Wednesday, November 19, 2008

mission and evangelism

Ok, we seem to have run out of steam on the spiritual transformation topic, at least temporarily. When we discussed what needs to change in contemporary Christianity a couple of months ago, we came with 17 points that we later divided into roughly 3 areas. One of those areas we called ‘spiritual transformation’. Another one we called apostolic mission.

Lets switch over to that topic and discuss it. There were three points under apostolic mission. Here is what Sarah said:

there needs to be greater missional engagement with the secular world

Do you all agree with this? If yes, what are some practical ways that can happen? Are there any ideological or paradigmatic blinders that prevent us from properly engaging people in the world?


Brian Emmet said...

Thanks for redirecting us, Joseph. It looks like this may have posted twice. More in a minute...

Brian Emmet said...

I think we tend to be "ashamed of the Gospel," in the sense that we don't really see it as "the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." We think that "power" resides elsewhere--e.g., the right church structures, reasonable apologetics, political persuasion, intense "spiritual experiences," etc.

I anticipate the next question, "What IS 'the gospel'?" but don't want to deflect this discussion in that direction. My point is simply that the Gospel, as long as we articulate it Biblically, is powerful.

smokin joe said...

wow, must be the holidays approaching ... or maybe everyone is out shopping.

Brian, on a theological level, I agree with you that the gospel is powerful, at least theoretically. However, has telling the gospel been that powerful in your experience? When was the last time that you (or someone in your church) told a completely unsaved non-believer the gospel and witnessed a powerful response?

In my experience, I cannot say that I have seen powerful results from the telling, preaching or teaching of the gospel, not even with Christians and even less so with unbelievers.

So, because I know that the gospel IS powerful, I conclude that there either must be something wrong with

a) me as the messenger (personal incongruity with the gospel in my own life)

b) my understanding of the gospel must be incomplete or slightly skewed, or

c) the way I am communicating the gospel must be flawed; i.e. the vocabulary, the medium, the stories, the metaphors must be ineffective for the target audience.

There is another possibility, that perhaps we are living among a non-responsive population, i.e. hard soil that must be ploughed before the seed can be sown or harvested.

That could possibly be attributed to secular postmodernism.

In general, I DO find that secular postmoderns are interested in spiritual things and very open ... but not to a simple "telling" of the gospel as a series of 'truth' propositions. If you just try to lay it out there, they kind of look at you blankly and say "and so?..."

If anyone else is seeing powerful results with the communication of the gospel, please tell us ...

Brian Emmet said...

Joseph, I agree with all your points, and am not disagreeing with you. What I was trying to say had to do with God's ability to draw people, as a antidote to our sense that we have to make absolutely sure that we are getting "it" right before "it" can be effective. It's a way to take the pressure off, while also pressing us a bit to be/become who we truly are in Jesus. We should do all that we can to understand our neighbors, contextualize the message for them, etc., but without losing focus on simply being followers of Jesus before them. I see this as just the sort of thing you're already doing on Tuesdays. I've also seen this happening some in the context of our church, although not primarily with 20- 30-year-olds.

I do wonder if we are facing a "reprobate" culture--rereading Romans 1":18ff, it seems to me that we're pretty far along the "God giving them over" process?

smokin joe said...

yes, I was not arguing either, just voicing questions that I have been wrestling with.

I personally don't think the culture is reprobate -- I think the difficulty is more of a reflection on the state of the church than the state of the culture. But will refrain from expanding on that and wait for others to comment.

Brian Emmet said...

OK, so Joseph and I agree that one component of mission and evangelism and engagement with secular culture is confidence in God's power in the Gospel--we really do have/carry a life- and world-changing message, even though we may have carried it and delivered it poorly.

What else, what's next?

John M. said...

I am such a powerful "evangelist" that I have to scan my whole life to find about one handful of people, in addition to my own children, with whom I have had the opportunity to "assist" with their actual birth into the Kingdom.

Interestingly, I didn't go looking for any of those I'm thinking about. They all "found" me. And each of them had been prepared and "ripened" until they pretty much fell off the tree into my hand without me doing much "harvesting".

Of that handful, though, all (with one possible exception) are actively pursuing God and His Kingdom and are tangibly bearing fruit for the Kingdom. I think that's because I had much less role in their conversion than did the Holy Spirit. I just "happened" (or was placed, depending on one's perspective) to be in the right place at the right time.

My primariy usefulness seems to come with mentoring and walking with new or young believers, and seeing them grow into greater maturity. I love helping them discern their gifts and seeing them far surpass me in their areas of giftedness -- some being evangelism. I can think of more than two handfuls of those. Technically it's not evangelism, but a gifted evangelist needs someone or several with that gifting to follow along and help get the harvest into the barn so to speak.

I finish with a question. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelism?

smokin joe said...

