A Personal Strategy of Evangelism

July 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

My personal strategy of evangelism will be to grow and mature in each capacity of my being; physically, mentally, spiritually/emotionally, and socially to better serve and glorify God.

In the physical realm, effective time management will be vital to ensuring evangelism. I will not only focus on the quantity of time, but the quality of time I devote to others. The Bible reveals that God is moved by fasting, if done with a right heart attitude, so fasting and praying will be important as I petition God for the power of the Holy Spirit to prepare and convict lost sinners. I will be communicating by hearing God and also being heard by God. I will also be prepared to acknowledge and praise God as he corroborates works with miracles and wonders. I will also use kind words, hand shakes, and hugs to show physical affection towards others. Recreational activities such as sports and grilling out will be used as a platform to meet non-Christians. I will consciously seek opportunities to preach God’s word and share my personal testimony, incorporating the Gospel effectively.

In the mental realm, my personal strategy will be to memorize Scripture and recall references to ensure long-term retention. I will study the Bible devotionally, marking my Bible using the system we learned. I will continue to be a student of the Bible so that I can faithfully teach the Word of God when presented with an opportunity. Knowing the Word of God will better help me to explain Bible prophecy in a clear and compelling manner. I will also make it a point to keep up with daily news so that I will understand the meaning of important current events using conversation about news as a bridge to the gospel. I will also try to use both my engineering and business backgrounds to encourage, train, and disciple leaders in church plants.

In the spiritual/emotional realm, I will seek consistency and faith in my personal life, living by God’s grace, full of the Holy Spirit. I will go to God in prayer waiting for guidance in discerning God’s will. I will seek the commissioning of the Holy Spirit if we are to be involved in a church plant or work overseas. I will also be prepared to lay hands on others, in prayer, when commissioning them for God’s work. I will seek accountability and counsel when dealing with temptation. I plan to set up a prayer journal and to begin a ministry of intercession. I will do better to be aware of my dreams in case God wants to speak to me through my dreams. I will seek to worship God more in my corporate and personal life, breaking down the barriers in between.

Socially, I plan to invest in the lives of fellow believers and non-believers by launching community groups. I will work to establish a strong discipleship. I plan to maintain a presence in meeting places, whether that is universities, music venues, coffee shops or AA meetings. I will work to cater the message of salvation precisely to each target. I will use my workplace as a platform for ministry. Through church and community groups we will engage the community through service evangelism.

Finally, I plan to set up a database of detailed information to track progress of evangelism goals and witnessing reports to see what is working and not working. I hope to engage in a lifetime of launching, reevaluating and re-launching personal strategies for evangelism.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Ichabod Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism, A Pastor’s Sketches

July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

The strengths of Spencer’s approach are many, but the essence of the strength is found in that it was for the glory of God, not man. Spencer had no emotional barriers to witnessing for God, more than once in the book he states, “The scene was too much for me, I turned away and wept (147).” Spencer engaged in follow-up, “For the purpose of learning as much as possible about the workings of the human heart, I have been accustomed, in conversing with those who have been led to indulge a hope in Christ, to ask them questions whose answers might be beneficial to me in my intercourse with others to gain a clear understanding of the operations of the Holy Spirit, and of the difficulties or errors which keep sinners from repentance (139).” Spencer was meticulous with details regarding his visits in hopes of further empowering future generations. The strength of Spencer’s evangelism lies in the truth of his principles, his command of God’s word, the motives and desires of his heart to guide the lost toward the truth, and the faith and reliance he has upon the Holy Spirit to carry out salvation purposes and to provide protection.

The weaknesses of Spencer’s approach are only assumed because they are not specifically mentioned within the pages of the book. The book never mentions fellow clergy of the church sharing the gospel in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. The book never discusses laity being empowered to share in leadership, service and witness. There is never mention of anyone accompanying him on visits for safety or discipleship purposes. Spencer never mentions carrying the gospel beyond cultural boundaries to freed slaves or Native Americans. The book never mentions how Spencer deals with persecution and temptation.

