This is the final post in our four-part discipleship process.
Did you miss any of the previous posts in the series?
Check them out below:
So what is GO about? Go is the step that moves people outside the door of the church and into their neighborhood and community for the sake of Jesus. I could also use the word evangelism to describe this step.
As you may have noticed from the previous posts, there is a system and a strategy that undergirds each of these steps. Since I arrived at Pioneer Memorial Church, we’ve been working on developing each of the systems. We have the first two fleshed out really well. The third is fleshed out in essence–there is a framework in place so people can volunteer–but I feel like more work needs to be done. We’re finally at a place where we can give more attention to this important GO step.
What I’ll do below, then, is to share with you where we currently are in the process for developing a GO strategy.
I’ll just say this caveat as I begin. I acknowledge that a lot of my missional friends will roll their eyes when discussions of evangelism come up. It’s mostly because, the typical view and practice of evangelism is that of an imperialistic proclamation of truth. I need to go out and preach truth at culture. It’s a sterile latex-gloved approach in which a preacher will intersect with culture in an objective way: you preach to them without really knowing them. It’s cookie cutter. It’s franchise and method based. I also dislike this approach to evangelism. Hopefully what I present here is a little beyond that, but it’s ok if you disagree. Please let me know in the comments below!
Now let me clarify–I believe there’s a place for the public proclamation of truth, but it must be done within the context of an overall system. I’ll explain in what follows.
I believe there are several core components when thinking about evangelism.
1. Theological and missional reframing based upon the mission of God
John 20:21-22 is quite central in this understanding. It says:
“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
In our discussions of evangelism we must be very clear in understanding that God has always been the first missionary. The Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Spirit, and They all have sent us, the Church. This reframing is based upon a Scriptural focus and inquiry into the mission of God. This is often referred to as the Missio Dei (mission of God or the sending of God).
Notice John 5:17, 19-20:
“My Father has been working until now, and I have been working…Most assuredly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what he sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel”
Jesus makes it clear that the Father is already at work among them. He is active. Because He is love, He is missionary in nature. Secondly, Jesus says that wherever He sees His Father at work, that’s where He goes to join Him. He didn’t come with a predetermined plan for what He would be doing every day. He depended on His Father to guide Him and to reveal to Him where He should be investing His time.
David J Bosch says that, “Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God.” In other words, mission is an inherent component of God’s character. Alan Hirsch helps to clarify this concept: “It’s not that the church has a mission. The mission of God has a church.”
Let’s be clear: the biblical narrative is about God’s mission for the sake of the world. The Bible is not a manual on how to meet my personal needs or a five step plan to help me have a great marriage. It’s not about the church or about how to develop a great small group structure through a pattern in the New Testament.
The Bible is about God. The focus is on Him. He is the subject. I am not.
God includes the Church in His mission. It’s not the other way around. In addition, God is not sitting around waiting for the Church to show up and conjure Him down. He’s currently at work in our communities and neighborhoods right now.
How does the missio dei affect leadership?
Perhaps this sounds like common sense. But this is actually not what’s practiced in most churches. In most churches, we have a concept of the pastor as a CEO whose role it is to “come up” with the vision and bring it down to the people. The pastor prays and leads the church through strategic five-year plans to evangelize their neighborhoods.
A missionary view of God changes leadership models from being focused on coming up with the vision, to being focused on discernment and hearing from God with the people. Through teaching the church to indwell Scripture, and to participate in prayer, fasting, and hospitality to strangers, a pastor is helping the church to recognize God’s voice and therefore join Him where He’s already at work.
The role of the pastor is to cultivate the type of environment where this takes place and to help the church spiritually reflect upon what God is doing. This means that the pastor will also have to dedicate time to reflecting and dialoguing with the congregation regarding what God is doing among them and in the community.
This actually takes a lot of pressure off of the leader. It’s not about a CEO leader having some great vision and bringing it down the mountain to the people on where the church should go. Instead, it becomes about listening with the people, and seeking glimpses of where God is at work already. In this model, the pastor moves from chief planner to chief prayer; from chief strategizer, to helping people to discern the will of God; from ruler who is domineering over the people to a servant who is waiting upon Jesus.
2. Missiological reframing
A proper evangelistic strategy in North America will acknowledge that the western world has become one of the primary mission fields of the world.
Alan Roxburgh says:
To a large extent modern evangelism was practiced from within a context in which people generally took it for granted that the Christian story was a normative, regulative part of the cultural backdrop within which they lived. Put simply, most folks knew the basic story in one form or another.
Many denominations and churches have taken the stance that they are merely speaking to other Christians. And therein lies the problem, doesn’t it? Many of the methods we use are based upon the premise that we are part of the same culture.
Many don’t realize that North America has become the largest English-speaking mission field in the world, and is the fifth largest overall. Christians from South Korea and Brazil are now sending missionaries to reach the lost pagans of North America. The Unites States, which used to be the largest missionary sending country has now become the largest missionary receiving country.
Again, Roxburgh says:
We need to fundamentally rethink the frameworks and paradigms that have shaped the church over the last half-century. The basic stance of denominations and congregations must be transformed to that of missionaries in their own culture. This requires far more than adjustment. It calls for a radically new kind of church.
So what would it look to be a missionary in western culture?
That’s the question that we must be asking.
3. Intersect with and get to know your community
What is the first thing that a missionary does when entering a new country? Does the missionary immediately go about implementing certain strategies that worked in a different country? Not at all.
