How to Evangelize Today
Brian McLaren pastors inside the beltway at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, and is author of the forthcoming book More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism and Dance in the Postmodern Matrix(Zondervan), and a featured speaker at the National Pastors Convention in February 2002—check out www.NationalPastorsConvention.comfor all the details, to request a free brochure, and to register by the Early Bird deadline.
Q: How can we speak evangelistically to people today? Is it different from how we spoke to former generations?
A: Much of our evangelism here in the United States was developed in a context of Christendom, in which just about everybody knew the basic information of Christianity and were favorably disposed to it. Evangelism got people to act on what they already knew and, in a sense, already passively believed. You could call people to commitment relatively quickly. You could also use pretty forceful persuasive techniques. In dealing with postmoderns, you're dealing with people who do not know the basics of Christianity. If anything, they have a negative idea of what Christianity is. So it makes no sense to them if you come on too strong and quickly ask for a commitment. We should count conversations rather than conversions, not because I don't believe in conversions, but because I don't think we'll get many conversions if we keep emphasizing them.
Q: So what does evangelism to postmoderns look like?
A: When most people think of evangelism, the word "arguments" comes up—arguments for the existence of God, arguments for the uniqueness of Christ, arguments for the inspiration of the Bible. For postmodern people, anything presented as an argument is less persuasive because arguments suggest a message of conquest rather than a message of peace. Postmoderns are so assaulted by advertisements and political messages that for a message to be important and true, it must come in a form other than argument.
Also, we have become good at boiling the gospel down into little four-step outlines. Modern people love diagrams; it's all about engineering. But postmodern people feel that truth comes as a mystery, a story, and a work of art; truth is more like poetry than engineering. This forces us to ask if we have a clear understanding of what the gospel really is. If, for hundreds of years, we have turned the gospel into a problem-solution mindset or series of arguments, we must ask how that may have distorted our understanding of the gospel. In many ways, the modern evangelical gospel is a message about how to not go to hell. When you step back and ask if that's really the gospel from Jesus' perspective, it's pretty hard to answer yes. When Jesus talks about the gospel, he talks about the kingdom of God. That offers a whole realm of questions that are more important.
Q: How do you train people to be authentic witnesses for the gospel?
A: We don't talk about having a missions department in our church. Instead, we tell people that what ...