3. Put evangelistic outlines & presentations in their rightful place. Please don’t get me wrong…I love evangelistic outlines. I actually think they are getting better with time. One that has been offered recently, The Story, is the best one ever written, in my opinion, and I have used it in large group and one-on-one settings. As a matter of fact, you will find a link to it when you click on “What is the Gospel” at the top of this page! I have memorized several evangelistic outlines and I would urge anyone to do the same. My primary reason for this is that evangelistic outlines help me to be able to articulate well the central aspects of the gospel message. Here is my disclaimer with that, though. The ability to walk someone through a complete evangelistic outline has become a quite difficult and rare occasion in our postmodern culture. What I continue to find is that most people want to know why and how this stuff is relevant to their lives. Although an outline can very clearly present the thrust of the gospel message, it rarely can answer these types of questions in and of itself. A lot of times I find myself walking fully through a gospel presentation several conversations into a relationship with someone…often after I have already been able to find opportunities to speak the Word of God into their life situations through conversations that have already taken place.
In order to evangelize our world today, I believe that we must truly be people of the Word, not just people who have memorized an outline. Evangelism in a postmodern culture is slow, and often times messy work. It means building meaningful relationships. I’m not talking about shallow relationships that end when a person rejects our gospel pleas, but meaningful ones wherein we authentically want to know people and love them just where they are. As we grow deeper in these relationships, issues and situations are naturally shared. That is just a part of getting to know people. We share the issues and pressures of life with one another. We offer advice and sympathize with one another. We rejoice, mourn, and celebrate together. So, how much of these key conversations include wisdom from the only true source of wisdom we have?
Here’s the deal. As we have these conversations (already), the last thing people need from us is our own wisdom and advice. They need to hear true wisdom that comes from the author of all wisdom. We need to be people of the Word, speaking the Word into the situations and lives of others. This is how folks come to understand how the gospel from the outline is relevant to their lives!
Colin Marshall and Tony Payne have offered one of the best summary statements concerning evangelism and discipleship that I have ever considered in their book, The Trellis and the Vine:
“God’s method for transferring and transforming* people is through the 3 P’s: proclamation, prayer, and people. As people speak the word of God to others [proclamation], in prayerful dependence on God’s Spirit in prayer, lives are changed.“
Do you see how Colin and Tony present evangelism and discipleship as one idea, both empowered by the same strategy? And at the center of this strategy is God’s Word. We do not just offer opinions…people do not need us or our opinions! People need Jesus. They need the Gospel. So, what does this mean for us? We need to be theologians and biblicists! We need to continually grow in our understanding of God’s Word. As we are transformed by that Word, we then grow in our understanding of how to apply that Word to life. So when I begin to have meaningful conversations with others about life, I grow in my ability to speak the Word of God into those situations. What if we simply began to be passionate about doing just that in every relationship in which God has already placed us?
Consider one of my favorite sections of Scripture, Paul’s prayer for the Church at Colossae. In 1:9 he offers the main point of his prayer, “that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will.” But, what is his will? Well, Paul tells us just what the will, or agenda, of God is back in verses 5 and 6. It is “the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing.” How is this happening? Through the church, through his people! But, notice that Paul doesn’t just pray for increased knowledge for the sake of greater intellect. He goes on to ask that this knowledge be “in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Wisdom is the ability to apply that knowledge of the will of God, and understanding has to do with being able to exegete the world and situations around us according to that will that we come to understand.
You see, as we grow in the knowledge of God’s will (his great plan of redemption played out through history), we attain the ability to practically apply that knowledge to the world and situations around us! I am convinced that this is the thrust of evangelism in today’s world. As we grow in the knowledge of God’s will, we are able to apply wisdom and understanding, both for our own sake, as well as the sake of others as we speak that knowledge into the life situations of others.
If I have the opportunity to share the gospel with someone I have just met I absolutely try to help them understand its message through something like Way of the Master or the Story. But, how many more opportunities do I have each and every day to be able to practically speak the Word of God into the lives of those with whom I am already building a relationship?
What about you? How many opportunities do you have to do this each and every day? What relationships do you already have into which you can begin to intentionally speak the Word of God through wisdom and understanding of his will? How are you displaying the relevancy of the Gospel to your life to the world around you as you interact with the people with which you come into contact every day already? Don’t view evangelism as some awkward transition to a gospel outline; instead, look for opportunities to infuse the gospel into conversations you are already having as you build relationships each day!
* Colin and Tony borrow this language (transferring and transforming) from Colossians 1:13. Transfer = “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Transform = discipleship for the believer after conversion through the process of sanctification, moving deeper into the Kingdom of his beloved Son.