Process versus instant evangelism

An introduction to this month's theme

Miroslav Pujic is the communication director of the Trans-European Division, Hertsfordshire, England.

The Western world is in a state of flux; the modern world, stretching back to the Enlightenment, is now crumbling. Postmodernism is no longer merely part of academic theory and classification. It is accepted as part of reality and normality, a phenomenon in popular culture; it permeates popular magazines, television, music, and art. It is also manifested in the workplace and in the way people communicate and relate to one another.

Postmodern people:

  • Reject the stated truth expressed in dogmas and absolutes; they would rather experience truth.
  • Are open to emotion and intuition.
  • Are accustomed to communicating through words linked to images and symbols; they are more comfortable conversing through plain words or simple statements.
  • Are concerned about the global human situation and the environment.
  • Are suspicious of institutions, bureaucracies, and hierarchies; their suspicions run deep, but they like to be part of a community in which they participate and interact.
  • Are at ease talking about spirituality and values.

They suspect claims of certainty and distrust allegations of objectivity; to them the world is much more blatantly a subjective place.1

Postmodern people like to "mix and match." They say such things as, "1 create my own version of truth from all sorts of different resources. I have mine do not try to force yours on me."

In the postmodern world the first question is more likely to be: "How do you feel?" rather than "What do you think?" Robert Webber says, "Indications of a postmodern worldview suggest that mystery, with its emphasis on complexity and ambiguity, [and] community, with its emphasis on the interrelationship of all things, and symbolic forms of communication, with an emphasis on the visual, are all central to the new way of thinking." 2

Why does Christianity struggle in the Western world?

In this kind of world, with its increasing hunger for spirituality and for finding fulfillment and meaning in life, why is the Christian church still unpopular?

One reason is that when we offer a full alternative world to people, we are acting in the imperialistic style, which postmodern people reject. We present the gospel from A-Z, as a package, and think this remains as a productive way of doing evangelism. But nowhere do we find Jesus or the apostles working with such a model.

In much of traditional evangelism we seem to operate under the premise that we have a "product" (the gospel and/or Seventh-day Adventist teaching) you (the consumer) need; and then we close the deal (conversion and baptism). This approach is not giving us success with postmodern people, who see this "religious sales operation" as a manipulative marketing technique.

Instead, we should be looking to build relationships with postmodern men and women through friendships, which will open the door of trust and confidence. Our approach should be more of relational and contextual rather than confrontational and prepositional. The challenge to all churches is how to adjust to societal changes and how to express eternal truth in and through this emerging culture, while we strongly retain solid objectivity and our grasp of normative truth.

Invitation

The Bible says that we "have a great sense of obligation to people in our culture and to people in other cultures ..." (Rom. 1:14) 3 "..carrying the everlasting Good News ... to the people who belong to this world to every nation, tribe, language, and people" (Rev. 14:6).

Surely this includes today's post modern culture. When the young man who was demon possessed was healed, Jesus told him "... go home to your friends, and tell them what wonderful things the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been" (Mark 5:19, emphasis supplied). In this story, Jesus taught us the bedrock principles of evangelism.

He wants us to go back to our community and build holistic connections with people around us, with those where we live, work, and play. We should share the wonderful story our story of a wonderful, loving God who has made a difference in our life.

The life-development approach

In searching for a culturally sensitive way of reaching postmodern people in an essentially post- Christian culture, we in the Trans-European Division have developed an approach that is known as LIFEdevelopment.info, or Ldi.

At its heart Ldi is a strategic vision to involve Adventist Christians:

  • In building authentic friendships with unchurched postmodern people in our communities;
  • In the process of leading them to Jesus Christ;
  • In providing hope through support and nurture.
  • This vision is built on three biblical models that are placed over the "map" of our largely postmodern world.

1. Belonging before believing. The traditional, most widely adopted evangelistic strategy is: Teach people about the gospel, see that they behave according to the doctrines taught, and then accept them into the body of Christ. Again, this method has proved inappropriate and ineffective in the Western, postmodern world.

