Standard evangelism a poor fit in our times
The NGC Strategy presents a major challenge to conventional thinking about evangelism within Churches and this piece is intended to prove the point. That’s because the strategy draws on a broad sweep of biblical precepts the Church fails to consider. A CEO approach to church leadership is also unhelpful. Go to Chapters 11 and 12 in my book Issachar’s Call, available as a free download of this site, for a comprehensive view on the Church’s internal weaknesses.
Current orthodoxy aims at getting people to go to a church. The NGC evangelism strategy takes Christianity into local communities by providing counter-cultural leadership on issues guaranteed to re-ignite interest in the faith. Orthodox evangelism’s aims are one dimensional and the methods antiquated. To use a biblical analogy it is usually about casting seed randomly on rocky and weed infested ground (Lk 8:4-15) using marginally effective techniques. The NGC strategy is about cultivating and fertilising the ground first; that’s Stage 1 of the strategy. The two main elements within the strategy, the 12 Reforms and five core Christin world view principles, are then used as easy transitions from general conversations to the gospel (Stages 2-4). Getting out into the public square using the 12 Reforms is designed to plough the ground, bury the weeds, enrich the soil and plant the seed.
By in large Christians are conditioned to be mute recipients of spiritual ministry and carefully crafted sermons. They are not equipped with the confidence, knowledge and skills to go out and engage with their communities in the service of the Great Command and the Great Commission. The churches also fail to recognise the vital importance of aligning with God against the things he hates (Pr 8:13, Pr 6, Is 59); based on a thorough understanding of the times in which we live (1 Ch 12:32; Lk 12:54-56). A church dedicated to nurturing its next generation champions will properly equip the saints to align with God against idolatry, sin and rebellion. By creating the ‘good soil’ using solutions for the big issues worrying large numbers of people today (the 12 Reforms), evangelism’s effectiveness would increase by orders of magnitude.
What are the biblical precepts habitually missing from evangelistic thinking that severely limit its effectiveness? I’m about to give you 16 examples, but be warned; the collective nuanced nature of these examples is likely to escape you if you are content with today’s Church. Their absence is reflected in manifestly poor performance in winning souls and protecting communities against the worst aspects of our fallen natures (loving our neighbour). Evangelism is only effective on any scale when it properly reflects the times, pressures and conditions under which people are living. The first century Church understood this, the 20th and 21st century Church does not. Where there is church growth, it is happening because Jesus is always growing his church, not because his church is properly partnered with him in building his kingdom. The potential to multiply the talents and minas Jesus has given his people and commanded them to use goes begging. I will only comment briefly on each precept. My books, available as PDF manuscripts off this site, cover them in more detail.
The whole counsel of God: This is the key to everything. Christians have at their disposal the whole canon of Scripture and the example of Christian success through the ages to guide them, but churches largely limit evangelism to preaching the gospel in combination with apologetic arguments as and when they are needed. Enriching the context in which this is done and expanding the methods by which the gospel is taken into communities is hardly considered. In the past most people at least believed there was a God and had some biblical knowledge. Today that is not the case. When the whole counsel of God is taken into account we move into a far richer space where God’s principals and commands can be used to herald and prepare the way for evangelism. The NGC Strategy takes God’s whole counsel into account, providing for stages 2-4 of the strategy – easy transitions from a general conversation to the gospel, to be employed.
Understand the times: It is important to customise one’s evangelism to the conditions and contexts and situations affecting, or troubling people. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this principle. For an excellent review of this subject read J.P. Thackway’s article Understanding the Times – www.bibleleaguetrust.org. The NGC Strategy is built from the ground up on this principle.
Many parts to the body of Christ: In Romans 12 and 1Cor 12 we’re told the Church is full of people with many gifts worthy of respect. The Church is failing to enhance and harness the power of those many gifts (insights and, skills) to expand its influence and ability to respond appropriately to our times. It is impossible to do so when vision and practices in churches are so limited.