Principles of Ichabod Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism, A Pastor’s Sketches

July 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ichabod Spencer’s, A Pastor’s Sketches is a volume of forty stories Pastor Spencer encountered as he conducted home visits with anxious souls. Pastor Spencer had a goal to visit every member of his church, every year. He recorded each of the visits in careful fashion (2) in hopes they would one day be useful on the ground of their applicability, referring to common experiences and common difficulties (5). The principles of Spencer’s approach to evangelism are based on the Bible as the primary source of God; truth, understanding and action regarding God’s fundamental laws and doctrines; the underlying faculty and endowment of the Holy Spirit, resulting in conduct of true religious practice.

Spencer’s goal in proclaiming the Word of God was to convey the gospel in a manner that people could relate to and were interested in, and to proclaim God’s Word in a spirit of truth and love. Spencer says, “It is important to be wise in aiming to win sinners to Christ. The Bible is the only safe guide. Its spirit is love. To lead sinners to condemn themselves is one thing, for us to condemn them is quite another (200). Spencer reflects, “No one is ever safe in giving any counsel to impenitent sinners, unless he is careful to talk just as the Bible talks to them. Blind guides do mischief (80).” Spencer’s highest compliment was paid to him by a personal friend who was nearing death. She says, “I was blind, and did not understand why you should preach so much about Christ, and the atonement, and our evil hearts of unbelief, and the Holy Spirit, and sovereign grace to justify us, and prayer…, but examining the Scriptures has been the means of fixing my faith just on the Scriptures; so that now I am comforted by them. Your preaching led me to examine God’s word to see if the things you preached were so there (282-283).”

Spencer’s goal in using the Bible to convey God’s fundamental laws and doctrines was to encourage and empower believers to grow in truth, understanding and action. Spencer made it a point to reach people where they were, physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially regardless of the time involved. He was more than willing to support people who desired to work through doubts, difficult concepts or misunderstandings. In the story of a church member who had grown up in the church, but was truly an atheist, Spencer relates, “I demonstrated to her satisfaction such things as the existence of God, his infinity, eternity, immutability, omniscience, omnipotence, wisdom, justice, truth and goodness, his creation of all things, and his providence over all things… I aimed to bring in religious practice as soon as I had established a doctrine or truth to found it upon. It is a very difficult and laborious thing for a minister to deal with such cases as I have mentioned here. It will be hard for him to find time. But he ought to find it. He will seldom labor in vain (216-217).” Spencer reiterates, “Many convicted sinners are kept from salvation by some mere trifle. It is important to remove the obstacle (138). Our main business with any doctrine of religion is, not to prove it, but to proceed upon it – not to understand it, but to apply and employ it (254).”

Spencer prayerfully and persistently sought God’s dynamic presence and power to find the point of tension with people. Spencer was fully aware that it was the Holy Spirit that guides, empowers, convinces and regenerates. Spencer declares, “All that men can do is contained in two things – to make sinner understand God’s truth, and make its impression upon their hearts and consciences as deep as possible. No man can preach so powerfully as the Holy Spirit. It is vastly important to know when to stop. Silence is to be imitated, as well as utterance (82-83).” Spencer would use the guidance of the Holy Spirit to explore the spiritual depths of the people he met by asking questions for the purpose of ascertaining their state of mind (62), by spending time with them, then listening to their responses, seeking flaws in their theology. Spencer states, “If I perceive any one truth has impressed the mind, I aim to make its impression deeper; because the Holy Spirit has already made that impression (153).”

Once Spencer finds the point of tension with a seeker he would then pique their interest by asking a difficult question or making a provocative statement. People that Spencer stimulated reflect, “I somehow wanted you to lighten my burden, you made it heavier (154).” “I thought it was most cruel to speak to me so. I did not believe you, but I could not get the idea out of my mind (105).” “Then you said nothing more to me, I thought it a most cruel thing, but you drove the arrow deeper and read my heart exactly (152-153).” Further emphasizing the importance of the underlying work of the Holy Spirit, Spencer states, “If anyone thinks that he has turned to God without the special aids of the Holy Spirit, it is probable that he has never turned to God at all (109).” “All true converts may not be conscious of any special act of the Holy Spirit in their regeneration, but with discriminating minds there will ordinarily be the clear impression that something has been done for the soul beyond its own power (141).”

