Street evangelism; what could be more uncomfortable and challenging than that? I think that is why I chose to go on the Deep Ellum outreach in my second month of Bible school. “If I am not being stretched or venturing out into new experiences with the Lord, then what am I doing here,” I reasoned.
There were close to thirty other students who must have felt the same nudge I did. When we arrived in the Deep Ellum district of Dallas, we fanned out across four blocks of Main Street. Being the “edgy” arts and entertainment district, there was no shortage of people whom we perceived to be in need of Jesus. Growing up in church predominately influenced by an “us and them” theology, there were plenty of “them.”
As for “us,” there were some real characters in our group. I will never forget the two guys whose best attempt to share the good news of Jesus was to dress up in devil costumes, yelling at people, “I have tricked you all!” while holding signs that read, “You’re All Mine!” Being the contemplative, phlegmatic I am, I mostly leaned against the hot brick wall of The Curtain Club and observed. An employee of the establishment stepped out to watch the same show I was. Not knowing I was a part of this team, he leaned over to me and said, “Party poopers.” I mustered all my courage and looked him in the eye and said, “The real party hasn’t started yet.”
“Oh yeah?” he questioned me back with an eagerness to know exactly what party was coming and precisely how is it that he could be a part. He looked down to my hands that were in my pocket. My assumption was he was waiting for me to show him my “stash.” If there was a party to be had, I was obviously in possession of some type of substance with which to party.
So I leaned in closer to satisfy his curiosity, “Yeah, because Jesus hasn't come back yet.”
He looked back into my eyes, took a step back, in a half disappointed and half irritated voice, he simply said to me, “Take it easy on’em.” I will never forget that look and tone. I wondered in that moment, if there might be a better way to display the gospel to these people who had infinite value to our Creator. Did we miss it?
Win By Name
Our last value that we have to adopt in order to receive “New Eyes for the New Day,” is Win by Name. Win by Name is birthed out of the revelation that we have not been, nor are we now as effective as we could be in evangelism. While discussing this, the elders and I were burdened with the feeling that we have equated evangelism with events. In doing so, we have unintentionally taught the congregation that we meet our evangelism quota when we participate in or volunteer for these events. That is woefully inadequate. This has been a painful revelation.
The Lord dealt with us on this matter and we knew that addressing this issue had to be a part of the formula of the new thing God wanted to do in our midst.
Why The Angst
Our wise associate pastor, Oke Maertin, once quipped, “People inside the church and outside the church have one thing in common —they both hate evangelism.” I know we all get a little anxiety when it comes to the charge of sharing our faith. There are two reasons for this I believe.
One, it has become culturally unacceptable for us to tell people that Jesus is the only way to heaven and that we must put our faith in Him. In the name of inclusiveness our message of reconciliation has been excluded. We have been bullied. For fear of being labeled or ostracized, we have adapted to the pressure to keep our faith a private matter. The only problem is true Biblical Christianity will necessarily disrupt society and confront powers and authorities that are anti-Kingdom.
The Gospel will challenge the world’s values! We see in Acts 16:16-34, that the people of Philippi realize that if this Christianity catches on, there are real financial, cultural and social consequences. “These men…are throwing our city into an uproar…” they charge. The local magistrates go out of their way to not just stop Paul and Silas, but to humiliate them, make them feel pain, and put them away so as not to influence anyone else. It is not just because they are mean people; they understand if the charges are true that there is a real threat here —that the gospel will not leave things unchanged. For those of us who have bought into the anti-Kingdom value that says your religion is a private matter between you and your god, let this disturb you, then let this motivate you. May it be said of us, “This church is throwing our city into an uproar!”
Two, we have not been taught that this is what we do as Jesus’ followers. Being engrafted into Christ is inseparable from being brought into His mission. Accepting Jesus also means that we accept His vocation. In following Him, we take upon ourselves the mission of Christ; this is the non-negotiable of being His disciple. Romans 8:19 says all of creation is waiting in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. To rise up and take our place as the ones who mediate the glory of God to the rest of creation and to call all people into that holiness, is why we exist. We are the Church and we exist for those who have not yet answered that call.
