Following is a guest post by Rick Richardson
The church often gets bogged down or derailed by division and argument about evangelism (and about a lot of other things too!).
Often, we spend more time criticizing each other’s views than we do actually reaching out to people who don’t know Jesus yet. Or, as Paul Little, an InterVarsity evangelism director, put it during a period when InterVarsity staff were spending more time criticizing Campus Crusade’s approach to evangelism than promoting their own approach, “I like the way Campus Crusade does evangelism a lot better than I like the way we don’t do evangelism! We may not be making their mistakes, but is that a cause for celebration? We are certainly not experiencing their gains either.”
I know, even the language of “doing evangelism” carries assumptions and presuppositions about which we could argue. But sometimes such critique just paralyzes us. It does not prepare us.
How can we move from argument and critique to engagement and appreciation?
One thing that could help us is to realize there is a wonderful diversity to the ways the people of God bear witness to the truth and the power of the gospel.
I have identified at least six paradigms or approaches to evangelism that different leaders have championed over the last 70 years:
- Evangelism as Proclamation (Billy Graham)
- Evangelism as Converting Individuals and Making Disciples (Dawson Trotman)
- Evangelism as Acts of Service, Compassion, Reconciliation, and Justice (John Perkins)
- Evangelism as the Demonstration of God’s Power (John Wimber)
- Evangelism as Church Growth and Planting (Donald McGavran)
- Evangelism as Alternative Community (John Howard Yoder)
Does this mean evangelism can be anything and everything? No. If it is everything, it loses its own distinctive role and dignity. But each one of these paradigms highlights an important dimension of evangelism (i.e., communicating the good news through word, deed, sign, invitation into Jesus, invitation into the family). And each historic paradigm often compensated for what had been missing in the paradigm that came before.
In light of this diversity, let me make several suggestions:
- We often need healing in our attitude toward evangelism. We carry baggage and stereotypes that keep us from being proactive in sharing our faith.
- We need to find our style or approach. Too often we try to share our faith in ways that are inauthentic to who we are. We need to come to evangelistic authenticity.
- Yet we can affirm the strengths in other approaches as helping fill out the witness of the whole Church. We need evangelistic generosity.
- But finally, we must always remember there is a bottom line in all evangelism, and Paul perhaps said it best: “If we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we shall be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Or again when he talked of what was of first importance: Jesus’ death for sin, burial, and resurrection. There is always a core verbal proclamation and invitation that must be part of any evangelistic approach we might pursue.
Rick Richardson is associate professor of intercultural studies at Wheaton College and director of the MA in Evangelism and Leadership and the MA in Missional Church Movements degrees. Rick consults widely with churches on evangelism and healing and reconciliation for the emerging generation and on contemporary missional churches and missional movements. He is author of Reimagining Evangelism.