I think the role of the H.S. is essential, and may be the most undervalued and under emphasized aspect of 'modern evangelism' along with the vital necessity of Christian agape... (John 15: "they will know you are my disciples IF you ...").

John M. said...

I just picked up a book that has been sitting unread on my shelf called "Made to Stick," 'Why some ideas survive [and thrive] and others die.'

The authors ask why many untrue ideas such as urban legends, conspricy theories etc. "stick" and find wide reception, while many good and true ideas languish and die.

I submit that:

1. God's story as found in the scriptures and the biblical Gospel of the Kingdom are the "stickiest" ideas of all time.

2. The reason there is power in the Gospel is because it is true, it is God's message to humanity, and it is breathed on by the Holy Spirit when it is communicated.

3. How we communicae and "package" the story, the Gospel, determines how well it sticks in a certain cultural context. i.e. God expects us to culturally adapt the means of communication (not the message) so it will stick.

4. We should be continually asking ourselves, how can I adapt the story to this network, to this individual, to this cultural group. And we should obviously be checking ourselves to be sure that we have not distorted the truth or subracted from the message in our adaptation.

5. As Joseph said, we should never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit in the whole process. We should never ceasingly be in communion and connection with Him, asking Him for revelation and insight about how to best communicate, asking for His anointing and breath to be in our communication, and asking him to prepare the hearts of those we are connecting with, and to exercise His infuence to draw them to Jesus.

Brian Emmet said...

I've read "Made to Stick"--a lot of fun and very insightful, as were John's comments on both the book and his personal experience.

John M. said...

Thanks Brian. Well, at least we've made it a three-way conversation...

smokin joe said...

John, you bring up an interesting point about our quantitative expectations regarding conversions and evangelism. We seem to have some kind of belief that unless there are dozens or hundreds or thousands of people coming to Christ, our efforts are insignificant. However apart from the multitudes to which Jesus ministered, and the 3000 that were added on the day of Pentecost, there are few examples in scripture of mass conversions. And even Jesus only successfully discipled 11 people … and influenced another 70 to 120 or so. In our day, that would not even be considered a respectable sized congregation in some quarters.

Michael Green does a wonderful study on evangelism in the early church in a classic work called, oddly enough, “Evangelism in the Early Church” (1970). He concludes that the massive growth of Christianity in the first 2 centuries was not due so much to highly gifted specialists as it was to the simple fact that every new Christian became an effective and passionate witness for the power of the gospel. His phrase is that they went everywhere “gossiping the gospel.”

This is something that we do not have today in any effective sense, at least not in postmodern countries like the United States or Europe. It has been happening in places like China, Korea and Colombia.

I am very interested in attempting to discern the social, spiritual and/or structural barriers to that kind of effective grass-roots spread of the gospel in the U.S.

However, none of us in this conversation, nor any of the people we know in Covenant circles have been more than mildly effective in making a handful disciples (through conversion) over the last couple of decades. That’s probably normal at a biblical standard. The problem is there not many people even trying to do that. Just a handful of spiritual specialists.

Some people in recent years have been successful in attracting large crowds of people to their worship services (R. Warren, B. Hybels) but I don’t know how much of that attendance really represents raw conversions, and I certainly have no idea how many of those who attend their services go on to become fully committed followers of Christ. And even if they do, a couple guys like Hybels and Warren reaching 20,000 people each, is no substitute for the average Christian in America reaching 2-5 people each in her/his lifetime.

John M. said...

It's interesting that the discussion seems to be coming full circle back to spiritual formation. Which raises the question, "Is one turely evangelized until they are actually demonstrating a level of bibical maturity and lifestyle, and producing the fruit if the Spirit?"

That brings to mind Dick Scoggins concept that a newly planted church should not be considered a "church" in the biblical sense until it has reproduced itself. What if we applied the same criterea to individuals in terms of reporoducing themselves...? I'm not advocating that, but it's an interesting thought.

steve H said...

I suppose you heard the news from Willow Creek a few months ago about their mistake/repentance because they had not been effective at what we would call "making disciples"?

smokin joe said...

Yes, the missional topic is intimately interrelated to the spiritual formation topic, as I suppose they both are with the ‘ecclesial’ topic.

I am still in the liminal zone, just waking up this morning sipping my third coffee … so let me quickly make a couple of observations before my rationality kicks in.

As Brian has pointed out before, the church has been in deep trouble multiple times in history, and every time God rescues the church and reforms, renews, resuscitates her.

The church right now is in deep trouble. At least in the United States and Europe. The church is always only one generation away from extinction.

There is a whole generation of ‘under-30-somethings’ that are massively unreached and unchurched, and they are growing more numerous.

Those few 20-somethings that ARE churched, in my humble opinion, are deeply disconnected from reality – Current Christianity is very superficial and does an extremely poor job of facilitating spiritual formation.

