Making Christ Known Seminar
Last Thursday evening we invited Al Dayhoff to speak to us on evangelism. Al is the founder of Evangelize Today and was invited by our presbytery to lead an all-day workshop on evangelism. I am happy to a part of a presbytery that spends time (and money) to develop our ministry skills.
During his seminar at Covenant, Al contended that most churches in America, rather than touching nonbelievers with the gospel, are merely trading members back and forth. He also shared that his research indicates that the ordinary church-goer has become insulated from, and has all but lost touch with, those outside the church. At the same time, just as entire generations have lost interest in the church, many are sincerely searching for truth and waiting for gospel believers to engage them.
Reviewing my notes from his seminar, here are a few of Al’s comments that I jotted down because they stirred my thinking on evangelism:
- In conversations with our neighbors, without even thinking about it, we are ready to listen to reply, and rarely prepared to listen to hear. We often listen to our neighbors for no other reason than locating the moment to embarking upon an argument. Al also used the expression, listen to agree, to describe listening that blots out things because we only want to hear what we can affirm. Do we know how to listen to … hear?
- Too often we would rather talk about how to talk to nonbelievers, rather than to talk to nonbelievers.
- Al’s research indicates that the more nonbelievers a minister knows, the greater his mental health. I have heard Al say this before. Laying the complexities of mental health aside, I can say that I treasure my friends who do not rest in Christ in salvation; they are very special to me and, by God’s grace, encourage and love me far better than I deserve.
- Seek live-encounters with those who do not believe.
- Let’s not forget that sometimes it is very hard to determine when a person fully and completely places their trust in Jesus, that is, the moment of their regeneration. In his commentary on John 6, Calvin writes, “as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant” and, as Geerhardus Vos says in his little book with a big name (Reformed Dogmatics: Soteriology): regeneration “is an instantaneous action that is the basis for a long development in grace.”
- Many of the questions that nonbelievers ask are actually the same questions that we ask as Christians. Put another way, we often entertain the same doubts as nonbelievers. Al offered the example that Christians search deeply how it is that God can be in control when x horrible thing has just happened. (I have been helped by Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control? Trusting God in a World of Hurt.)
- I have heard several people echo Al’s argument that Christians must earn permission to share with people about Jesus. Listening to hear plays a big part in that.
- We make the act of presenting the gospel way too daunting! No doubt! This is not to say that it is effortless, but far less than terrifying! (I like the helpful little book by Rico Tice, Honest Evangelism.)
- Al gave us this to think about this: Many nonbelievers secretly wish what we say is true. Who wouldn’t want this to be true?!
- Al thinks that the Mormon church is growing (is it?) not because Mormons are converting individuals, but because Mormon missionaries are listening well, placing themselves in context where they can meet with and visit others.
- Finally, Al used as a metaphor the travels of Lewis and Clark, I think citing the Stephen Ambrose book, Undaunted Courage. Al argues that, while Lewis and Clark were pursuing a crazy task of going out into a truly alien world, they had men like Jefferson behind them, supporting their work, securing their funding, guaranteeing their safety. Often the work of evangelism feels like a Lewis and Clark mission. There ought to be experienced, older evangelists like Jefferson who, while daily engaged in exploring new territory, are actively helping others in their endeavors. In this way, ministers working in churches can be Jeffersons to the various Lewises and Clarks in the church.