|Intro||Ch 1||Ch 2||Ch 3||Ch 4||Ch 5||Ch 6|
|Ch 7||Ch 8||Ch 9||Ch 10||Ch 11||Ch 12|
Chapter 5: Evangelism that really works
"The Preacher ... imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many sayings. The Preacher searched to find just the right words and what he wrote was upright and true. The words are like goads, the collected sayings like firmly-driven nails ... given by one Shepherd." Ecclesiastes 12:9.
If one is to be guided by Scripture, the central feature of Biblical evangelism is proclamation of the Message. Modernists, who desire to escape the responsibility of preaching to the lost who will not necessarily react in the same way as a nice tame church congregation, would have us think otherwise. Peter Gilbert in his book "Radical Evangelism" says "Whilst there is a place for other forms of evangelism, the development of authentic friendship remains the centrepiece of any coherent evangelistic strategy." Friendship evangelism is certainly the centrepiece of courses on evangelism offered in Bible colleges etc. but unfortunately neither Jesus nor Paul would agree with this position. Friendship evangelism has been the almost exclusive response of Christians to the Great Commission for many years with the inevitable result that our churches are full of friends who have never understood or responded to the Gospel. The wonderful success of the Alpha course demonstrates conclusively that very large numbers of churchgoers had never before understood or had the opportunity to respond to the Gospel.
People who have very little experience and possibly no training in the ministry of the evangelist courageously aspire to write books on the subject. These cause considerable amusement. I feel rather like J. D. M. Derrett, the Jewish legal scholar, who writes most entertainingly about Christian theologians making huge assumptions and building great arguments often without any real understanding of what Jesus was talking about or what was going on.
John Clarke wrote a book of the same title as this chapter, described by Gavin Reid (who ought to know better!) as "a classic amongst books on this subject". It is indeed a classic, but not in the way he proposes. John very honestly in his introduction admits to his complete failure as an evangelist and goes on to outline ways in which people can be drawn into church and have the opportunity to become real Christians. He offers all sorts of creative ideas such as flower shows, the blessing of pets, anything to get people into the building. Unfortunately getting them into the building doesn't achieve much. In street logic, going into a greenhouse doesn't make you a tomato. His ideas are driven by his research which showed that only 2% of his congregation actually found Christ through Billy Graham and 98% through being brought into the Church fellowship by family or friends. What he doesn't understand is that he is looking at a "Catch 22" situation: evangelistic missions/crusades, which very rarely take place - maybe once in 15-20 years - do of course have less effect than what happens in church every week.
The problem with evangelistic crusades is that few non-Christians attend, Billy Graham having been vastly more effective in attracting interest among non-Christians than any other major evangelist. Yet I was interested to see, while assisting with the 1987 relays in New Brighton near Birkenhead, that of the 1,000 in the cinema auditorium watching the broadcast, only 7 or 8 were not from one of the local churches. (On each of the four evenings, the presenter at the microphone would ask for a show of hands.)
Very few people from Bristol who were not church-goers attended the crusade meetings at Ashton Gate stadium and we reached many more non-Christians with the Gospel going round the local schools with members of the Billy Graham team than attended the actual crusade meetings. Every afternoon hundreds of coaches pulled into Ashton Gate from all over the South West, mainly full of people from church congregations. The large number of responses were in the main from existing churchgoers or those on the fringes of church life, but very little new ground was broken. The recent Luis Palau campaign in Bristol attracted about 8,000-9,000 young people in total over 4 nights, many of them coming only on the Friday night to hear Sir Cliff Richard who was absolutely super. This represents the equivalent of one good normal week's worth of ministry by the Bristol O.A.C. Christian education team, at no cost to the churches. The £50,000 that the Palau mission cost could have funded five full time, properly trained schools workers for a whole year to reach vastly greater numbers far more effectively - for all the reasons set out below. The most charitable reason that one can come up with for this never happening must be profound ignorance of the nature of Christian ministry - which I hope this book will do something to address.