Spencer’s ultimate aim was to share God’s word in a manner that initiated spiritual growth and resulted in regeneration. The goal was achieved when a person was reborn and the commenced to live life in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Spencer states it best when he says, “True religion is solemn and humble (183)… and there can be no religion without obedience. And there is not likely to be with any sinner, a just sense of dependence, till he earnestly intends and attempts to obey the gospel (77).” Spencer demonstrates a principle of true religion by humbly working with others, many times speaking to someone at a pastor friend’s or church members’ request. Spencer seemed to especially focus on the area and group of people living within a few hour radius of his congregation and always offered his services freely. Spencer’s approach appeals to the practical minded, he states, “Practical religion is the very thing I am urging upon you: the practice of prayer – the practice of repentance – the practice of self-denial – the practice of loving and serving God in faith (120).” Spencer notes, that in the end, each person is most influenced toward God by those practicing religion around them, he states, “Private example of godliness is what the world most needs (50).”

Turning Secular Conversations Toward Sacred Topics

July 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The process of Explore-Stimulate-Share is a technique in turning secular conversations toward sacred topics. It begins with the process of exploration. Exploration involves spending time with the person and we observe, see what captivates their life and what they are interested in. Ask questions and observe where the person is, and listen to what they have to say. The second step is to stimulate the person by asking a question or making a provocative statement that piques their interest leading into a presentation of the Gospel. Finally, we share the Gospel by communicating God’s Word to their lives.

The “Bridge to the Gospel” I have found most helpful in my personal witnessing has been a combination of the personal experience, felt needs and relationship bridges. Felt needs is the most useful for me and the easiest for me to use to transition into a presentation of the Gospel. The relationship bridge would have to be the second most useful to me and then the personal experience bridge. Each of these techniques are most useful when a prior relationship has been established. Exploration may be as easy as listening to the person relating problems in their life, or their personal experiences with God. The relationship leads to a certain comfort that often leads to a stimulating question to where the conversation is very natural, honest and open. At this point I would seek to share the gospel.

The Relationship Between “Walk” and “Talk” in Evangelism

June 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

The goal is that evangelism becomes a way of life and something we do as a matter of who we are. God uses human means to share his good news. It’s important to note that not all hearers start at the same place. There are some people who are ready to respond and we need to ask God to give us discernment where people are along the decision making process. There is a false dichotomy between the walk and talk initiatives as approaches to evangelism. There must be a balanced approach. Biblical evangelism must be done with urgency; we must seek to reap the harvest. Evangelism must also be done with sensitivity. Jesus was always willing to let the person walk away. We must always evangelize with integrity.

The relationship between walk and talk in evangelism depends on who the person is. With a family member, your walk will be very heavily rated. The implication is that the gospel has been shared verbally, but that it has be reinforced with the actions of your life. With a close friend, walk is still very heavily waited. Sharing with an acquaintance, your talk might hold more weight with the person because they do not know you as well. With person C, talk is much more heavily waited because they have very little personal relationship with you even though some form of relationship must be initiated for the sharing to occur, he still may be able to discern is you have genuine care and concern for him. All walk and no talk results in evangelism where there is no gospel. If we try to witness with just our walk people don’t know what we are witnessing to. We may not be calling attention to Christ; we may be calling attention to ourselves. In every genuine witnessing encounter, both your walk and your talk must be present. Your walk gives credibility to your talk and your talk gives clarity to your walk.

Won’t a Good Moral Life Get Me to Heaven?

June 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a common misconception, but it’s something that we really need to ask ourselves and think about. God is a Holy God, righteous in every way, even one sin cannot dwell in his presence. He is all powerful, all present, and all knowing. He desires us to be holy. We find this in the following verses:

Matthew 22:37-38

37Jesus replied, you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and your entire mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.

 

Leviticus 19:2

2″Say this to the entire community of Israel: You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.

