The new model brings up Jesus naturally and in non-cliché ways. Jesus surprises people not by popping out at every moment but by looking very different from what was expected when he does appear.
Good news about God's kingdom versus good news about the afterlife. The old model emphasized how we could be forgiven of our sins and go to heaven after we die. But actually that wasn't Jesus' focus, though it was part of his message. Jesus' main message was that the kingdom or rule of God is at hand. The rule of God is the act of God to set things right and to make people and the world work as they were intended to work. So Jesus talked much more about this life than about the next, much more about changing this world than about giving us a free pass to the next.
Journey versus event. Our model of conversion has pushed us to draw lines in order to figure out who's in and who's out, and we look for a one-time event, a decision, that distinguishes people on the outside from those on the inside. I don't know about you, but for me this constant attempt to figure out who has become a Christian and who's in and who's out has been a very frustrating and fruitless experience. The new model, a model based on the image of journey, sees all of us as moving either toward the goal or away from the goal. If the goal is to be a wholehearted follower of Jesus, then we are at different points along the way. But the crucial question is whether we are moving toward the center and beginning to follow in the footsteps of the Leader.
We need to explore these shifts, see if Scripture backs them up, look honestly at barriers and brainstorms to help us pursue the new model, and end with some practical skills that can get us ready for the challenges that will face us on the spiritual friendship adventure.
Through each of these explorations, we must look to the Holy Spirit to teach us and lead us. After all, the Holy Spirit is the true witness to Jesus. The Holy Spirit has been pursuing conversations with people he loves on a spiritual journey for the past two millennia. The Holy Spirit has much to teach us if we will listen and learn.
A final word: Although the sales model is the box people of our culture have most commonly put evangelism in, the relational evangelism model can itself be a box. We can build trust and friendship with people but never get to the point of challenge. People are not loved when we build trust but never communicate truth. So the new model, the new ways of communicating and connecting, must transcend the relational evangelism box just as much as they transcend the sales box. We need a fresh wind of the Spirit, and new ways to connect and communicate, so that God can set his people free for transformational witness. Even the emphasis on friendship, though healthy and wise can hold us back. We can learn to look to the Holy Spirit, build trust, and share ourselves and our faith authentically with others, whether we have just met them or known them for years.
Reimagining evangelism can help set us free for authentic and Spirit-empowered witness. But risk is inescapable. If we are looking for risk-free evangelism, we will never influence people toward Christ.
So are you ready for the adventure of spiritual companionship, conversation and challenge? Are you ready to share what wisdom and experience you have with others? If so, let's go!
—Adapted from Reimagining Evangelism by Rick Richardson, InterVarsity Press, Copyright © 2006. Used with permission.