Seven Core Convictions about Evangelism

In I Thessalonians 1:5 Paul says several things about how the gospel came to the Thessalonians: it came not only in word (it came in word, but more); in power, with the Holy Spirit, and with CONVICTION. Paul completed his thought by noting how these Thessalonians saw how they lived among them. But I want to focus on the word “conviction.” Paul had undeniable convictions. What are your convictions regarding evangelism? Here are seven of mine:

1.  Men and women are without hope until they receive salvation through Jesus. Therefore, we must evangelize urgently. People apart from Christ are lost (Luke 15), dead in sins (Eph. 2:1), under sin (Rom. 3:9), and under condemnation (John 3:18). Immanuel Kant once declared that David Hume, the skeptic, awoke him from his dogmatic slumber. Surely a skeptical world, living in fear, often without hope, should awaken us from our apathy!

2. Many people are ready to respond to the gospel. Therefore, we must evangelize regularly. Paul told Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season—or when we feel like it and when we don’t! In 1995, I had the privilege of joining the faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to that I taught at Houston Baptist University. Before leaving the university, I made an appointment with several students, including some whom I felt needed to hear the gospel. One was a young lady named Audra. I shared Christ with her. This was new to her, although she had gone to church services a few times. I gave her a gospel booklet, asking her to read it again.The first week after beginning my work at Southeastern, I got a letter from Audra. She wrote, “On August 9, I opened my heart to Christ. . . . A big thanks goes to you.” She even photo­copied the tract to give it to another person who needed Christ. This point is that Audra needed someone to tell her how to be saved. The reason many people aren’t Christians is that no one has told them how to be saved.

3. Believers are commanded by the Bible to evangelize. Therefore, we must evangelize obediently. Billy Graham has said the number one reason we should witness is because God says we should. There are certainly other motives for our witness, but we should not ignore this simple truth. Obedience matters to God. In this day of “consumer Christianity” which focuses on meeting our needs, obedience has become low on the priority list of many believers.

4. Most believers want to witness but do not. Therefore, we must evangelize purposefully. I have been in a couple thousand churches over the past decades. I am amazed at the number of believers who want to witness, who want to make a difference, who long for their lives to matter. They are afraid, or do not know how, or have been too busy doing good things to participate in the best thing—winning people to Christ.

5. The gospel is the greatest message we could ever tell. Therefore, we must evangelize confidently. As a university student, I was discipled by a man named Curtis. One day he asked me a simple question that changed my life.

“Alvin,” he said, “what is the best thing that ever happened to you?”

“The day I was saved,” I heartily replied, with my Sunday school smile.

“Then, Alvin,” he continued, “what is the best thing you can do for someone else?”

The answer was obvious. Yet I was immediately embarrassed at it because I knew my life did not reflect the joy of introducing others to the Jesus whom I knew so well.

6. We must rethink the way we understand and practice evangelism. Therefore we must evangelize missionally. We have to see America as the mission field it is and share Christ from the posture of a missionary in a land that does not know Christ. That’s a large reason I wrote the Sharing Jesus book.

7. We must understand the spirit of the times. Therefore, we must evangelize holistically. Evangelism is less a technique and more a lifestyle, less a method and more a movement. The Western Church has been in decline for longer than we would like to admit. The notion that we should simply do what we have been doing, only better or with more passion, must be rejected. The idea that the key to the future is a new method that meets the times misses the point. Separating evangelism from the life of the believer in a compartmentalizing manner must not happen. Einstein was right when he said insanity is doing the same thing over and over only to expect different results. We must take the timeless message and communicate it in a timely manner. Do you really believe the greatest thing you can tell another person is the good news about Jesus? Then tell someone!

Want to Be More Disciplined? Start with Your Daily Routines

Do you ever have conversations in your head with yourself? We all do. Imagine for a minute you are having that conversation: the one where you failed at discipline and you are scolding yourself for once again not keeping that commitment/avoiding that temptation/meeting that challenge/whatever the topic is at the moment. It’s ok, we all have those at times, don’t we?

Discipline matters. In fact, discipline and disciple come from the same root. A person can be extremely disciplined — like an Olympic athlete — and yet not be a disciple of Jesus. But can one really be a disciple of Jesus and not embrace discipline?  I’m not talking about guilt-ridden, legalistic discipline, nor am I talking about discipline motivated by comparison with others. Discipline for the believer flows out of grace, not guilt. Our motivation for grace comes from the wonder, the gratitude, and the joy of living for our Lord with all our hearts because of the gospel. It was Paul, who teaches us so much about grace, who set the example of disciplining himself like an athlete (I Corinthians 9:27). Dallas Willard sets this up well when he reminds us that “grace is opposed to earning; it is not opposed to effort.”

This discipline applies first and foremost to our spiritual lives, as Paul reminded Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness (I Tim. 4:7). But even as the gospel applies to all our life–spiritual, emotional, vocational, relational, financial, and physical–it’s hard to be disciplined in our spiritual lives and let ourselves go totally in other areas. Is there not a fundamental problem when a person seems disciplined in his daily devotions and yet is wildly irresponsible with spending money?

A question for me all my life regards growing in discipline. In recent days I’ve found a very helpful way of thinking about discipline from a different perspective. I came across a book by a Pulitzer Prize winning author named Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. Then I watched a TED talk on the book from a new habit I’ve started–riding my exercise bike 10-20 minutes when I finish my daily devotions while watching a TED talk or other video.

