If our evangelism needs reform, if the "seeking evangelism" I've attempted to explain is valid, then we should consider some practical, concrete responses. I will not pretend to have all the answers here, but what I can share with you is how I have attempted to practice evangelism and how it works in our church. The easiest way to say it is: expresses urgency, but be willing to take your time; preach the law and gospel; know what parts of the law, or what blessing of the gospel they most need to hear; share your life with the person you are trying to reach. But here it is in a bit more detail.
1. Evangelism should include law & gospel. Most of you know this, but much of our evangelism in the twentieth century dropped the Law of God as the means by which sinful men and women are made aware of their spiritual condition. Instead of beginning with who God is in nature - Holy, or who we are - sinful, we have begun with “God’s wonderful plan” for our lives, his offer of help and hope, or Jesus as the solution to problems people are no longer asking. I wont spend time here, for once we believe souls must be prepared through humility to embrace the Gospel, the preaching of the Law is the only way to go.
2. Evangelism should be dialogical. The church has excelled at the canned, gospel presentation. We memorize diagnostic questions, and treat every mark the same, presuming that people all have the same struggles and questions. I am convinced the canned approach to evangelism became necessary as our churches lost their grasp on theology and discipleship. They are helpful in that they can move people forward to do something, but if often leaves people ill-equipped to actually engage a person who doesn’t fit the profile their curriculum has trained them to reach.
Dialogical evangelism is a real conversation. It’s verbal give-and-take that most people, when they have the time, are willing to step into. Dialogue will prove to be your friend because it can establish the next two things that are needed: a foundation on which to build a relationship and grounds upon which you can begin to assess one’s spiritual condition.
3. Evangelism should be relational. Though I prefer other models, I do believe in evangelism that begins and ends (at least on the evangelist’s part) in a one-time encounter. Can a relationship be established in that context? It can, and it should, even if it is only the beginning of a rapport. By relational I mean we care about the person more than the ministry, we want to listen to them as much as we want them to listen to us, and we seek to understand where they are coming from. The sooner we can see the world from their perspective, the more quickly and ably we can apply the Gospel to their unique life. Again, this is why dialogue/relationship is so important – it helps us with a proper diagnosis.
4. Evangelism requires a spiritual diagnosis. It seems that most evangelical churches have grown content simply determining if someone is "in" or "outside of" the kingdom of God. While this is the most critical assessment, the example of Jesus, and many of the preachers/pastors who have gone before us, gives us a better example to follow. What is it specifically that holds a person back? What issue is driving them away from the church? What do they value more than God? Why don’t they believe in a need for redemption, or how do they believe they will find it? That Jesus practiced this and spoke to people in response to a spiritual diagnosis is seen in the variety of ways he preached the Gospel to different groups and individuals. To one he says, “believe.” To another, “repent for the Kingdom is here.” To another he says, “You must be born again.” And to another, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor.” Why such radically different approaches? Jesus didn’t change it all up for variety’s sake, but because each individual needed the law/gospel to be applied in a unique way. Here the Puritans are most helpful for they actually guide us in this discipline, which for most of us is new. Pastors used to be thought of as surgeons of the soul, men who could do more than determine a man to be “dead” or “alive,” but who knew precisely what must be done for a person to find salvation. We must become surgeons once again. Of course, this generally requires what has been explained above in numbers 1-3.
5. Put them in "the way of the cross." Laying out the “Romans Road,” and telling someone to go to church is not enough. God works through means to draw people to himself, and one of the best things we can do in evangelism is connect people to those means of grace. Give them a Bible, and a passage to begin reading through. Teach them to pray, specifically that God would draw them, convict them, and lead them to trust in Christ. Ask them to join you at church, or even better, to come to small group gatherings at your home where they can see and hear of God’s work in your life. Give them books to read. Invite them to seek God with you. The more means they are using, the more avenues God has to bring the gospel into their lives.
6. Let God give them assurance of salvation. If we lead someone to pray a prayer to “receive Jesus,” what do we tell him or her afterwards? I have yet to find a situation like this when the evangelist does not give the praying person assurance of salvation. “Did you pray that prayer, and mean it in your heart? If you did, then your sins are forgiven and you now have eternal life.” Such false assurances do far more damage than good, and I believe this is why so many of our membership rolls are bloated with the names of people who have never been converted. Our practice at Grace is to let God give the assurance of salvation. But this means we have to not only be able to diagnose a person’s spiritual condition, but also help them see where they are. Of course there is often an in-between time when such a call is hard to make for either person. In those cases I have encouraged people to continue seeking God, faith and assurance. I get a lot of questions on this one, so in the next post I will include a diagram that we sketch out for people to help them figure out where they are at spiritually. I will also include examples of individuals who have gone through this process, while I explain what I mean in a bit more detail.
These are the things we keep in mind at Grace when encouraging people to seek Christ. We preach law/gospel dialogically in the context of a relationship and encourage people to put themselves in the way of the cross as they seek the salvation that can only be found in Christ.