"The never-churched need to be enveloped by small communities of believers so that they can see the impact of the gospel in their relation ships and experience some of the benefits through an intentional spillover [from within the small community].

Such was the dynamic that made the pre-Constantinian church so effective. Within the context of the Christian communities, the disillusioned, cynical and uninterested are respected and accepted, and are converted into 'awakened seekers', to employ John Wesley's significant description." 5

People are seeking genuine relationships. Jesus is the best example of how to build friendships. "The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me.'"6

This requires planning and sacrifice. We have busy lives. Committing oneself to making friends and building relationships with non-Christians takes time and energy, but if we want to share the love of Jesus Christ we need to step out of our comfort zones. In all relationships, talking and sharing is crucial, and we have to remember that talking includes authentic, attentive listening as well. To help people grasp the story of Christ requires time and patience. We must be understanding, honest, and nonjudgmental.

In fostering such an environment, food and eating together are important components. Shared meals sustain human relationships and symbolize solidarity. Meals express the texture of human associations, the way of life, the norms and commitments. Jesus ate and drank with people, even with the sinners most disdained by the religious establishment of His day. He was criticized for doing this (Matt. 11:19; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 15:1, 2). He knew, however, that being with people around the table would enable Him to build trust, confidence, and friendship, enabling further meaning and depth to develop.

If the main purpose of evangelism is just "believing," then we are under the limiting and limited constraint to press people into an awareness of the truths they need to know. But when the point is not only what people are coming to know but the way they are coming to know it and experience it, then there is a new and much more effective dynamic.

If the main purpose of evangelism is "behaving," then we make people focus on themselves and changing their personal habits. But if the point is to help someone who is becoming a true friend; if the main purpose of evangelism is "belonging," then we make people disciples of Jesus Christ and incorporate them into a vibrant Christian community.

"Belonging before believing" does not mean that the person is spiritually incorporated into the body of Christ but rather accepted into the process of transformation, which is the work of the Holy Spirit.7

"A sense of belonging places seekers in the position of observer-participant so that they can learn what the gospel is all about. They can observe at close quarters how it impacts the lives of individuals and shapes a community. Through this process the seeker comes to know when he or she is ready to make a personal decision to identify fully both with the Lord and with the body of Christ." 8

People long to belong to a place they can call home. The Western world is going through the shift from modernism, where Enlightenment created self-autonomy, individualism, and isolation, to postmodernism, where people are searching for identity and community. Instead of a scientific discovery, we now have virtual reality, an experience that is real in effect but not in fact.9

In the misery of loneliness and the search for identity, Christians should create a community that will embrace these changes and help people find their identity in becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.

2. Process evangelism. When Jesus started His mission, He entered deeply into the world of 12 people, identified with them and their conditions, and committed Himself first of all to begin the process of evangelizing. It took the apostles more than three years to grow up in understanding Jesus; first as a teacher, then a prophet, then the Messiah, then the ascended Son of God with a cause beyond any they had imagined. This suggests a process rather than an event.

Even though we are used to instant food, instant drinks, instant cash, instant messages, we cannot do evangelism instantly, at least not with the generation in which we are a part. Evangelizing is a process. It takes a person on a journey, a spiritual journey that we Christians are on as well, with all its ups and downs.

On that journey our job is to go one step at a time. The Holy Spirit's work is to convince the person and bring them to conversion. Our responsibility is to be available as the tools that God uses to complete His work. It is our objective to simply fol low Jesus. Among other things, this will help us experience the miracle of walking on the water, as Peter did (Matt. 14:29).

Six steps in the postmodern conversion process

Jimmy Long identifies six steps in the postmodern conversion process. They are:

(1) discontentment with life,

(2) confusion over meaning,

(3) contact with Christians,

(4) conversion to community,

(5) commitment to Christ, and

(6) a calling to God's heavenly vision." 10

Of course, conversion sometimes doesn't follow this sequence exactly.

