Evangelism is Not So Much an Intellectual Process

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

I can’t honestly say that I love arguing, but I am fairly good at arguing (being a lawyer suits me in that regard).  Actually, it’s ugliness in arguing that I don’t like.  I do love an open and honest exchange of differing viewpoints. I think that’s what I like about the blogosphere.  It is a “pure” form of discussion, without any of the biases or prejudices that come with too much knowledge about a person’s background.  We don’t draw quite as many premature conclusions about each other in this “blogging” realm.  So, arguing (nicely) works pretty well here.

Evangelism with words
Evangelism with words

But I have come to believe something about the intellectual process and arguing as it applies to evangelism: it doesn’t work.  In my 40+ years as a follower of Christ, I have yet to see a single person listen to a compelling “argument” about why it is right to be a follower of Christ and suddenly succumb to the logic and fall on their knees in prayer.  I just don’t see apologetics as the key to evangelism.  I honestly do not believe the “lost” world is looking for persuasive reasoning, and I definitely don’t believe young “post-modern” thinkers are looking to engage in an intellectual discussion about faith.  I think the paradigm of a one-on-one intellectual exchange about God and faith is the wrong paradigm for evangelism in our culture.  I think it is a mistaken notion that if we just learn to say it smartly enough or persuasively enough (or loud enough) we will win and people will have no choice but to agree with us and come around to our way of thinking.  I think people today (maybe always?) are looking for something a little more tangible than words.

I think they are looking for changed lives.

If the church today is really interested in the concept of “going” and of “making disciples” as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28, it is going to have to demonstrate changed lives through genuine community in order to get the attention of a skeptical (yet watching) world.  Let’s face it, most people in America have heard some form of the gospel…maybe not a very good form of it, but from their perspective, they have already heard it.  They are not asking to hear it again from you or from me, despite our pleas for them to hear it one more time, but this time the right way.  Words have been so cheapened in our society that I just do not think they are the most effective way of communicating the gospel message anymore.

But if you live in Christian community where people love each other unconditionally, lean into one another’s lives because of that love, hold one another accountable to a genuine relationship with Christ and with Christ’s people, minister to one another’s needs and pray as if prayer really can change the world, then I believe that communicates infinitely more than words.  I believe even the most hard-hearted people will pay attention to that.

I do want my children to know how to explain their faith with words.  I want them to know how to tell their part of the story of God.  But much, much more than that, I want them to know how to live and to grow in Christian community with other Christ-followers and how to make new friends whom they can invite into that community.  That is what I really want them to know.  Because that is what is going to salvage the mess we have often made of church in America.

You can disagree with me on this if you like.  But you would be wrong and would eventually give in to the logic of seeing it my way…

© Blake Coffee

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10 responses to “Evangelism is Not So Much an Intellectual Process”

  1. Wow, I like the way you are thinking! Throughout the scripture God’s invitation has changed very little. I used to think that the Old Testament was just a cruel joke. On this side of the cross we are so tied (and rightly so) to the formula God gave us called the “good news.” God still meant it in the before that though. I believe we will see folks in heaven who accepted the invitation before the formula was finished. The invitation has always had the elements of living in relationship with God, and His family. God’s family was always intended /designed to be the perfect tool to reach the rest of mankind. That perfect tool is what you describe in this post. Please remind us often. We are drawn to this because it describes the “place” we were created for.

  2. I’ve been encouraging the staff evangelist at our church in this direction… The Bible does ask the rhetorical question, “How will they (the world) hear (the Gospel) without a preacher?” So it seems self-evident that a verbal message is necessary, but it is the timing of that message that is critical…

    Certainly, the Holy Spirit may prompt a believer to share verbally with a stranger or acquaintance, and we need to be open to that, but the hard work of “making disciples” is consistently living an authentic Christian life in front of our friends that are far from God.

    Nicely argued… Thanks for (re)sharing…

  3. Warren G. Clark Avatar
    Warren G. Clark

    In the August 10, 2009 edition of the The Baptist Standard, there is an article, which headlines, “HYPOCRISY NOT BIGGEST OBSTACLE TO EVANGELISM.”

    The article quotes Thom Ranier, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, as saying, “Contrary to popular belief, non-Christians by and large are not turned off by the churh, preaching or Sunday school and are quite responsive to direct one-on-one evangelism.

    ‘But there are some things non-churchgoers don’t like about Christians.

    ‘-Christians who treat other Christians poorly. The unchurched don’t expect us Christians to be perfect, but they can’t understand why we treat each other without dignity and respect.