Focus on core principles: Without a properly formed world view and a good grasp of its core principles evangelism cannot leverage off them in any conversation to transition to the gospel. I explain how this can be done in my book Next Generation Church. I’m referring here to stages 2-4 of the NGC evangelism strategy.
Eschewing this world’s philosophies (Col 2:8): Christians must remain aloof from popular or in vogue economic and social ideas, resolving to only accept them when they synchronise with biblical principles. The guiding philosophies behind much that is done today have no biblical mandate. This includes the role of government, much that passes for ‘progressive’ social policy and the banking and financial market system. A Church that allows itself to just follow in the wake of secular thinking is much more likely to be seen as anachronistic and irrelevant to most people. It must lead the march of ideas, as the 12 Reforms do, or not follow behind.
Hate the things God hates: If God has been explicit about what it is he hates (Pr 6 and Is 59) and western elites are bent on encouraging people to engage in them, alignment with God against them should be the litmus test for a good evangelism strategy. That is exactly what the 12 Reforms do. They make it possible to bounce off major issues resonating with people to point them to the gospel.
Limited government (De 17:14-20, 1 Sam 8:5-17 and Ro 13:1-4): Those appointed to lead a nation must not use their position to amass wealth and power, otherwise slavery, serfdom and oppression follow. Instead they must be familiar with God’s law, follow it and ensure the rule of law is honoured. Apart from that there is little else mandated by God for governments to do. The people tend to grow more and more angry and disaffected when government goes beyond its biblical mandate. Our times are now replete with examples of this happening. Our standard forms of evangelism ignore this fact whereas the NGC strategy takes full advantage of it.
True worship (Is 58:6-12): We are told in this passage that true worship is orientated towards social action (dealing with the causes of social injustice) and social action (attending to the effects of social dysfunction). God promises our “light will rise in the darkness” when we are active in both areas. The Church has neglected social action almost entirely. It is therefore hardly surprising that the light has dimmed to next to nothing. The NGC Strategy restores the balance, making the Church’s witness far more obvious and the gospel far more relevant.
Taking the Sword to the secular world (Pr 149:6-9): The psalmist extols both praising God and taking the sword of truth to the unsaved world (“…to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron …. This is the glory of all his faithful people”, vv 8-9). Standard evangelism ignores this. The NGC evangelism strategy on the other hand is obedient to the psalm. It challenges the secular world view at its anti-God dimensions, making this the crux of its methodology.
Keeping to the ancient paths (Jer 6:16 and Jer 18:15-17): “Stand at the crossroads and ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it” (6:16). “They burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths. They made them walk in byways, on roads not built up. Their land will be an object of lasting scorn…” (18:15-16). Scriptures exhorts us to hold to God-given statutes and not be miss-led by false ideas. Churches should be majoring on the significance of these versus to the situation the western world is now in, but it fails to ask the right Jer 6:16 questions. The NGC evangelism strategy address this issue directly. Because the 12 Reforms are founded on the Bibles core principles they are by their very nature following the ‘ancient path’. Using them for evangelism takes proselytising back to the ancient paths of God’s precepts through the five core principles.
Doing the more important things Mt 23:23: Jesus echoes the ‘true worship’ injunction highlighted earlier in Is 58:6. He flays the Pharisees; “… you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice mercy and faithfulness (v.23b), echoing what he said in Is 58:6-12 (above).” Our Lord is taking a ‘whole gospel’ and ‘whole world’ view of Christian ministry that the western Church is ignoring. The NGC strategy addresses this neglect by embracing justice mercy and faithfulness. It majors through the 12 reforms on social, personal and political justice. The reforms are a merciful response to heal societies of all the harm done by the two giants and it rests faithfully on the gospel and all the major themes running through God’s word. In that sense it embodies faithfulness.