Christian road shows of various kinds passing through Bristol also secure support from our local churches which would be more wisely directed towards on-going local ministries which actually reach people on a regular basis. Great national advertising campaigns like "Jesus In Me" (J.I.M.) and "Minus to Plus" attract vast amounts of Christian funding and result in the finances of local evangelists never quite recovering from the impact.
Evangelism that really works has three main characteristics:
The Apostolic Message as set out in the Gospel of Mark is the way we are told Peter habitually spoke about Jesus. Without using irrelevant Greek words or obscure theological terms, "The Gospel" presentations made by the Apostles included the following elements. Paul, particularly, in Galatians 1:8 is specific in his requirement that the Church preach no other message. Sociologically influenced variations on the Christian message directed towards making the Church "popular" do not produce believers. Those who have never been involved in the public preaching of the Gospel to outsiders, 100% of whom have probably never heard it before, cannot possibly grasp the sheer stature and power of this most remarkable of all messages.
It must ALWAYS include:
He has died on the cross for our sins. The Gospel accounts of the Passion draw striking parallels with the Old Testament idea of atonement and the ritual surrounding the sacrifice of the Red Heifer. Clearly intended as an account primarily for a Jewish audience, the whole idea of God being crucified was a contradiction in terms, to Gentile listeners. To them a god was a glorious figure with stunning victories to his credit as an essential authenticating feature of the story. In a world in which sin isn't sin any more, the preaching of the Cross as a life and death issue for people today presents a tremendous challenge. Truth is not self-evident to people - they are taught that truth is whatever is true for them.
Evangelism that really works involves the preaching/teaching of all these elements.
As can be imagined, this is a tremendous challenge, using methods pioneered by the great Bible figures to bring people back to God in their day. The Lord used beautifully constructed rabbinical poetry forms to present stories which addressed issues that were really important to people. (Kenneth Bailey's book "Jesus, Poet and Peasant, and Through Peasant Eyes" published by Eerdmans, is an excellent resource.) "Should a woman caught in adultery be stoned?" There were huge misgivings at the time about the Mosaic Law which, as Jesus pointed out, were due entirely to the Pharisees' wrong-headed approach. "Who owns treasure found in a field?". "Can it be possible that God really does love sinners?". "Is repentance really all that is required for a notorious sinner to be accepted by God?". (Judaism at that time required 7 years of compliance with rabbinical observances for a repentant person to be accepted in the synagogue.) For a Rabbi to eat with a sinner implied acceptance of that person by God - so how could Jesus eat with them? His actions, not just his words, demonstrated that a decision based on real repentance was the principal requirement for a person's salvation. This even applied to such a notorious undesirable as Zacchaeus! Using issues that were familiar and of real interest to people, Jesus taught them all they needed to know to become members of God's family. Those who follow Jesus in his street ministry today must use his methods to teach a crowd of interested people all about the way of salvation - and indeed their need for salvation. This requires intensive preparation and training of the evangelist. The O.A.C. training programme, which is the best that I have seen, is set out at the end of this book.
The evangelist really must involve himself in serious Biblical study and reflection if he is ever to be a useful communicator able to educate the lost who know nothing about God. I first became acutely aware of the truth of Hosea's statement "There is no knowledge of God in the land" (Hosea 6:6) when a young man came up to me after an open air meeting in Bristol years ago, apparently honestly believing that Jesus was a South American footballer. Teaching young people in schools has greatly improved our ability in the open air to include really good information in our evangelistic messages. Listening to some of our leading evangelists I have been astonished at the lack of Bible knowledge some of them display. The lack of confidence that pastor/teachers have in the ministry of the evangelist often shows itself in the form of words they use - such as "I am not after decisions, I make disciples". This is a particularly silly statement since you can't have one without the other. Some feel you can "grow into" salvation through long-term membership of the local church and I think many of the Christians in church today have done precisely that - the problem with this kind of approach is that the vast majority of people never come to the church. "Go to church or go to hell" really is not a Biblical option - quite the contrary!