    ‘-Holier-than-thou attitudes. The unchurched know that Christians will make mistakes, and they often have a forgiving attitude when we mess up. But they are repulsed when Christians act in superior ways to them.

    ‘-Christians who talk more than they listen. Many of the unchurched, at some point, have a perception that a Christian is a person who can offer a sympathetic and compassionate ear. Unfortunately, many of the unchurched thought Christians were too busy talking to listen to them.

    ‘-Christians who don’t go to church. The unchurched saw the disconnect between belief and practice in the lives of Christians who did not or who rarely attended church.

    ‘The lost men and women want to know that Christians will treat each other well. They want to see humility in our lives. They want to know that we will take the time to listen, and even take more time to really be involved in their lives. And, they want to know that we love our churches.”

    Is the article saying, “without unity in the Church, there can be no effective evangelism.”

  4. Elizabeth Coffee Avatar
    Elizabeth Coffee

    Well, first of all, you shouldn’t feel ashamed to put your actual age in your blogs. “40+” is a little vague. Secondly, I appreciate this message. I feel blessed to have grown up under this mindset, and am better off because of it. Thank you, and I love you!

  5. I agree wholeheartedly, but would like us to take this one step further with the question “What does this type of community actually look like from day to day?” I’ve just begun studying about missional communities–where a group of believers intentionally move into an unreached neighborhood together and simply be the church–meeting together in that very neighborhood from week to week, but more than that, engaging in the community in real ways together as the body. It’s happening overseas, why not try it here at home?

  6. First of all, my favorite quote is “Actions speak louder than words.”

    Also, my husband is a different religion and he was a debate champion in high school. He absolutely loves to argue. I am grounded in my faith and refuse to discuss certain topics with him because I am NOT a debater and will ultimately stand my ground regarding baptism, the Lord’s supper, musical instruments and women’s roles in church…thus, we would be at a stand off. How do I handle this with him? I simply say, “My God is large and He will not say, only those with a certain religion may enter Heaven. He knows if you are His child.” I simply look at him through Jesus’ eyes and love him. As a result of much consecrated prayer, God gave me peace when He said to me…”Live your life surrendered to Me and leave the rest to Me.” So by choosing to live what I profess and listening to the Holy Spirit, I am indeed tested, watched and scrutinized closely but God has only made me stronger as a result. I’ve been exposed to a larger perspective while seeking a narrower path. Indeed, He has taught me patience, humility, commitment and unconditional love in my marriage.

    I am also currently living in Saudi Arabia. These people can’t read a Bible, read my blog or visit church. Need I say more? My actions may literally be the only Christianity they ever come in contact with, moreso than the unchurched back home. I believe in EVERY aspect of my life…any time…any place, others should be able to see Jesus in me, otherwise I’m just playing at Christianity, playing church and talking about a great subject.

  7. Reaching people for Christ is a spiritual matter and we must remember that “no man comes to Me unless the Father draws him.” When we argue with people (that is belittle, intimidate, insult) we are not representing Jesus. If we resort to such things we are attempting to glorify ourselves by trying to get the better of them.
    If you don’t have the message in your heart don’t try to share something you don’t know. It is alarming to me that I see so many make excuses for someone being rude, overbearing, or Holier than thou. I used to think that that was how you approached people. When I finally relented and asked the Lord about it He took me to the woodshed (bear in mind He was actually gentle about it, but I was disciplined).
    The Lord is the one making the opportunity, so wouldn’t it make sense to ask Him about it? You know it wouldn’t hurt to listen to the person and then ask the Lord what He would like to tell them.
    I grew up around some pretty pushy evangelicals and I knew from an early age that their “close the deal” attitude was not quite right. It’s as if they had never read that “some plant, some water, and some harvest”. If you try to get the whole spiel in without regard to what the Lord wants, you are only serving yourself. He is the only one who knows what the person you are talking to really needs.
    We need to come to Him in humility and find out what He wants to do, and have the heart to listen to the person in question if He tells us to. Also you shouldn’t be working from a script either, it is way too fake. If they think that you are not being genuine, then they will think that your message isn’t either, like a scam.
    Allow God to work through you, it is a much better way and you will see how He makes it work, so in a way quit trying so hard and let Him do it, simply make yourself available to Him, and be yourself. He can handle it.

  8. Very well said, Nathan! Really wise words.

  9. Thanks Blake, and thank you for getting the ball rolling on this topic.

  10. “Many refuse to listen, clinging to their positions.”

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