The missionary goes about a process of getting to know the culture and learning the language. So how can you do this?
Here’s a few strategies.
A. You must live in the community that you seek to engage. You cannot be a missionary from afar. I write more about that here.
B. Buy and eat locally. Don’t buy everything on Amazon.com. Spend time in your local restaurants. Grab a decaf. Sit in the same place. Get to know the employees.
C. Get to know leaders in your community like police officers. I interviewed the police chief one day and he shared with me some fascinating stats about my community that I wouldn’t have discovered from a demographic report.
D. Interview the principals in your community. They see students everyday that represent the families in your community. Here’s what I learned by meeting with them.
E. Subscribe to your local community paper. In our community the local paper is the main channel through which information flows. All the leaders in the community read it.
F. Walk through your community. Here’s some powerful lessons I learned as a result of walking through our community.
G. Become an advocate for the needs in the community. There comes a point in which a church should be willing to take a stand on issues.
H. Have church members share their histories with the community.
I. Partner with local organization in the community. We partner with an after school program in our local high school.
J. As the pastor, be involved in your local Rotary club. I’ll write more about my experience with this in a future post.
This process that I describe in the series of posts above took us about two years. The purpose for this process is to discover how God has been at work in the community and to discover the opportunities that God might be calling you to engage.
4. Put a strategy in perspective
My overall strategy is based upon this quote from a book called Ministry of Healing, 143:
Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. The He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’
Many churches begin with the last step from the example of Jesus–Follow. They assume that there’s a relationship. They assume that they’ve developed enough trust in their community to even earn a hearing. Jesus spent most of his time mingling with people and healing them. Is there a time in which the public proclamation of truth becomes necessary? Of course, but I believe the other work must first be done.
Jeremiah 29 has become quite central to my thinking in the last few years. I love it because it provides a perfect parallel to where we are today.
In this Scripture, the Israelites find themselves in a foreign land among people who speak a different language. In this new land, the exiles are feeling the pressure between maintaining their ritual purity and becoming like the culture around them (Daniel 1:8). Instead of closing themselves off to the culture, however, God surprises them with the instructions to be a part of the city and to seek its peace (Jeremiah 29:7).
To make matters more difficult, God’s people are not commanded to call people to leave Babylon—they cannot do this, actually. They are commanded to inhabit that place and to “seek the peace of the city.”
This is a difference in posture and purpose. But what does seeking the peace (shalom) of the city mean? Eldin Villafañe et al. elaborate: “Shalom speaks of wholeness, soundness, completeness, health, harmony, reconciliation, justice, welfare—both personal and social. The church is an instrument, a servant, of peace in the city. It preaches and lives out the Shalom of God” (Seek the Peace of the City, 3).
So whatever strategy that is developed must have this perspective.
5. Provide an anchor point for your strategy
I believe that every evangelism strategy must have an anchor point–something that everything else is going to point to or follow. In my opinion, an evangelistic series is a good anchor point for that. That being said, there are many different ways to do an evangelistic series.
We have somewhat of a unique context at Pioneer Memorial Church. We feel as if we have two mission fields: the university campus and the community itself. Just two weeks ago we finished a non-traditional evangelistic series with Pastor David Asscherick. It was extremely well attended by the students and we had 58 decisions for baptism. Praise God! For us, this was an anchor point event.
For the community itself, we’re discussing the possibility of doing a large-scale public event a year from now.
So what happens before and after the anchor point event?
Leading up to this event a year from now, we’ve talked about doing several events.
A. Family fair for the community. We want to rent out the local high school gym and have an event that the families in the community can attend. We’ll have hotdogs, face painting, games for the kids, and we’ll hopefully get to dunk a few of the community leaders as well.
By the way, the idea for this event was not created in a vacuum. After discussing this idea with some leaders, a few of us visited with the principal of our local elementary school and ran the idea by him. He loved the idea and shared that years ago there used to be an event like this for the community, but it stopped about ten years ago. He thinks it would be a great time to start another one.
B. Medical Fair. One of the issues that we discovered about our community is that of poverty. Those that live in poverty are less likely to be insured and are thusly less likely to get appropriate medical care. As a result, we would like to have two medical fairs in the Spring in which we gather doctors, nurses, and dentists, and provide free medical care.
C. Extreme Home Makeover. There are many homes in this community that are in disrepair. We’d like to select one family per year that we bless and do an extreme home makeover for. This would be an opportunity for hundreds of students from our local university to be involved and would go a long way towards helping to unite this town.
D. Train people to share their faith. We recently had a training event in which 25 people learned how to share their faith and connect with others. People that make decisions for baptism are connected with this group.
6. Engage in missional experiments
What I have described in the last section are some missional experiments that we would like to try. Get to know your community. Develop a strategy. Experiment. Debrief. Try others. A missional strategy should not be static, but should change as God reveals more opportunities or a different direction.
7. Think about what happens next
What happens after your big event or your missional experiments? This is why everything that we’ve looked at in this post should be framed within the broader context of an overall process in a church: Connect, Grow, Serve, and Go. That’s the framework we’re using, anyway.
Here’s an example of a project we started last year and will do again called “Free Haircuts Before Picture Day” for the kids of our local elementary school:
This post is a summary of our thinking and process that we’ve been leading regarding evangelism, but I’m under no illusion that it’s the perfect or the best way. I invite your counsel, pushback, and suggestions.
So what do you think? What do you think should be involved in an evangelism process? What would you add? What would you take out? To leave a comment click here.