These observations lead me to these conclusions:

God is going to initiate a massive move of the Spirit to reclaim this younger generation. This will not be a signs and wonders “revival” along the lines of Toronto … it will be more like the “Jesus” movement of the late 1960s or like the Celtic evangelism of 500 ad. It will be as far reaching and global in its effects as the pentecostal outpouring at the turn of the century.

This will involve the Spirit selecting, preparing and sending multiple “apostles”, both male and female, to gather these young people and establish them on the foundations. These “apostles” will not look like what we think apostles should look like. Many of them will seem like marginal kids to us.

Along with this move of God’s Spirit will be a sweeping reform of the existing church, even more fundamental than the changes that came into evangelicalism in the 1960s and early 1970s. This will be more along the lines of 1517. The new move of God’s Spirit will be repudiated and rejected by many if not most evangelicals and mostly likely will be accused of being heretical and will generate tremendous conflict.

The new move of God’s Spirit will bring its own set of problems, extremes, and imbalances with it.

I believe that these things will happen regardless of our efforts, or our opinions. However, if we are open to participate in the initiative of God’s Spirit (and to take the heat with the kids), we may have the opportunity to help influence this new move of God in ways that will minimize some of the negatives and keep them connected to the historical legacy.

Oops….!? What did I just say? I’m waking up now from my dream ….

John M. said...

I deeply resonate with your "dream" and pray that it is prophetic.

Michael said...

I too sense something similar to what you are saying.
But I believe that signs & wonders will accompany these new aposotles. But instead of being the main show, S&W (like the NT)will affirm the presence of the KofG and help in releasing men & women from the bondages they face. Thus preparing the way for repentance and a life turned toward God.
The unsaved will not have to go to the S&W, the S&W in the gospel of the KofGod will come to them.
I will also add that I believe God is looking for cross-generational leaders. Men & women like Joseph and Caleb in the OT. They and their families lived on both sides of the Jordan. They were part of the older generation but helped to lead the next generation into God's purposes. They carried with them the memory of God's gracious gifts, their deliverance from Egypt, and the consequences of a stubborn disobedience. They also transitioned that generation from gathering mana daily to milking cows and fighting bees (to quote Bob Mumford).
I also believe God is preparing the way right now. We might not see it, and it might look gloomy. But God is at work. The pastor at our church asked us if we "Have ever wondered why the Book of Ruth was written?" He said that God was reminding us that while on the outside, nothing seemed to be happening or going right, (Israel was in a certain amount of chaos, doing what seemed right in their own eyes) God was, behind the scenes, navigating the lives of Ruth and Boaz all for the purpose of raising up his man 4 - 5 generations later, David.
I know I am speaking to the choir with this audience, but I take comfort when I meditate on this.

Brian Emmet said...

Backtrackign a bit, John Meadows recently suggested Scot McKnight's book, "The Blue Parakeet." It's about how we read the Bible, i.e., how we all do "picking and choosing" (or, in McK's phrasing, "adopting and adapting") as we read Scripture. I picked up a copy and it's pretty good, so passing along my "Amen!" to John's recommendation.

The connection to this discussion comes through a recovery of the power of God in Scripture. What these new apostles and intergenerational leaders will do is help a new generation find its place and its way in God's great Story. After all, that's what we're supposed to be leading people into, and we've messed that up in our day through a failure to understand and procalim Scripture.

I am not talking about Bible tracts, throwing the Bible at people, or speaking in godtalk/Christianese. God's Word, written in Scripture and incarnated in Christ, carries the power of God to make the world new.

John M. said...

Brian, the last section of "The Blue Parakeet" is one that will raise quite a bit of discussion and perhaps disagreement among the old guard. The younger generation will probably wonder, "What't the big deal?"

Scott uses the "women in ministry" issue to illustrate his model of discernment, taking on the "blue parakeet", "women should be silent in the church" passages in Paul's letters, and adapting and adopting them within their orginal cultural context and into ours. Quite interesting and, mostly compelling.

smokin joe said...

good points Mike, Brian and John. I will have to get a copy of the parakeet book.

Just one thought in response to Brian's comments about scripture. Our Tuesday night back-patio 'god' party, really is like a party or a 'hang-out' -- we have plenty of smoking, drinking, cussing and even some vulgarity going on (mostly in the form of humor--they are a riot).

The two distinguishing features however, are (a) intentional conversation about serious life issues; and (b) the intentional and consistent use of scripture.

A few weeks ago we had a profound and prolonged discussion about the parable of the workers in the vinyard (the one where the master continues inviting unemployed people into his harvest throughout the day and then pays them all he same).

Last summer, when Ruth took the group through a sort of new-age, 'self-help' type book for 3 weeks, there was some grumbling and some discontent. Finally, the whole group agreed that they wanted to keep the discussions more centered about Jesus and the "Bible."

The Holy Spirit + scripture + loving friendship: stir, add salt, and the milk of the word and let simmer for a few months... it ought to equal something of eternal value.