Some put their trust in programmes - and there are lots of programmes on offer claiming to be a sure-fire route to success - I get the impression some of these people think that their methods are a lot more effective than the Lord's. I sometimes feel like responding along the lines "What a pity the Lord didn't know what we know today". The Lord and the Apostles seem to have been successful in reaching their world in less than 20 years. With all our modern communication facilities and ease of travel, we should now get started with a vision that matches the harvest ... as follows:
Evangelism which really works mobilises the Lord's people
Church members require an outlet for their faith. Many long deeply to be used by God in a significant way. Anni and I were invited to a Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International meeting where I was to share testimony of the wonderful things I had seen God do. At the end of these dinner parties, it is usual for the speaker to share his experiences and to offer what they call "ministry", when people can receive the laying-on of hands and prayer for specific needs, generally healing. However, on this occasion nobody came forward at all, and the President was about to call the evening to an end, when I felt compelled to ask if any of them wanted to know how God wanted to use them in his work - and maybe discover what specific job he had for them to do. Most of the people in the room flooded forward for prayer and I closed my eyes and held out my hands and prayed what I hoped was a suitable prayer for each one. On hearing a series of muffled thuds, I looked up and was astonished to see most of them lying peacefully flat on the floor! (In charismatic circles this is known as being "slain in the Spirit" and apparently those who experience it find it a wonderful blessing. As an Anglican I was a bit surprised to find it happening under my ministry!).
Everywhere I go, people come up to me and say "I want to be involved in your kind of ministry. I want my life to be significant for the Kingdom of God". Sadly, church ministries are so stereotyped now that it's almost impossible to recover some sort of Scriptural pattern in which people can be free to serve - and be recognised and valued.
One early experience was preaching in a church in Bath, to be met at the door by a very smart gentleman who showed me into the church and eventually was handing out the hymn books to people coming in. He looked exceptionally bored with this job and at the end of the service told me how much he had enjoyed the message, and how he too would have liked to play a more active role in the church's ministry over the 30 years he had been a member there. He turned out to be Chairman of Britain's fourth largest industrial conglomerate with astonishing abilities. I think I could have found him a better job to do...
We must repent of this quite disgraceful inability or unwillingness to release people for Christian service. Ken Kerton was for many years a faithful sidesman in his local fellowship, and it was not until an evangelist friend invited him to go along to pray for him while he visited some Romany people, that Ken realised he had a ministry himself - to those very same families, where his visits are valued to this day, and many of whom have become vibrant Christians.
Effective evangelism produces results
This was brought home to me very powerfully when I started training the students at the Portuguese Bible Institute near Lisbon; after the lecture programme in the day we would visit a local church in a suburb of Lisbon and go out with various church members on to the streets. The pastor, an American missionary, acted as a wonderful translator - according to the students, very fast and accurate - but nobody was coming forward at the end of the presentations to discuss what they had heard. This went on for 2-3 days, we would get very good crowds who would listen intently, and they would all turn and walk away. Very surprised, I began questioning my translator who, it transpired, had not included all I had said about the Resurrection, and had not put a personal challenge to the listeners as individuals for any kind of response. He said "Korky, on the mission field we don't do that sort of thing. We lead people to faith gently. We want the local church to be seeker-friendly so we don't actually preach the whole Gospel message straight away." He said "I told them where our church is and where they can come if they want to hear more." As you can imagine, I was extremely disappointed and instructed him to translate me word for word next time round: we were inundated with responses and he was to spend over an hour and a half himself with the local doctor's wife, someone he had been hoping to meet for 17 years.
That Saturday, on the sea front, not being permitted to preach on the beach (which I felt would be a pretty insensitive thing to do anyway) I took my by now rather chastened missionary and the other students, and set up my sketchboard along the side of a very long ice cream queue on the promenade. I can produce a message in four or five minutes using cartoons which are quick and bright and fun - but which nevertheless help to explain the way of salvation. The only response we got from the fortunately slow-moving queue was from an extremely tubby young man I took to be about 18 years old, who laughed so much his whole body shook! I was increasingly concerned about the security of his swimming shorts as the "landslide" appeared to be pushing them down ... he told us he thought it was about the silliest message he had heard in his life.
