Evangelism and Relationship
The great joy and lifeblood of the Christian life is not evangelism but an intimate relationship with the Evangel. As the church examines itself, its purpose, the salvation of souls is, and should be, a mountain of urgent mandate. If that mountain, however, is set on an unsound foundation, only tragedy can result. In our search for the purpose of the church we dare not depart from the Foundation. For this reason we will examine the foundation, philosophy, and establish a simple model of evangelism based on what we discover.
Grace. It “takes its rise far back in the heart of God, in the awful and incomprehensible abyss of His holy being” (Knowledge 100). In evangelism, in life, it is the depth of that God which is the whole. Gazing into the depths of the Infinite is not only the foundation of evangelism; it is the purpose for life. “God help us to teach the maximum amount of truth about the glorious God who is Creator and Redeemer in a winsome, lucid, bold way to as many of this world’s children as we can” (Metzger 74).
God envelops creation. How much more is He the foundation and building of evangelism and spiritual life? Occam’s Razor states that the simplest truth is correct. God is the simple and awful truth where all find existence. Since life and cosmos flow from the nature of God, it also stands to reason that every question of spiritual life is theological. Evangelism begins and ends in God; He is the content and object. Metzger warns us not to do as some, who “ask their hearers to ‘decide’ for a contentless Christ” (44). The idea of the centrality of God may not seem a point of contention, but what is often lost is the reality of this God. He is known in theory but not in powerful, and personal reality. That is what is needed for true evangelism.
The presence of God is the central fact of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian message is God Himself waiting for His redeemed people to push in to conscious awareness of His presence. That type of Christianity, which happens now to be the vogue, knows this presence only in theory. It fails to stress the Christian’s privilege of present realization. According to it’s teaching we are in the presence of God positionally, and nothing is said about the need to experience that Presence actually. (Pursuit 34)
Jesus, being one with the Father, also reflects His relational character. “Whether a person’s need was physical, social, emotional, or spiritual, Jesus met each individual where he was in terms of his or her spiritual understanding and always started at their point of felt need” (Innes 179). When the great felt need was physical, Jesus met it. This is why we see a myriad of miracles in the gospels. When the great felt need was social, Jesus met it. This is why we see the great Son of Man breaking all cultural barriers to associate with the lepers, aliens, outcasts, lowlife, and the hopeless. When the need is emotional, Jesus devastatingly met it. We see Him, full of grace, radiating love, forgiving and declaring to the woman caught in adultery, “go and sin no more.” Before he could say this, “He first met the basic need in her life, the lack of which was causing her to sin” (Innes 175). When the people finally felt the weight of their spiritual disparity, Jesus was there with fierce grace. He lived and died for relationship. Jesus reflected the Father in His dealing with individuals, may we endeavor to do the same. (Innes 171-178)
God takes great joy in His relationship with us. He sings over us and bottles our tears (Psalm 56:8). We too find intrinsic joy in that relationship. Brother Lawrence writes,
I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to God, which I may call an actual presence of God; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God, which often causes me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them and prevent their appearance to others. (17)
Relationship is the foundation of evangelism. We need only to intimately know our God and our relationship to Him. Oddly, being rightly related to God does not give an inflated self-concept; rather it is humbling. To gaze deep into the eyes of God, we see our continual and crushing need for His grace. Yet before a Holy God we are not undone; when seen clearly, we are indeed in his grace and drawn intimately into His heart. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:2 NIV). This is discipleship, plunging into the depths of the Holy. The discipleship-relationship is the foundation of evangelism.
The philosophy of evangelism rests in being. Our Christ-likeness is key to meeting the needs felt by the hurting masses. The way salvation occurs is the other element to our philosophy of evangelism, it determines how we transact our witness. Let us now look to these elements, and build a structure of philosophy on our Foundation.
Relationship is the motivation that compels us to evangelize. We have been called to be disciples. As His disciples we are intently focused on His face. Our every step falls in the whisper of His will.
Remember, we are calling people not merely to accept a set of beliefs about Jesus that will somehow trip the divine lever and get them into heaven when they die. Oh, no! We are calling people to become his disciples (or apprentices) to enroll in his school of living. Thus people become trained in the Way, increasingly taking into themselves Jesus’ hopes, dreams, longings, habits and abilities… There simply is no other way. (Foster 221)
Relationship begets relationship. At that juncture, being is the motive for multiplying. We are simply and completely an obedient disciple. We are not motivated by guilt or a law-letter mandate, but rather it flows from our nature, as that nature increasingly reflects Christ. (Innes 16-27)
“To be as Christ to somebody can be vastly different than just talking about Him” (Innes 85). We should reflect Christ in our relationships and echo the love sonnet of our Lord. True friendship is a need that many long to have met. The places that such a rarity is found should certainly include the body of Christ. The elements of being a good friend are found in the character of Christ. He is trusting and trustworthy. His is winsome, loving, and honest. He is sensitive, and present with emotion and transformation (Innes 85-98). “To be as Christ and to communicate Him to others we need to be ourselves and give ourselves – to give the Christ who is in us” (Innes 100).
Disciples, not converts, are the goal of evangelism. Justification is immediate upon placing faith in Christ. Salvation is the ultimate result of justification, but to leave it at a place where the two are equal is to close the eyes to the joy and point of salvation. While justification is the consequence of faith, salvation is the end result. Therein we find the “already, but not yet” tension that inhabits Scripture. “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not have we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:24,25 NIV).
