Tag Archives: evangelism

Uber Evangelism

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I’m always on the look out for creative ways to share the gospel.  This past weekend I was in Singapore speaking at a Reformation Day Conference.  This conference was organized by the First Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore.  One of the elders of the church was driving me back to my accommodations on Sunday evening and we were chatting about all kinds of different things.  As we pulled up to the housing complex, this retired man casually mentioned something he does with his time during the week:  he’s an Uber driver.  If you’re not familiar with it, Uber is a popular ride-sharing service.  Uber offers an app that connects people who want rides with people who can provide rides.  This brother uses Uber as an opportunity to share the gospel with strangers.  He keeps a supply of evangelistic tracts in his car and hands them out to whoever it is that he picks up.  While he’s driving, he often engages in conversations with his passengers and sometimes those conversations lead to the gospel.  He’ll also be listening to sermons or Christian music as he drives.  This is a great example of using the opportunities God gives to spread the good news of Christ!


Sometimes I Still Don’t Get It

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I blew it the other day.  I had an amazing opportunity to share the gospel with people who might not otherwise hear and I messed it up.  Almost a week later and I’m still kicking myself for a bush league mistake.  Before I confess the nature of my goof-up, let me give some back story here.

When I was a university student many moons ago, we had an evangelistic effort at the University of Alberta called the Areopagus Project (named after the place Paul addressed the Athenians in Acts 17).  Part of the Areopagus Project involved a literature table in a high-traffic location on campus.  One day a week, we had students taking turns at manning this table.  We handed out Bibles, but also tracts and other Christian literature.  Being an aspiring writer, I decided to have a run at writing a couple of tracts myself.

Around the same time, the Internet was this brand new thing, and on the Internet there was this Reformed e-mail discussion list called “Ref-net.”  I was one of the early contributors.  It started off as a thing amongst CanRC university students, but eventually morphed to include all sorts of other people.  The Ref-net was a good place to throw ideas out there and get some feedback.  I took the tracts I had written and posted them to the Ref-net and asked for input.  I’ll always be grateful for something Angelina wrote.  She said that we have to be careful with our Christian jargon.  There are a lot of terms that we use as Christians and we take for granted the meaning of these terms.   We expect that an unbeliever is going to right away understand all our biblical and theological vocabulary.  Angelina gave me some concrete suggestions for improving these tracts in that regard — terms that I needed to explain if I was going to use them or, better yet, use words that an average unbeliever will immediately grasp.  I took the lesson to heart.

I also tried to take the lesson to the mission field.  When I became a missionary in 2000, I kept Angelina’s advice in mind.  Whenever I taught and preached, I always tried to remember that I was speaking to people who were not only limited in their English comprehension (as speakers of English as a second language), but also rather biblically illiterate.  I always had to be conscientious of my audience and try to keep things as simple as possible.  Even today as a pastor in a regular church, I don’t expect that every one is going to always immediately remember the meaning of words like justification, sanctification, or propitiation.  Explain, explain, explain.  Try not to take anything for granted.  You could have someone in the pews who’s listening, really listening, for the first time.  It could be a visitor, but it could also be a young member who’s finally starting to listen, or maybe even an older member who otherwise daydreams.  Lay it out for them.

So there I was last week at a funeral facing a large audience made up mostly of folks who rarely, if ever, walk through the doors of a church.  I was asked to preach on Psalm 23.  This psalm presents incredible evangelistic potential and I tried to work with that.  It’s not hard to preach Christ from Psalm 23.  As I was preaching, I had a well-placed source in the audience who couldn’t help but pay attention to some of the reactions around her.  I spoke repeatedly about how David was saying this and saying that.  Audience members were heard to say to one another, “Why is he talking about David?  It’s Bryan’s funeral.  He keeps saying the wrong name!”  Face palm.  That’s my face.  My palm.  My bad.  I failed to say anything about the author of the Psalm as background — I just assumed that everyone knew that King David from the Old Testament wrote Psalm 23.  It wasn’t in the program with the Bible reading either.  That name “David” just dropped out of the sky and it confused and distracted listeners.  I over-estimated the biblical literacy of my audience and it presented somewhat of an obstacle to my presentation of the gospel message.

Normally I try to keep these things in mind, but this time around I dropped the ball.  Now you might say that it’s not a big deal, that the Holy Spirit can still work through a jar of clay even with a less-than-perfect message.  Yes, I believe that too and it does give me comfort.  And have I ever preached anything else besides a less-than-perfect message?  No, even my best sermons are stained with sin and plagued by weakness.  Yet I still want to be as effective a gospel communicator as I can.  After all, souls are in the balance.  I feel the weight of eternity on me every time I preach.  As I looked at all the faces in front of me last week, I remembered that they are all either going to heaven or hell — forever.  It’s ultimately in God’s hands, but I want to be his instrument so that they can know Christ and eternal life in him.  Because he is worthy, I want to honour him with a full-on effort where no one can walk away and say that they didn’t get it.  They might not believe, but they should still be able to know exactly what they’re rejecting.  Responding to the message is their responsibility.  Giving a clear message to which they have to respond is mine.  Should God give me another chance, I’m going to try and remember Angelina’s advice.