 

The point is not about how good or bad we are, the point is how sick we are. We have a disease called sin that leads to death and judgment. This disease causes us to rebel from God and to use other things as idols to satisfy our needs. We find this in the following verses:

Isaiah 59:2

2But there is a problem–your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.

 

Isaiah 53:6

6All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.

 

Romans 3:23

23For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

 

Romans 6:23

23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

This rebellion, pride, arrogance, and feeling that OUR works are sufficient actually make us enemies of God. We find this in the following verses:

 

Proverbs 15:25

God smashes the pretensions of the arrogant; he stands with those who have no standing.

 

Proverbs 21:4

Arrogance and pride – distinguishing marks in the wicked – are just plain sin.

 

Jeremiah 50:31

“Do you get it, Mister Pride? I’m your enemy!” Decree of the Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies. “Time’s run out on you: That’s right: It’s Doomsday.”

 

Matthew 23:12

If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

 

Galatians 6:3

For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

 

I would then say it is important to consider these matters and take them seriously because God is the true Judge. His verdict is eternal. We find this in the following verses:

Hebrews 9:27

27And just as it is destined that each person dies only once and after that comes judgment,

 

Matthew 10:28

28″Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

 

If the person I was sharing with still was not convinced that his good deeds were not sufficient for salvation, I would then share with him about sins of commission and sins of omission, and then follow that up with the story of the rich young ruler. If they were convinced I would then transition to the atonement, conversion and eternal life focusing on the fact that people are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Sharing Jesus Effectively in the Buddhist World, A Review

June 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

In Sharing Jesus Effectively in the Buddhist World, M. S. Vasanthakumar’s observes:  “Theologically, Buddhism and Christianity differ to a great extent. While Buddhist tenets are based on human comprehensions, Christian doctrines are derived from the supernatural revelation of God.  According to Buddhism human beings are capable of attaining nibbana by their own efforts, but Christianity sees all people as sinners who cannot do anything for their salvation, apart from the gracious atonement of Jesus Christ.  Even the ultimate objectives of both religions do not reach the same destination.  In Buddhism people are strived to get rid of the endless cycles of birth and death.  Christianity, on the other hand offers eternal life to believers.” (66)

The first thing that stood out to me from the book was that there are 274 varieties of Buddhism (10), so establishing a single mindset within Buddhism would seem to be difficult. The second thing that jumped out to me was the ways Jesus has been shared ineffectively due to the difficulties with conceptual equivalents, cultural adaptability, scientific witness (social justice), ritual practices, folk religion and how Buddhist leaders have been able to use the weaknesses of each approach against us. The biggest tensions that come through the text are the ideas of the soteriological (salvation) versus the philosophical (existence) (60) and human comprehension versus supernatural revelation.

There were a few points in the book where I would emphasize caution. The two that come to mind most quickly are the places in the book that emphasize the interest of Buddhists in practical outcomes of religion and to focus on the benefits and help of Christianity in addressing everyday problems (63, 173, 180, 186), and the emphasis on multi-individual, mutually interdependent conversions used in the process of people movements (161, 285, 329). I would caution that we need to be careful to make sure we present the full Gospel message and that disciples are called to take up their cross as well as to receive the benefits of the kingdom. Second, I would caution that we need to better discern the benefits and costs for individual and group conversion and need to be careful that individuals make a personal confession of faith and enter into a personal relationship with God through Jesus.

There were also many creative possibilities that jumped out to me in the reading beyond what has already been discussed in prior weeks. The first possibility I will focus on are tapping into Thai values distinct from Western culture to build the indigenous church. Thais don’t have a strong notion of wasting time, they don’t separate work and play, they value harmony through hierarchy and rank, and understand that spiritual growth is more important that amassing wealth, and are highly interdependent (161-165). These differences could be a point of focus to build the indigenous church.

The second possibility of using morals and ethics to make an argument against the use of lying, manipulation in Buddhism (143), and also the use of desire and indulgence in Tantric Buddhism. The gentle strength approach present the Buddhist term upaya that parallels the Christian concept of gentleness, in that out of compassion for the untutored it labors to present its message in ways they will understand. However, it differs from the Christian ministry model in that it consciously employs untruth and manipulation to do so (143). While it is not necessarily or even primarily immoral, Buddhism seems to be potentially so (145). This presents a great opportunity to present the morals of the Bible in that Christians must not “do evil that good may result” (Rom. 3:8).