This is not to doubt the efficacy of the repentant sinner’s moment of choice, but salvation remains a process and not an event or series of events. This may seem a radical thought, but as life becomes more integrated in our bond with Christ, the borders that separate the territories of our lives blur. Salvation and sanctification become less distinct. We see the work of Grace stretching back in our personal history to a time even before we put our trust in Christ. The words discipleship and evangelism also become inseparable as if we are looking at one object from different eyes. So it is, the less rigid the compartments of our lives become, the more the whole is salvation, the whole is prayer, the whole is discipleship, the whole is evangelism, and the whole is in God and through God.
In the process of salvation, constant sowing is required. “We need to free our minds completely of the concept that evangelism takes place only when a person makes his or her commitment to Christ.... Every action, every influence, every word that draws a person even a half-step closer to Christ is evangelism” (Innes 131). This is true in evangelism as well as discipleship; the aim is to bring a person closer to the personal God who is already drawing them. “The only way to open closed minds is by meeting people at their point of felt need” (Innes 143). Then the way we evangelize is by constantly introducing our God by meeting felt needs. This introduction starts simple and, as the felt needs become more spiritual, it is a diving adventure in the depths of the ocean of His character.
We reflect Christ in His ability to meet people where they are and bring them to the depths of the Holy; meeting the needs they felt one at a time. As we understand our own salvation and are conformed into the image of Christ, we are evangelists.
The way we minister must conform itself to what we know our vision and purpose to be. The model of evangelism must find its roots deeply in the soil of the foundation and philosophy we have established; it must be centered on the relationship with Christ and meet needs to create disciples. The model that we find is fluid and flexible. The evangelist in our ideal is the disciple, focused on meeting the needs of the men whose company he enjoys. The methods he uses are as varied as the needs these individuals sense. It is just like God to make our paradigm one that shifts to meet needs. This is to say that our model is submissive to the molding hand of our God-given vision.
Meeting the needs of a man is the way that he is made into a disciple. “When one set of needs is met, then a new set of needs is felt” (Innes 162). As our friend the disciple-evangelist meets the felt needs of the people around him, they are free to feel their need for Christ. The disciple gets to know those people; he very personally meets those needs. As the Spirit draws, those needs that are felt become ever increasingly more spiritual. The same way our disciple brings people closer to Christ, he too is brought closer to his Master. The need he feels is every day a more desperate desire for depth in his relationship with Christ. His evangelizing service to others is even a discipline where he finds the grace of Christ’s touch. Through healing and teaching grace we are drawn closer, deeper. This is a continuous motion of discipleship, for once a person is drawn to the point of repentance, he has just begun to feel his need for Christ.
As our vision is focused, we see what the important elements are. To fulfill the vision, we must have a congregation full of the disciple, our evangelist friend. The important thing is then to disciple and to trust that disciple to disciple others. With every program, every sermon, every song the church is geared to fulfill our mission of discipling. We must meet the needs of our congregation and community with every step the church makes, through the best possible means.
We believe the family is the best way to meet the needs of children, so Family Church ministry cares for the family together, and is sensitive to the needs of the individual as well as the whole. The whole atmosphere of the church is orchestrated to meet their needs collectively. We purpose to disciple children with their parents. Just as we do not separate by age-grade in our church programs at Suburbean Family Church, we encourage our families to be involved together socially with other families. In this way children are included in bringing those families closer to Christ.
The best way to disciple is relationally so the ministry will be mainly informal, and intimate. Each individual is drawn to Christ through different disciplines, so each must be treated as an individual, but not removed from the context of his family and life. The Family Church may use mass evangelism techniques, like a drama production, or direct mailings, but those methods will be marked by depth. In this way they fulfill our vision. The drama productions must have depth enough for the participants to find the gracious presence of God as well as the audience, drawing both closer to an intimate relationship with Christ. Direct mailing as with every other publication will cast the values that we hold dear, and nothing is more valuable than our dear Christ.
Evangelism is the discipleship of the pre-converted man. The methods are the same. We meet needs and we cast value. Just as is necessary in the discipleship of church folk, the vision of an intimate relationship with the Savior needs to be continually cast. In every piece of literature, business card, letter, poster, and coffee mug our vision will be there. We will be constantly sowing the value we find in Christ.
It is unavoidable that if we value meeting the needs of those around us, we will be servants. Our service is more than a humanitarian effort; it is an act of friendship, a discipline where we find grace, and the strong-arm of Lord to bring salvation. We are drawn closer to Christ as we take his towel around us. Since He is there washing with us, the people we serve are also drawn closer to Him as they feel His touch, even on their feet.
In our example we come back to relationship. For it is in the relationship with our God that we find joy and fulfillment, so we must share it. Christ is the center of our lives and our mission, we simply model and apprentice new disciples into that relationship. Therefore our ministry is personal. Evangelistic outreach events are rare, but the sowing, and consequently the reaping, is continual. In this model more evangelism takes place over a cup of coffee and in the family room than in auditoriums.
The mysterious beauty of scripture is a thread of harmonious contradiction. We find the already but not yet salvation. We marvel at the mystery of grace that Holy God desires to fellowship with man. We are exalted into His presence and are yet humbled. We look at evangelism and discipleship closely enough and find they are the same object. We look for a paradigm, how things are done, and find it shifting and changing at will to meet needs. We must orchestrate a whole atmosphere of Grace to meet the needs of one. The strangest contradiction is that as we focus on our personal relationship with God, from the depths of His well ministry flows. For Christ is the Foundation, being His is the philosophy, and discipleship is the paradigm; this is evangelism.
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