A year later, I was based on the same missionary's church for another week-long campaign. At the very first meeting we held, we were in their local shopping centre which happened to be adjacent to the main gates of the Benfica Football Club. We set up the sketchboard and I positioned the team in the usual way, painted the yellow border round the edge of my board, and a tornado arrived in the form of Jorj - the young Portuguese of the previous year who had had such a good belly laugh. He confessed he had not been able to stop thinking about what he had heard that day in the ice cream queue. He had started reading his Bible, and desperately wanted one of us to pray with him as he had decided to receive Christ himself. He had had no further contact with Christians, it was simply the power of God through the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit convicting and convincing him of his need to start again in Christ. Some of these experiences can be very moving.
On Friday evenings Ken Barrett and his wife Alison used to go with their two children to a dormitory suburb to the south of Madrid, where there was a square with a large number of teenagers meeting by the fountain, drinking Cokes and having a good time together. Rows of old people would sit on benches all around and there were palm trees and flower beds, and the lovely old Spanish buildings - it was a lovely place to be on a summer's evening, and full of people. Ken and Alison, by now fluent in Spanish, would set up their sketchboard and do Bible stories and all kinds of messages - some entertaining and funny, others challenging and serious. The young people would gather round and listen, and chat to them afterwards. It was what God had called them to do some years before in Bristol and a long and difficult path had led them to Madrid bringing light and life to this little community. I only ever went to see them in action there once, but the evening I went, before we could put up the sketchboard and get started (I wanted to get some good slides of Ken preaching to large crowds of people) he and Alison were completely swamped with young people wanting to talk to them about the Lord. Spanish teenagers have a terrific respect for God because of their Roman Catholic background and are particularly rewarding to talk to.
Situations like that have in the past led to small fellowships developing. A priest at Malaga Cathedral who was a believer collected a group of young people around him but was fired by the Bishop for holding evangelical views. He and his little group subsequently met under a tree in the park and eventually became a fellowship of over 100.
The Church Growth movement has produced lots of books about evangelism identifying the various elements which tend towards greater effectiveness (church growth is of course an excellent marketing term if you want to sell something to churches). C. Peter Wagner, a Senior Professor at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, writes excellent and very well systematised books on the subject and the movement as a whole has been very influential in church circles over the last twenty years. He identifies what he calls "P3" evangelism as being the most effective. The three "P's" are as follows:
This dismissive attitude to proclamation evangelism in general, and open air evangelism in particular, seems to be a distinguishing feature of many modern writers like Peter Wagner - rather in the way that the cults are anti-Trinitarian. As far as I am aware none of these people have any formal training in this form of evangelism or much in the way of experience of it. Historically, the public preaching of the Gospel has been the major element in every revival: it was the major strategy adopted by our Lord and the Apostles and the means by which the Christian Church became a world-wide movement. My own experience is that public preaching produces more live contacts susceptible to effective follow-up than any other form of evangelism. It is unfortunate that so many academics seem to be willing to step outside their own particular field of expertise to make tendentious, inaccurate and misleading statements about ministries of which they know little.
The Church Growth movement advocates P3 evangelism based on local meetings to which non-Christians can be persuaded to come to hear the Gospel in a setting where personal contact can be securely established. It is a well thought-out processing package where certain procedures are followed with a product in view - a bit like a canning factory. Nothing is really left to chance and whether or not the Holy Spirit is there, things are as watertight as possible - there is nothing wrong this approach as such, in that it does produce people who go to church - nevertheless they may not have been affected by the work of the Holy Spirit. The biggest disadvantage of the Church Growth approach is that it is hopelessly inadequate to deal with the task of winning a generation for the Kingdom of God.
Neat and tidy little ministries, which don't touch the lives of many people and whose objective is principally to win individuals mainly through personal evangelism, simply fail to have an impact on the community as a whole.