To be certain, one of the signs of real heart-felt change --of true conversion in your life-- is that God will give you the power and motivation to share that message; the message of His unconditional love and promise for new life.
How Do We Win By Name
Let me first suggest we need rethink how we communicate the gospel. As I reminisce upon that muggy October night in Dallas, I know we failed to communicate the gospel properly. Let me explain. The "gospel" literally means "good news." Good news means that it is...well, good. Think about it like this. Jesus said in Mark 10:18, "No one is good but God alone." He alone is totally, completely, and truly good. The "good news" therefore, is a reflection of God's good nature; it is the revelation of a good God. That certainly was not the message communicated with devil masks and signs that read, "You're All Mine." Moving from there, consider the angelic proclamation of Luke 2:10, "We bring good news of great joy!" How does the good news that reveals a good God, bring great joy? We best answer that question by understanding the gospel was being proclaimed before Jesus died on the cross.
Galatians 3:8 says that God announced the gospel to Abraham. So what was this gospel that was announced? "All nations will be blessed through you!" We know this promise of "blessing" came to mean more than blessing just through the man Abraham. It would eventually come to include the nation of Israel. God's plan would be to raise a nation through Abraham that would be God's treasured possession according to Deuteronomy 7:6. Ultimately, however, it would come to be understood as a promise pointing to the messiah, Jesus, who came through Israel, from Abraham. Now, all nations, all people, all of creation is blessed because of Jesus who came through Abraham. Galatians 3:9 continues by saying that through faith, we are blessed along with Abraham.
So here is the crux of our gospel message, "all are blessed through Christ." That sounds good! We, the Church, as the body of Christ, are meant to be living testaments, an embodiment of that blessing to provoke the world to faith in Christ. Sadly, our tone has changed from Abraham's and the angelic hosts', to today. Today, many preach and talk about the "good news" in a bad way; many preach "glad tidings" with anger. We must show forth the character of God if we hope to bring people to Him.
We have changed our tone, now what?
We then need to understand our spheres of influence. In your mission, you have three spheres of influence. You have your geographical sphere; that is your neighbors, neighborhood, and places you frequent. You have your familial sphere; your children, spouse, parents, and extended family. Finally, you have your vocational sphere; your place of work or productivity, your business associates, and any relationships that have sprung up from therein. These are spheres of influence in which God has strategically and purposefully planted you! It is no accident you have the family you do, you live in the neighborhood you do, you shop where you shop, or you work with the people you do. It is by Divine design! The people God wants you to reach are the people whose names you already know! Do you believe that?
Within these spheres, you will find almost everyone will fall into one of these three categories. Nearly 50-55% (statistically speaking) will be unconnected Christians. These are people who claim to believe in Jesus but have minimal to no connection with the Church. They are missing out on the blessing of being a part of Christian community. You will find some in your spheres to be religious nonbelievers. These are people who have not made a faith commitment to Christ, but think that because they are "religious" they are Christian. Lastly, you will find some to be unconnected nonbelievers. This includes people who either claim a religious affiliation other than Christianity, or claim no faith at all. This is an astonishingly rapidly growing segment in our culture today. I would contend this third group is growing because we have not effectively reached the first two groups. Here is our simple strategy.
Bring People To Jesus! Invite people to the gathering of the Church. Not to entertain them, but for them to encounter the presence of the living God and be drawn to Him. There is a corporate anointing of God's presence that is different when we gather, than when we are apart. It is powerful! I cannot tell you how many times I have seen hopeless people catch a ray of hope while observing the people of God love one another. I have seen doubters of God tell me that they can no longer doubt the existence of God because of how they saw Him interact with His people during worship. I have seen the hardest of hearts melt in the presence of our mighty Savior. Who in your spheres needs an encounter like this? Who needs to be a part of a community where they will be loved like this? Invite them to church this week!
Bring Jesus to People! We do this as we seek opportunities to make tangible the blessings of Christ. How can we improve the conditions of people? How do we address the social illnesses that are prominent in our spheres? How do we, as the Church, meet the needs of the community around us? Do you know a family who needs provisions? Do you know someone who needs encouragement? This is your God-given opportunity to bring Jesus to people.
This is how we win by name. This is how we change the world; one friend at a time.