 


Mack Stiles: Basic Principles for Sharing the Gospel

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I’m almost finished the big pile of books I received last year at Together for the Gospel.  This little volume by J. Mack Stiles is one of them and it’s outstanding in many respects.  I appreciate the way in which he ties evangelism tightly to the local church and its ordinary ministry.  He wants churches to foster a culture of evangelism.  What he means is that evangelism is not something we tack on to the church (like a program), but it needs to be at the core of everything we do and everything we are as believers gathered in a church.  Evangelism doesn’t necessarily mean changing what we do, but changing the attitudes with which we do it.  The church should encourage believers to be compassionate and intentional with the lost that God has already placed in their lives and praying for him to bring more in their lives.

As we have these relationships with the lost, we pray for opportunities to share the gospel.  Stiles has a helpful set of basic principles to use in spiritual conversations with people:

  • Give yourself grace when you share your faith.  I’ve noticed that I often fear evangelism because there are so many ways to go wrong.  I can flub the message.  I can keep silent when I need to speak.  I can say things that later I think were stupid.  But it’s good to remind yourself that even your mistakes can help you become a better ambassador.
  • Meet people where they are.
  • Look for open doors.  A culture of evangelism is helpful here.  When church members share about the open doors they have seen around them, other members might hear opportunities with which to get involved.
  • Be compassionate and maintain a tender heart toward others.  Be careful to remember that you are a sinner.  Humility commends the gospel.
  • Remember that we have the answers to life’s biggest questions.  That’s something you can offer.  When the reality of life pierces through the superficial barriers that keep people from God, that’s where you can shine the light of the gospel.  Don’t hide it under a basket.
  • Focus on people’s separation from God, not on being morally upright.
  • Be intentional in your conversation.  Plan out what you will say.  This helps you to say things that are helpful, and not say things that are awkward or offensive.
  • Acknowledge what we know and what we don’t.  Kim’s phrase, ‘a sin-sick world,’ acknowledges the truth we see around us.  The Christian does well in that environment because he or she knows how it got that way.  I also find it helpful to tell people that I don’t always know the whys of what God does, but that I trust him as the one who makes sense in a broken world.
  • It’s good (though not required) to ask permission to share the message of the gospel.
  • Ask lots of questions.  Be a good listener.
  • Finally, if you anticipate a certain issue in a person’s life, it’s good to be acquainted with it by reading a book or talking with someone who knows about the issue.  (Stiles, Evangelism, 104-105)

Reaching the Unchurched

New Horizons August-September 2014

The latest issue of the OPC’s New Horizons has an article entitled “Every Church a Mission Field.”  You can find it included in the August-September issue online here.  The article describes a conference held before the last OPC General Assembly back in June.  The entire article is worth reading, but there was one part that is especially worth sharing:

Dale Van Dyke, the pastor of Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan, presented an engaging summary of the book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them.  The author, Thom Rainer, interviewed 353 people who had recently become active in a church after years or even a lifetime outside the church.  Rainer also visited churches that he described as effectively evangelistic.  Here are some of the conclusions from his study:

  • Hiding the denominational name or identity, watering down difficult teachings, and lowering membership requirements do not appeal to new converts.
  • The biggest factors that attract new converts are the pastor and his preaching (90%) and sound, clear doctrine (88%).
  • Other lesser, though important, factors include friendliness, having been witnessed to, and personal relationships.
  • Worship style ranked dead last as a factor (11%).
  • The unchurched appreaciate high expectations for membership.  (Even a seemingly small thing like arriving early for worship communicates value.)
  • Church members should be able to list the core purposes of the church:  worship, teaching, prayer, evangelism, and service (consider Acts 2:42-47).
  • Pastors of effective evangelistic churches have a functioning theology of ‘lostness’ and communicate that through passionate preaching, pleading with the lost, and commitment to personal evangelism.

Pastor Van Dyke finished his presentation with a challenge that could be summarized like this:  Major on the majors (concerning what the Bible teaches).  Be biblical, have conviction, and be joyful.  Give priority and passion to outreach.  Develop effective small-group ministry and Sunday school that encourages teaching, growth, and fellowship.  Pursue unchurched family members and colleagues.  Uphold high expectations for members.  Never forget the power of God!

