Amplifying Evangelism—Tools or Rules?
Second, people who turn tools into rules have the motto “one size fits all.”
Some see certain evangelistic tools (or perhaps their favorite) as universal cap-sizes: if it works for one person or at one time, it must work for everyone at all times. Evangelistic tools are not like the gospel itself—transcending time, place, and culture. Evangelistic tools, like many hand-tools, can be locked into a specific time and place. Trying to use them today seems anachronistic.
What worked for one culture, generation, or church simply may not work in another culture or for another generation or church. I’ve become known in some circles for saying that if the 1950’s came roaring back then many of our churches would be ready. Why? Because they are still practicing the same tools from a previous generation hoping they work on this generation.
When we universalize evangelistic tools from one culture to the next or from one generation to the next, we end up becoming culturally or generationally obsolete. Evangelistic tools come and go, but the gospel is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Third, people who turn tools into rules have the following rule of engagement: they focus on the tool not the one using the tool.
In other words the rule of engagement is rigidly centered on the tool and the effective use of the tool rather than the person using the tool. It’s like a saw, plane, and hammer building a chair without a craftsman to utilize them.
Evangelistically speaking such a mindset reduces the effort to a performance of the person using the tool rather than a meaningful personal interaction of a person sharing his or her story. This can happen when the tool depends on rote memorization, rather than authentic relationship.
Let me share an example. Over the past couple of decades churches have used the corporate gathering as an evangelistic tool whereby members and attendees can invite their friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors to the gathering so that they can hear the gospel. Don’t misunderstand, I’m all for people inviting others to a corporate worship gathering. But, the tendency is to focus on the tool of the invite rather than the one who is doing the inviting. So “doing” evangelism is reduced to an invitation to a corporate gathering (a tool) rather than on a person sharing their transformational story. In addition, this tool seems to promote the professional model of evangelism where one comes to hear the gospel from a specialist rather than from a generalist—a faithful follower who has been transformed by the gospel.
When such a tool—and this one has been central for many years—becomes ineffective then evangelistic effectiveness wanes.
During the 80’s and 90’s (and even the early 2000’s) the use of the church invite as the evangelistic tool was greatly effective.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still very effective to invite your friends to church (at least in the near future). It’s less effective to build a service around “everyone invite someone” since the guests might feel as if the primary reason for the invitation is to reach some goal they couldn’t care less about.
To be effective the rule of engagement needs to shift from the centrality of the tool (“y’all come”) to the centrality of the content (the gospel), and person’s transformation story (the testimony).
Getting Back to the Basics
Today many Christians are at a loss for words when it comes effective evangelism. Many of our once effective tools are no longer effective, which leaves many befuddled.
Alvin Reid in his seminal work, Evangelism Handbook, notes how Vince Lombardi, former coach of the Green Bay Packers, shared with his players after suffering a stunning lost to an inferior team, “Men, today we will get back to the basics—this is a football.” Reid argues that what is needed most of all in the contemporary church with regard to evangelism is to get back to the basics.
Tools are fine, but trusting tools is not.
I’m all for using tools to aid in our evangelistic efforts. That’s how my sister, mother, and I came to know Christ.
However, I am not for idolizing, universalizing, or centralizing the use of our evangelistic tools.
Some need to be dropped, or at least updated.
However, the main point is this. We must get back to the basics of evangelism—forming authentic caring relationships with those far from God, showing them the radical love of Jesus, and most importantly sharing with them the personal life-transforming message of the gospel.
Tools can help us, but the gospel and an authentic testimony are what matter most.