Rick Richardson has written a book called Reimagining Evangelism. He suggests that we imagine the evangelist as a travel guide and define evangelism as conversations with people on a spiritual journey, which will lead to shifts in our pictures and practices at every point. Here are the ideas he explores in this book.
Collaboration versus activism. Most of us get tired just thinking about evangelism. Our old model directs us to share the good news with everybody all the time, whether we know them well or not and whether spiritual conversation is appropriate or not. We must build friendships, talk to strangers, study the Bible with unchurched people, share the gospel, call them to Christ and then follow up. Don't you just get tired reading that list, let alone thinking about doing it? And yet we feel like anything less falls short.
What if we rediscovered the role and reality of the Holy Spirit? What if we saw ourselves as collaborators rather than activists, looking for clues about where God is already at work, expecting God to nudge us, being in an attitude of prayer whenever we were with unchurched people? Evangelism could become an adventure in detection rather than a burden of making it all happen.
Community versus individual. God is far more committed to raising up witnessing communities than to raising up witnessing individuals. Our sales model leads us to think of individual salespeople fanning out across the landscape, going door to door and person to person. Though individual witness is certainly important, the Holy Spirit fills a Christian community and uses the community as a body in witness. Each member has its own particular contribution to make, according to the gifts each person has been given. More important than each of us doing the same thing to witness to others, we each must do our particular part. Then our witness together will be much greater than the sum of our parts.
Further, today people come to Christ primarily in the context of community. Belonging comes before believing. Evangelism is about helping people belong so that they can come to believe. So our communities need to be places where people can connect before they have to commit.
Friendship versus agenda. Our old model focuses on the agenda—downloading our content and closing our deal. We easily assume that if we haven't shared the whole ball of wax and challenged people to commit their lives, we haven't done evangelism. But the model of conversations with spiritual friends delights in the relationship itself and rejoices over every spiritual conversation.
Story versus dogma. Our old picture focuses on certain truths or beliefs we are to communicate. The sin of humanity, the judgment of God and the sacrifice of Christ as he takes the just judgment of God on the cross in our place are some of the primary truths we are to communicate. If we haven't communicated those particular truths, we feel we haven't evangelized. The new model doesn't lose those truths but realizes we don't start there. People today are much more concerned about an experiential reality of God than about dogmas and beliefs. Whenever we have been able to tell a story about God's reality, then we have had good spiritual conversation. We have evangelized!
The outside-the-box Jesus versus the cliché Jesus. People in our culture think they know what Jesus is about. And many are intrigued by Jesus, but they don't want to talk about Jesus with church types. Church types seem to have Jesus in a box and talk about Jesus in very uninteresting ways. Our old model emphasizes bringing up Jesus and the benefits of Jesus whenever possible. And so the recipients of this sales approach never know when Jesus might pop up. It might be anytime, but they always know what he will look like. He's kind and good, saves you, fulfills you, and is the answer to any question you might have, and lots of questions you don't have.