The huge numbers of people Jesus preached to meant that personal contact was minimal - although of course he was able to feed them all once or twice. St. Paul, too, while his initial strategy was to preach to his own people in the local synagogues persuading them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, nevertheless spent most of his time subsequently in public preaching daily in the markets. The Church Growth movement would describe Jesus, St. Paul, and most of the Apostles, as "hit and run" evangelists!
In Old Testament times, Jonah's successful ministry to Nineveh only lasted three days... At theological college I discovered this was one of the reasons some scholars relegate the Jonah ministry to the realms of myth. However, as a street preacher myself I am well aware it would have been a perfectly straightforward task to reach a city the size of Nineveh in three days. This is really the problem of theorists - a lot of the time they fail to be vindicated by experience.
The Church Growth people regard an evangelist as a reaper and organise meetings where an evangelist can come and speak to their church fellowship in the hope that church members will find faith. As most church members have in fact made their decision one way or the other, it's a very, very difficult situation for an evangelist to succeed in - most of his audience having decided to become Christians up to a point - beyond which they are not prepared to go.
However, in public preaching to crowds, some of the seed falls on very good ground - as explained in the parable. There will be those who have maybe never understood the Christian message before, and who will want to step out in faith as a disciple of Jesus.
Evangelism that really works can only take place through effective proclamation of the Gospel to those who need to hear.
From time to time I come into contact with people in Bristol and further afield who heard the Gospel years earlier, either at an open air meeting or through our work in school, whose lives have been transformed by Christ as a result - but who never professed conversion at the time. An 8-year-old girl sitting at the back of the very first school assembly I ever did in Bristol made her decision to invite Jesus to be her Lord and Saviour. I had not made an appeal for a decision at all, having merely presented the story of Zacchaeus on the sketch board. I met up with her a couple of years ago in Vienna where she is now a missionary. A young man in a hardware store in Bristol had heard the Gospel in the open air, and remembered speaking with Neil Simpson afterwards (I know it was Neil as he described a man with red hair, yellow shirt and purple trousers!). He is now Youth Leader at his local church in Bishopston, a Bristol suburb. A girl who had lost her faith in her thirties, had moved to Bristol, walking through the shopping precinct, heard the Gospel: she decided to recommit her life to Christ. We linked her up with Christ Church where Alison became a House Group leader. I could list many more.
Evangelism that really works is entirely dependent on the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in a person's life, not a canning factory process. This is not to say that we do not do everything we can to make personal contact with individuals and to be available for them as they take their early steps as members of God's family. However, in England, people are very private, and like to make these big decisions on their own when they have had time to think about it - and are often loath to part with their name and address nowadays.
Evangelism that really works usually takes place in situations where the organ is not playing in the background and there may even be a certain amount of commotion. I remember very well an extraordinary situation where the Christian Union could not make any sort of impact at all with their bookstall on Freshers' day at the University and they asked me, rather courageously some felt, to come along and try a Gospel presentation in the middle of the hubbub. Being relatively inexperienced at the time I took my sketch board along and set up on the main staircase where I could be seen from all 4 floors of the Students' Union building; David, a young Baptist Minister, kindly agreed to hold the board up for me to balance so that I could paint and preach. I got well into the message and lots of students were leaning over the balconies listening, there was quite a large crowd coming up the stairs, and not being able to get past but being pleasant people, they stood and listened. There was another large group wanting to come down the stairs standing behind my sketch board. There was a certain amount of good-humoured barracking but the security people couldn't get to me because of the crowd. A humorist on the top floor emptied a waste paper basket on me, the contents of which floated away rather ineffectively. They then had the splendid idea of filling it up with water - tipping it over the balcony, missing me and absolutely soaking the people coming down the stairs! BUT - I was able to complete a presentation of the Gospel to this group, which was in fact heard and appreciated by most of those present. Months later I was to discover from the Navigators representative, who spoke to a number of the listeners, that three young men had made a commitment to Christ. Strangely, David, who had played an important part in the whole proceedings, his face red with enthusiasm, forever afterwards crossed to the other side of the road whenever he saw me coming!