Time, place, and speed are applicable to the individual. It could be that one person goes through the process faster than the other or jumps over one to another, but it is still a process because the postmodern generation requires time to make any lasting commitment in life.11

The process helps the seeker to see the gospel in action in the setting of the Christian community. The process shapes the seeker's heart, not only his or her mind. The process leads the seeker into a holistic Christian maturity. The process converts the seeker to become a disciple, not just a "member." The process enables the new disciple to become a disciple-maker.

3. Narrative evangelism. As part of this process, "story" has the power to provoke our thoughts, emotions, laughter, and can prompt us into action. A story has the power to create a vision, which in turn produces character. This changes the person's mind and affects his or her attitude, worldview, and soul.

Jesus understood the power of a story, and He used many stories and illustrations to teach as much as people were able to understand. In fact, in His public teaching, He taught only with parables (Mark 4:33, 34).

The concept of story, or narrative, evangelism presents the gospel, not just a mass of data that leads to a logical conclusion. The whole gospel is a narrative in which God's story collides with a human story, and that intersection of human and divine is what makes the difference.

A new generation is seeking to find a viable model through or in which ultimate meaning may be found. When they see Christians who live out their stories in faithful community, albeit imperfectly, they will respond. It will provide hope to a generation without hope. It will support them in their everyday life and nurture them in their spiritual formation.

Golden opportunity

"The Story that there is a God who cares about the individual human being is an old message but it has been given a new attractiveness, a new plausibility in our time. Our Postmodern generation is more ready than ever to hear this Story with new ears Why? Because of the emptiness and brokenness of Postmodern life." 12 The very state of "storylessness" among this generation creates a gold en opportunity, an open window through which the light of Christ may shine.

The Christian community has unique resources that can be drawn upon to respond to the new cultural situation. Postmoderns are providing a more hospitable platform for spiritual and theological possibility. It is not enough for us to understand our world from a distance, or simply to have a strategy for evangelization. We need to wade in and rub shoulders with those we desire to reach for Christ. We need to be willing to live with unchurched postmodernists on their terms, not ours. This will lay the foundation for real communication to take place. This will provide us with exciting opportunities to deepen our own faith and to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us.

The articles dealing with this theme in this issue of Ministry are dedicated to stimulating thought and action in the arenas that are described in them.

1 Tony Jones, Postmodern Youth Ministry. Exploring Cultural Shift, Creating Holistic Connections, Cultivating Authentic Community
(Grand Rapids, Mich : Zondervan, 2001), 31-43

2 Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker Boots, 1999), 35.

3 All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996 Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc , Wheaton, Illinois 60189 All rights reserved

4 See <www lifedevelopment info> for more information.

5 Cibbs/Coffey, 192.

6 Ellen G White, The Ministry of Heating (Nampa, Idaho Pacific Press Pub Assn. 1905), 143

7 Gibbs/Coffey, 194

8 Ibid , 194

9 Jimmy Long, Generating Hope A Strategy for Reaching the Postmodern Generation (Downers Grove, 111/ InterVarsity Press,
1997), 73

10 Ibid., E06

11 Ibid , 208.

12 Ibid . 190

 

 


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Miroslav Pujic is the communication director of the Trans-European Division, Hertsfordshire, England.

March 2003

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More Articles In This Issue

Casting a worthy vision

An expression of the vision that guides process evangelism in Britain

The 10/40 window of the West: Out of light and into darkness

How do we reach the "first world" where increasingly people are turning their backs on traditional Christianity?

Understanding secular minds: A perspective on "life development"

Working intelligently with people who are growing up in post-Christian cultures

When thinking BIG means thinking small: Growing communities of faith in a postmodern world

The value of reaching contemporary people through small-group meetings rather than through traditional congregations

Meeting the secular mind in uncertain times

Some basic needs and attitudes needed when communicating with postmodern people

The apostolic gospel: The master key to Revelation's code

Part 2 of a three-part series on understanding the Apocalypse

Why should Jesus be both divine and human?

The third in an extended series on the Seventh-day Adventist faith, covers God the Father and the Son

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