Rainer’s book certainly sounds worthwhile.  His conclusions go against the grain of what many people apparently think should be the shape of an outward-looking church.  To me this confirms that Reformed churches do not have to hide their identity or adapt their worship in order to be missional.

 


Outward Looking Church: Current Craze or Christ’s Commission? (1)

Revised from a presentation for the Spring Office Bearers Conference held March 22, 2014 in Burlington, ON.

In the Canadian Reformed Churches, we hear a lot of talk these days about our need to become more outward looking.  It’s therefore certainly worthwhile to consider whether this is simply a passing fad or whether there’s something biblical here that needs our attention.  I have three comments by way of introduction.

First of all, it may seem like this something that has just popped up recently.  However, this subject has been under discussion before in the Canadian Reformed Churches.  In 1972, here in Burlington, a minister taught a course about Reformed congregational evangelism.  The lectures were later published in a booklet format.  Later, in 1979, the material was expanded and published as a book.  Perhaps the author was known to some of you:  Rev. G. Van Dooren.  The second edition of his book was entitled Get Out! & Get Rid of Dilemmas.  Some of the questions we’re going to be considering were already addressed by Rev. Van Dooren over thirty years ago.  Now the easy thing to do would be to stop here and just tell you to go and read the book.  It’s apparently still available from Premier Publishing, so you could do that.  However, there comes a time when a younger generation has to pick up the mantle from the older.  Even if the questions we’re looking at today are old, they are still being asked and they’re still deserving of an answer from today’s generation.  While I respect the work done by Rev. Van Dooren, I’d also like to build on it and take it further in some ways.

My second introductory comment relates to my own history with these questions.  I was ordained in 2000, as a missionary.  I served the Lake Babine Nation in British Columbia, as a missionary of the Smithers church.  Together with my family, we lived on a small reserve about 100 km north of Smithers, Fort Babine.  A missionary and his task are naturally outward looking.  Eventually, the time came when our family was called off the mission field and I became a pastor in a regular church.  The Lord called me first to become a co-pastor of the Langley church.  One of the ways that the Lord drew me there was through the pleas of his people.  They said that, as a former missionary, they needed me to help their congregation become more outward looking.  Fresh off the mission field, I had a perspective that could serve their desire to be a church oriented to the community where the Lord placed them.  That plea certainly resonated.  Indeed, it became an important part of my work there.  Fast forward to 2009 and a call came my way from the Providence church in Hamilton.  This theme of having an outward looking pastor to lead a congregation that wants to be outward looking came up again.  I was recently reviewing some of the letters and e-mails I received from Providence church members when considering the call and I was surprised by how many of them brought it up.  It definitely factored into my discerning the Lord’s will for me to move to Hamilton.  Based on that, I think you can already sense where this is going to go.

My third introductory comment has to do with what one pioneer Canadian Reformed pastor allegedly said.  Back a number of years ago, I met an older brother who had been under the ministry of one of our pioneer pastors.  The name of the pastor is irrelevant.    This older brother told me that Rev. X. had once said something like, “Beware when the church is fixated on evangelism.  It’s never a good sign for the health of the church.”  I don’t know whether Rev. X. actually said it.  I’ve never seen any proof of it and that’s also why I hesitate to mention his name.  Regardless of whether it was said, there has often been suspicion attached to those who want to be more outward looking.  The sentiment attributed to Rev. X. is definitely out there.  When I first heard this comment, I actually tended to agree.  After all, there have been those in our churches who have used mission and evangelism as a tool to try and change things via the back door.  This is especially true with regard to worship.  By having a mission project or evangelism effort with the songs we want sung with the instruments we want played, perhaps we can pull the church along in the direction we think it should go.  At times, our missionary-minded and evangelistically-enthusiastic people have not been the most confessionally-grounded people in our churches.  The thinking sometimes seems to be that when we do mission work, we have to leave all this Reformed baggage behind.  So, that means we have to abandon the singing of psalms, we have to abandon the Three Forms of Unity, and anything else that makes us distinctively Reformed.  To borrow the expression of C.S. Lewis, the evangelistic believer or missional church must be “merely Christian.”  However, this is a false dilemma.  We can be confessionally Reformed in the fullest sense, and be outward looking churches.  You don’t have to choose between one and the other.  There are Reformed missionaries who have the Three Forms of Unity, not only as their confessional basis, but also as a powerful missionary tool.  Around the world in the most surprising places, there are Reformed churches who are not only NOT ashamed to sing the psalms (and even with Genevan melodies), but they delight in doing so.  So let me lay my cards on the table at the outset:  I am going to argue that not only can confessionally Reformed churches be outward looking and be healthy – they must be outward looking in order to be healthy.

Click here for part 2.