Saturday, July 13, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism - Demonstration is the Key - Part V

If demonstration is the key, one crucial piece for rethinking evangelism is thinking about how others receive what we have to share. Not that they will necessarily agree, "repent and believe," that is not our responsibility, but that our messaging, our witness, is as effective as possible (1 Peter 2:12). We simply don't want to erect "stumbling blocks" by our actions or attitudes (2 Cor 6:3).

How we live then before others, especially in our Post-modern, Post-Christian culture, is as vital a part of our message, as the words we share. How we live today for Christ drives the "missional" movement, and motivates some of the best young leaders shaping Evangelicalism, as they seek to respond to our quickly changing world.

In Part IV, I referenced a post over at the Great Commision Initiative: "The world has changed. We can change our methods but not the message. How do we catch up with the new world?" The fact is, today, the world isn't so much interested in what we say but in how we live. Do we live a message consistent with our faith? Do others see in us the message of Jesus or do they see something else?  If they don't see Christ, what are they seeing?  

As recent a Barna study revealed, only "14% of today’s self-identified Christians—just one out of every seven Christians—seem to represent the actions and attitudes...consistent with those of Jesus." Our actions and attitudes demonstrate much to the watching world. Could it be this inconsistency is the reason we are seeing such a surge in the of the number of "Nones" - those who profess no allegiance to any religion? As Kevin Max, best known for being a member of the Christian pop group dc Talk, so aptly put it:
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
In light of this new Barna study, living the Christian life in a way that is an effective witness needs much rethinking. Barna reveals that most of us, Christians, aren't doing a good job in the all important area of being like Christ - in word and deed. I believe this is rooted in our "decision" oriented evangelism, that produces religious converts who then learn a lot about the Bible but does not produce born-again disciples who actually live what they learn (I'll continue to develop this idea more in the next post). The result is that the majority of Christians tend toward a repulsive Pharisee-ism, a religious spirit, that does not serve Jesus' mission in the world well.

The Barna study sought to flesh out the Christ-likeness of a representative sample of Christians through a response to 20 statements, to determine whether Christians lived the actions and attitudes of Jesus, or were more Pharisee-like. 
The 10 research statements used to examine Christ-likeness include the following:
Actions like Jesus:
  • I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
  • In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
  • I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
  • I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
  • I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus.
Attitudes like Jesus:
  • I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
  • I believe God is for everyone.
  • I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
  • It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
  • I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.
The 10 statements used to assess self-righteousness (like the Pharisees), included the following research items:
Self-Righteous Actions:
  • I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
  • I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
  • I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.
  • I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
  • I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.
Self-Righteous Attitudes:
  • I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
  • It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
  • I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
  • I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
  • People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not.
Overall the study found that most Christians lack Jesus' love for others, with more than 7 out of 10 Christians lacking the actions or attitudes or both (51%) of the one we're call to represent, the one we say we follow. When plotted the results of the study look like this:

Based on the answers to these 20 questions where would you fall on this grid? 

There may be some push-back based on doctrinal positions with some of these statements, but getting our answers right will go a long way toward living like Jesus and toward having like impact as Paul.

How do we move and help others to move from the Pharisaical to one of Christ-likeness? Paul put it simply as this: "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). I think Paul's point is that to live the life of a Christ follower we need to understand how Jesus lived, and then live it - just like he was doing. But that's part of our problem, we don't really live like Jesus because we don't really understand what he taught or why. If it were different, there would be a greater percentage in the upper left quartile. 

Paul instructs the Corinthians further in this second letter that they were to be to "God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. (2 Cor 2:15-16). The word "aroma" is a metaphor that speaks to our ability to capably, competently and completely represent Christ well. Paul continues his thought here with a profound question: "And who is equal to such a task?" (v16).

The answer to Paul's question is - none of us! No one is up to the task, at least not in our own strength and by our own methods, especially if they are different from Christ's example. Thankfully, we are not called to live the Christian life in our own power. But we are called to live a life worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1).

Pharisee-ism repels but Christ-likeness attracts because it demonstrates the power of God at work in our lives. If we're not exhibiting that power, which is expressed in passions and pursuits for Christ, shouldn't we be asking "why?" In order to move from the bottom of the above chart to the top we need to demonstrate that we are sincerely and genuinely following Christ's example, at least taking steps in that direction, to live the life we now have in Christ - if we are in fact of Christ (2 Cor 13:5).

Paul completes his thoughts in 2 Corinthians chapter 2 saying, "in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God." (v17). Paul was dedicated, wholeheartedly and without equivocation, to not only the cause but the demonstration of the likeness of Christ in his own life and ministry. Living sent today, we now go must now and do likewise.


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