The final possibility is the use of local beauty, art and architecture to counter the abhorrence and aversion used by Tantric Buddhism to achieve the transcendence of self (143), and also to affirm the expression of new communties of faith (238). Although there are instance of negative imagery in the Old and New Testaments the primary focus is rather overwhelmingly positive. “Christian contemplation is not primarily revulsion from an ugly something, with no clear objective of where to go, but rather attraction toward an object (the person of Christ) (146).

The key differences in theological concepts (168-170) are that Theravada Buddhism has atheistic ideas while Christians are theistic, people rely on a Power outside of themselves. Theravada Buddhism holds the impermanence of world while Christians have an unchangeable Christ and an unshakeable Kingdom. Theravada Buddhism centers on humans, their needs and efforts while Christianity centers on God, his purpose and his provision. Theravada Buddhism holds nothing eternal or immortal inside the human body, no permanent ego while Christianity believes that human beings have eternal souls, individual existence and self-hood are real. The basic teaching of Theravada Buddhism is that of suffering, while the basic problem of the Christian is that of sin.

The chapter on difficulties in depicting the deity of Christ was eye opening. The chapter illustrated the Buddhist mind giving the lowest position to Jesus Christ as a primitive person with an irrelevant message using Christian borrowings of Buddhism to establish ethical norms (pure Buddhism) who is inferior to Buddha, lacking in deity and espousing a religion that is unscientific. One possibility to overcome this difficulty would be to focus on Christ’s authority (versus his love) through the gentleness and meekness approaches presented in the book.

I agree with the books suggestions that missionaries should develop an appreciation for the wisdom of Buddhist precepts by recognizing the religious instinct without condemning the many good things in Buddhism. Finally, missionaries should articulate a wide-missiology by using a non-confrontational preaching method, giving up a colonial identity and developing mutual relationships with Buddhists to learn from each other. However the book does warn against both syncretism and philosophical pluralism which entail an intellectual laxity resulting in a bland acceptance of almost everything (112). Converts from Buddhism to Christianity most often have experienced the care and concern of Christians, particularly when facing some problem (171).

The strongest part of the book for me was the explanation of the historical factors that has brought on the theological difficulties such as Christianity being forced on Sri Lankans and the Buddhist response that “there must be something defective or unreal in a religion which required coercion and persecution to enforce its adoption” (73) (Tennent 1998:70) with missionaries seeing education as means of conversion (deSilva 1987:195). The major concern of the colonial rulers had been commerce and not religion, and the Portuguese spread their religion with the hope that the citizens of the conquered country would be faithful to the king of Portugal and would not become a hindrance to their commercial enterprise (75). Therefore in the Buddhist mind Buddhism is superior to Christianity, the former is devoid of selfish gain and the later is full of corruption, exploitation, and injustice (77).

Due to the historical mistakes, Jesus Christ has been perceived as an imperialist, who “supports the whole process of colonization and domination” (Wessels 1990:75). Debates that inspired a revival in Buddhism and hardheartedness towards Christianity (77). “It should not be forgotten that the initial efforts of the missionaries to propagate Christianity did not encounter opposition.” Challenging a concept or a doctrine of other religions just to disprove and condemn it often brings similar criticisms and even unanswerable arguments against one’s own faith (83).

I agree with the books suggestions that missionaries should attempt to contextualize the Christian message to Buddhists. Christian missiology should begin with anthropology and not with theology (85). A terminological approach employs Buddhist terms to communicate the Christian message well and convince the Buddhists about the Christian gospel (85). A theological approach uses theological concepts from Buddhism to present the Christian message to Buddhists (87). A practical approach uses the contradiction between philosophical and practical Buddhism to convince Buddhist laity about the tenets of Christianity (88). Missionaries should issue an apology for past wrongs done to Buddhism (91).

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