Duhigg talks about the HABIT LOOP:

It seems researchers have found a consistent pattern in people who practice both good and bad habits. Something cues us to a particular routine, followed by some kind of reward. One researcher found about 40% of our daily lives are controlled by habits. It’s why you can get in your car and drive to work, arrive, and ask yourself whether you closed the garage door, or can’t seem to remember much about the drive. It’s such a habit you don’t track every second.

What if you replaced one bad habit with a good one? What if instead of treating yourself to a cookie or other unhealthy snack in the afternoon, which you probably only eat out of habit, you began to bring to work your most favorite piece of fruit to enjoy then? Let’s say you are a young man who as a habit comes home and plays video games for an hour. First, WHY? Okay, sorry, it could be watching Sports Center or the Weather Channel, or wasting an hour on social media, or grabbing a bag of chips. What if you put a cue that reminded you first to do something productive, like homework, or going for a jog, or reading for 30 minutes. Then, reward yourself with a focused, shortened time watching a screen, and eating something that’s not processed to the nines.

Let’s say you want to start exercising. Before going to bed, place your workout clothes where you can’t miss them. That’s a cue. Planning ahead with a new cue is a start. Have your water bottle filled up and in the fridge. And then exercise. Find (ahead of time!) a youtube video with bodyweight exercises and get after right there in the living room. Duhigg even mentions giving yourself a reward that seems counterintuitive, like a small piece of chocolate. Studies show over time your mind will start cueing you that candy is not the reward, but long term health is.

Most of us have habits that are good for us. We brush our teeth (I hope!) without so much as a thought. But we also have bad habits. You don’t really abolish a bad habit; you replace it with a good one. Duhigg and others argue to make the change, you keep the cue and a reward, but change the routine.

Personal testimony: here are two I’ve done for my own health long term. One is the biking with a TED video, which I started again today because I’ve had some health stuff keeping me on the sidelines for a week. But it’s already become such a habit I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike this AM. A second is eating 5-7 (7 is the goal) servings of healthy fruits and vegetables a day. Don’t judge me, low carb people. Each of us is unique, and after a lot of experimenting this seems to be both more effective for me at controlling weight, staying satiated, and lets me not hate what I eat (which is not sustainable). And I feel good!

My 96.00 bike from Walmart. 

I encourage you to watch the TED talk (below), and if you can, get the book. The video below ties together rats, Starbucks, and marshmellows in an interesting way. But what I really want to ask you to do is to find one annoying habit that keeps you from growing in an area you care about, and replace it with a habit that moves you forward as a follower of Jesus.

Learning Disciple-Making by Doing It: A Peak into One of My Classes

We recently upgraded our M.Div at Southeastern. A part of the new M.Div — which you can earn completely online now, by the way — involves the addition of a new course on Discipleship and Disciple-Making. I’m teaching it the first time this fall, and the class is quite large with just over 50 students. How do you teach a class that big on disciple-making, which generally involves much smaller numbers for personal focus on community? I do it by breaking the class into groups of eight for the first hour of class (we meet once a week for about three hours). We meet noon-3PM, so we bring lunches, get into groups, and share a meal and community as we go through the group time.

We are using the Saturate Field Guide by Jeff Vanderstelt and Ben Connelly. This eight-week study has the focus I want growing disciples to get:

God’s mission is that his people will be so saturated in Jesus that every person, in every place, would daily experience the good news of Jesus and be transformed by it in the course of their daily lives. Can you imagine every city, neighborhood, school, extracurricular activity, office, retail center, and industrial hub proclaiming the glory of Jesus in words and gracious deeds?1

They add another focus I think is critical in disciple-making:

It has always been God’s intention to choose normal, everyday people to demonstrate his amazing power and glory. The Bible is filled with story after story of such people. He’s not looking for the most impressive person because he already is that person.2

I’m convinced whatever discipleship process you use, if you don’t have from the very start as central to your DNA sharing Christ and winning people who can grow as disciples to win people who will grow as disciples, it will never become a part of your focus. You can’t add-on witnessing later. This field guide recognizes that and gives a great focus on sharing Christ while helping the learners study these eight topics over eight weeks:

JESUS (the best place to start)

DISCIPLESHIP

FAMILY (local church)

SERVANT

MISSIONARY

RHYTHMS, Part 1 (Living out your faith daily)

RHYTHMS, Part 2

COMMISSION

The study features six days of focus built around Scripture and key ideas related to the topic.

I divided students into groups of eight (one has seven, one has six). Each week a different student will lead the discussion, allowing every student to lead at least once over the eight weeks. I sit in on a different group each week as a participant. This helps me get to know the students better and learn from them. I’m going through the field guide myself, after all!

Yesterday’s discussion in our group was fantastic. I heard a seminary student who has already spent a couple years overseas admit the temptation to have the attitude of “I already know all this,” only to have the Spirit strip away some idols and pride. I heard another student share about leading a guy to Christ who was so unchurched he had no idea what people wore to church services. Seeing people get honest with their peers whom they just met was encouraging. I suspect by end of the eight weeks we will have students making some great new friends!

 

 

1Vanderstelt, Jeff; Ben Connelly. Saturate Field Guide: Principles & Practices For Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life (Kindle Locations 109-111). Saturate. Kindle Edition.

2Vanderstelt, Jeff; Ben Connelly. Saturate Field Guide: Principles & Practices For Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life (Kindle Locations 115-117). Saturate. Kindle Edition.