
tax evasion, or an area only the Spirit would know but are important.
John Hall – Executive Director of MissionsFest suggests saying to someone, “Now what do you feel God would have you change as He redirects your life”.
The high cost vs cheap grace
Conversion does involve a leaving behind, a cost – in becoming a disciple. “ The Gospel is not simply ‘add Jesus onto your life and you’ll receive all the blessings!’”, declares Pastor Ken Dyck of e Village Church.
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…. …In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. Lu
Hall adds, “repentance has to first involve a person understanding at some level, the difference between sin and sins.” at is, our nature and orientation is inherently broken in such as way as to separate us from God – the source of life. Theologically ‘getting right with God’ (justification) precedes ‘becoming more and more like Jesus’ in ongoing discipleship (sanctification).
“ The people I want to be with would run a mile if Icalled myself an evangelist,” says Justyn Rees-a veteran Christian leader in the Lower Mainland. He has pioneered ‘story-telling’ the gospel across Canada and of late partnering with musican Russ Rosen in ‘ The Christmas Story’ and at Easter in ‘Peacemeal’. “We love to take this into people’s homes who’ve invited neighbours and friends during the week,” he shares. (For more info: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The last word goes to
Shaila Visser (Executive Director of Alpha Canada) who gave an impassioned plea at the recent Multipy Conference in Vancouver.
She spoke of evangelism in the local church as not primarily about ‘programs’ but “the common traits and characteristics in the senior church leaders.” “Leaders who are restless seeing people who don’t know Jesus. ey are building relationships with people who are far from God, Visser said. She spoke of them being kingdom people who work with other churchesandrejoicewithotherchurch’ssuccess.
She also emphasised regular prayer for the outsider. and trust of the Scripture, especially to be encouraged to ‘see’ or discern the ‘harvest’…
Matthew 9 “ The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field”.
Her final word was “be fueled by the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to have the perfect words [presen-
tation] – the Holy Spirit is already at work in peoples lives. He has your back!”