Zombies have become a regular feature within popular culture over the last decade, helped in no small part by The Walking Dead becoming one of the most popular television shows in the world. Viewers are now so well versed in how to survive a zombie outbreak that if a real zombie apocalypse hits I’m sure we’ll be fine. However, ask the average person whether they’d rather have an encounter with a zombie or a Christian trying to evangelise them and I wonder which they’d choose? Then again, ask the average Christian whether they’d rather fight off a zombie or have to talk to someone about their faith and we might be on equally shaky ground...
Over the years of helping to equip the church for evangelism I’ve encountered many inhibitions Christians have about sharing the gospel, but perhaps three stand out especially:
1. Disabled by the fear of man
2. Disempowered by a lack of skill-set or calling
3. Disqualified by sin or failure
Recognise yourself in any of these? Well, let me assure you, I’ve been an evangelist for twenty years and at some stage I’ve felt all of these things too. The response to these issues in the church has often been to present a method of gospel explanation such as the four spiritual laws or the romans road that will make it easier to gently and intentionally start conversations (fear of man), help achieve the evangelism task (skill-set), and let everyone play (calling or disqualification). Our evangelism math concludes that if we can supply an effective enough method it will lead to our people becoming messengers of the message.
Method → Messenger → Message
Such an approach is undoubtedly well intentioned, but whilst it can lead to some positive outcomes, evangelism equipping and encouragement that hinges on rote methodology should never be the ideal. When we focus on process more than person, we start heading into the realm of what I call ‘zombie evangelism’, where people head out (at worst, fairly mindlessly) looking for ‘victims’ to feast upon with a tried and tested gospel method. But in the non-more important task of offering the world life, we shouldn’t be mindlessly shuffling zombie-style towards them, ready to consume with our method. We should be revealing to them in word and deed the precious gift of life that we now have by the power of the gospel that is available to them also. As D. T. Niles so beautifully put it:
One beggar showing another where to find bread
We frequently put far too much stock in method being able to fix the inhibitions of the messenger and the ignorance of the world when these things are actually best addressed by the wonder and power of the gospel itself, by its plain truth and its reality at work in the messengers life. Method is useful to be sure, but it has to find its proper place. Instead of offering a recipe for bread, let's offer the bread itself.
REORDERED: MESSAGE, MESSENGER, METHOD
Leonard Ravenhill rightly pointed out that “any method of evangelism will work if God is in it.” which begs the question:
How do you make sure God is in your method?
You make sure God is in the messenger.
And how do you ensure God is in the messenger?
You start with the message - the gospel itself.
Many have finally got around to those long put-off home improvements during the restricted days of COVID-19. Having left these jobs on the to-do list for too long, some will have found a few unpleasant surprises along the way. Perhaps a little damp or wood rot that has begun to erode the integrity of a fixture, fitting, or worst of all, a foundational element of their property. Left unchecked these problems can be catastrophic.
As we see time and again in the epistles, a major concern of the Apostles was to protect the truth and integrity of the gospel itself (see Galatians for the spiciest example!). Throughout history the church has and will continue to survive the external pressures that push against the truth we hold and proclaim, but when that very same truth is corrupted from within, rot can all too easily set in to that which is most foundational of all - the truth of the gospel. And when we rot from the inside, left unchecked, we head for catastrophe.
We don’t start with the gospel in evangelism equipping so that we understand it well enough to tell the world about it (as important as that is), we start with it, reassert it and press into it over and over again because without its truth our lives, individually and communally, will rot. We become god zombies, and zombies don’t have any life to offer.
When we take the time to talk through the gospel, explore its truth, wrestle over its intricacies, marvel at its wonder, delight in its hope, respond to its invitation to repent, and live in its reality, we are changed. Our minds become sharper as to how to express with simplicity the depths of the gospel. Our lives are refined into the image of the one at the centre of the gospel. Our hearts are moved for those who don’t yet know the gospel.
Simply put, the best evangelism equipping and encouragement is found in knowing the gospel deeply. By its truth and power we become more than people with a message delivered by a method, we become the living embodiment of the message (2 Cor 5:17-21).
The recent Oscar nominated movie 1917 tells the story of two soldiers who are sent on a perilous mission to deliver a life or death message to the front lines of a World War I battle. These messenger soldiers risk their lives to get the message to those who need to hear it, that they may be saved from certain death.
We might view our role as messengers of the gospel in a similar way, jumping out of the safety of our church trenches and heading into the battlefield with our message (and indeed for some around the world there are very real dangers in doing this). But where this messenger analogy falls short is in the impact of the message on the messengers themselves. In 1917 the soldiers first carry the message out of duty, and then later out of urgency knowing that it could save lives. But the message itself has no impact on them as people, only the mission they undertake.
Far more than just carriers of a life and death message, we are the living embodiment of what the message is. It is transformational. Indeed, as we are transformed by our knowledge and experience of the gospel and submission to its truth, we have the hope to overcome any challenge that evangelism presents, not by method, but by the power of the message itself.
Disabled by fear? Let the gospel of peace enable you to live in freedom (2 Tim 1:7).
Disempowered by weakness? Let the authority of the gospel empower you beyond your limitation (2 Cor 12:9).
Disqualified by sin? Let the gospel of salvation restore you to relationship with God and qualify you to serve his kingdom purpose (Mat 5:14-16).
Let the gospel bring you to life and let that life be lived as a messenger of gospel hope in word and deed.
Having committed to talking through, wrestling over, and knowing deeply the gospel for ourselves, we can begin to discern more appropriately what resources are available and use them effectively in any given context. But the best approach for talking someone through the tenets of the good news will always be a deep knowledge of the gospel with head and heart so that in any conversation you might know how to make connections from the wonderful truth of the gospel to the life of the person you are talking to. To reveal the word of God that is living and active as being true for their life. That our friends, neighbours, colleagues or strangers would receive the gospel as people, rather than as the targets of any given method. That they would see the gospel as a message of life because they are talking to someone truly alive by its power.
Jesus at the Door, The 4Points, The Romans Road, The Evangecube andThe Three Circles are all examples of simple evangelism methods you can use. Each has good elements, and each has weaknesses. I’m thankful for the creativity and inspiration behind these and various other tools and I use some of these myself at times, but we must avoid merely giving a believer a Jesus at the Door card or a Romans Road tract and think that we’ve equipped them for evangelism.
To prepare in season and out (which are we in during the days of COVID-19?) to do the work of the evangelist, our best hope is to continually expose ourselves to the truth of the gospel itself, that we would know it deeply in our mind as it takes root in our heart and soul and strengthens beyond our weakness. That we would become living messengers of the gospel, who, whatever explanatory method we employ, joyfully partake in the mission of God by his power and for his eternal glory.