One of my long-term church friends and I have friendly banter about my use of words and phrases that are probably more complicated than they need to be. Regularly, Lane and I have friendly conversations about the use of complex language. I even try to come up with a new word or phrase periodically so we can provoke one another with great amusement for both of us. Lane is a very smart guy. He actually speaks or understands several different languages.
Some years ago he offered a phrase to me for my consideration. It was “confrontational evangelism”. Because I consult and coach with congregations both on strategic planning and conflict mediation, he thought these two words would best express both foci.
Of course, he is insightful enough to know that evangelism is more than confrontation. However, sometimes I wonder about other people who so significantly shy away from evangelism because they see it only as confrontation.
If we only mean by evangelism the direct, confrontational, persuasive sales pitch that tries to get a person to repent and believe, it may be something from which we need to shy away. Evangelism is much greater and richer than this.
If evangelism is only the confrontational speech, then depending upon whose research you read, it is a gift, skill, and preference that only three percent of all Christians possess. Such a definition would leave out the other 97 percent of us. In all likelihood, too few of us have the classic “gift of evangelism.” However, many of us have varying gifts along the full spectrum of evangelism.
One my friends and favorite pastors who is now retired after 35 years at his church is Leith Anderson. In a self-disclosing manner, Leith has often said that he does not have the gift of evangelism. However, he has always known that not having the gift of evangelism does not allow him to avoid doing the work of evangelism.
The way I understand his story is that he regularly sought to discover the people within his congregation who had the gift of evangelism, and empowered them to do the work of evangelism under his coaching leadership. As a result, much evangelism was done over his decades of leadership at Wooddale Church outside of Minneapolis, MN.
When looking at the full spectrum of evangelism, one of the best places to start is with the research conducted a number of years ago by James Engel. Jim has been a Christian communication specialist for much of his adult life. He has figured out what seems to make the critical difference in the attractional, the disciplemaking, and the missional efforts of congregations, denominations, and parachurch groups.
One insightful piece Engel developed and has molded over the years is a Christian discipleship receptivity scale. This scale begins at -10 where it indicates a person has no knowledge of God as experienced in Christianity. When the scale arrives at zero a person professes Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. The scale moves forward to +10 where a person has become a fully devoted follower of Christ.
[Note: Variations of the scale can be found on the Internet. I am going by my notes in conversation with Engel from several decades ago.]
The movement from -10 to zero is evangelism. The movement from zero to +10 is disciplemaking. Two observations. First, there are genuine evangelism cultivation actions and ministries all along the scale from -10 forward to zero. A place exists where all the varying gifts, skills, and preferences of Christian people can be expressed as part of the evangelism process. Second, all along the scale from zero to +10 are stages and signposts where Christians exhibit growth in their disciplemaking journey.
One of the things I suspect is that there is some correlation between the progress a professed Christian is making along the plus side of the scale, and their willingness to be involved in varying degrees and activities in the evangelism process.
Another thing I suspect is that when people are not moving forward on the plus side of the scale, it is too easy to dilute the definition of evangelism to include more people in processes and activities that are labeled evangelism that may not truly be evangelism.
A final observation is that too many people believe the evangelism process may be over at -1, -2, or -3, when it is not completed until there’s reconciliation and redemption that occurs between the seeker and the Triune God. Many people will say the final act of evangelism may involve some form of confrontation. I agree. The primary player in the confrontation is the Holy Spirit who may be working through a person who is inappropriate or “in your face” in their methodology.
I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who through the stumbling of overanxious or overbearing people brings forth genuine conversion to a new life in Christ.