Prohibition on Usury: Exodus 22:25, amongst other versus, sets out God’s command. The charging of interest on loans, or the issue of credit, is a sin. In Nehemiah 5:11 even the taking of 1% interest is denounced. Jesus uses making money by lending at interest a mark of derision and judgement on the evil servant in the parable of the talents. Taking interest on loans has been the primary means by which the financial elite have brought western societies under their sway and enriched themselves at the expense of us all. God tells us it is a great evil so the Church is mandated to oppose it. The 12 Reforms do just that. We stand with God against something he hates and in the process commend him to the unsaved.
The role of eldership: The role of church leadership is explained clearly in Eph 4:11-16. They are to use their collective gifts in teaching, prophecy, church planting, discipleship and pastoral care to equip the people of God into the full expression of their gifts. The NGC model signposts this fact to both leaders and laity and provides it with a strategy to take the human capital of any church and pour it fully into the cause of Christ. Passivity and timidity in the face of a bullying liberal elite becomes a thing of the past.
Resist the Devil: The Bible specifically references resisting Satan (James 4:7), but the whole thrust of God’s commands is also about doing what is contrary to our fallen, wicked natures (Jer 17:9). The gateway to recognising and resisting evil is the gospel. That is the NGC evangelism strategy’s chief focus, but it cannot stop there. A regenerate people must also look to their communities and delineate ways to diminish the potential for evil, thus frustrating Satan’s schemes. In my books I list what I call the perverse forces of our fallen nature. The 12 Reforms, if they were put into practice would provide a strong societal basis for resisting evil and injustice – frustrating Satan’s schemes. By definition the NGC Strategy sees evangelism and social service within the context of our spiritual battle against the Devil.
Being prophetic: Calling a people’s attention to the things wrecking lives and saddling society with the millstones of injustice, oppression and unrighteousness is the collective responsibility of God’s people (Pr 25:26). Liberal / corporate policies have created what I call the ‘social deficit’ and the ‘politics of death’ Churches must be able to offer a way forward; explaining what must be done to heal communities by creating industriousness, self-reliance, the fear of God and the proper application of God-given law. This is in its essence a prophetic calling in a form common to the major Old Testament prophets. They were sent by God to the Israelites to proclaim where they had gone astray and what they had to do to avoid destruction; irrespective of whether anyone actually took any notice. If you examine the NGC Strategy in this light you will soon see it is profoundly prophetic for both individuals and communities. Any call to an individual to come to Christ and any call to a community to return to its Judeo-Christian roots is thoroughly prophetic.
Ignorance of the law’s role in evangelism: Apart from Ray Comfort’s Way of the Master ministry evangelism pays little attention to using the Bible’s moral law and appealing to conscience. Yet both Charles Wesley and C.H. Spurgeon insisted it was vital. The former said he taught 90% law and 10% grace. A few verses highlight the importance of the moral law to the gospel (I’ve underscored key phrases):
Ga 3:24: “So the law was put in charge [as a ‘schoolmaster’] to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”
Ro 7:7: “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet".
Mt 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
1Tim 1: 8-10: “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly… We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels…”
Ps 19:7-8: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.”
Ro: 3: 19-20: Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God….Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Ro 2:5: But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
1John 3:4-5: Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.
How the Church has lost sight of the importance of God’s moral law in bringing people to Christ is inexplicable. The NGC Strategy leaves the way wide open for the law-to-grace technique for evangelism, or any other technique for that matter. By using the law you cut through people’s intellect and appeal to their conscience (Ro 2:15). The word conscience means ‘with knowledge’. Deep inside each person there is a knowledge or a witness that God’s law is right. Once people recognize that fact the path to seeing their sin and understanding salvation is clear. The NGC Strategy awakens people to the transformational nature of Christianity and techniques like law-to-grace transition people from the gravity of societal depravity to personal sin and repentance.
So there you have it; 16 examples of the western Church’s deficient appreciation of the contextual basis for the gospel. Without that context God’s people are always going to be hamstrung by limited understanding and a weak appeal to the unsaved. By engaging with God’s whole counsel it is possible to appreciate the depth and breadth of the Church’s spiritual and practical role in any society. This is fundamental for developing evangelism fit for purpose in our times and that is what the NGC Strategy succeeds in doing.