21 Evangelism Lessons for the 21st Century – Lesson 15
Almost, if not all, of the students I interviewed about their conversions recounted a process that took weeks, months, or years to unfold. They spoke of gradual realizations, sequential surrenders, or incremental levels of understanding. As a result, I think we need to consider evangelistic strategies that use a gradual approach rather than a single delivery system. And we need to train Christians to develop skills for these longer-term strategies.
I’ve written elsewhere comparing evangelism to following a recipe. I think this can help people move from unbelief to belief, even if it takes longer than we’d like.
If you’ve ever followed a recipe you know it contains two parts. The top part lists the ingredients. The bottom part explains the procedure. If you only had the top part – the list of ingredients (e.g. 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar, the largest bag of chocolate chips you can find, 4 pounds of butter, etc.) – it’s unlikely you’d produce anything worth eating.
True, luck might be on your side and just throwing all the ingredients in a bowl, mixing them together and plopping them in an oven might yield delicious chocolate chip cookies. But you’re far more likely to produce something edible if you mix certain ingredients together and let them sit, preheat the oven to the best temperature, grease the cookie sheet, and do all the steps experienced chefs recommend. There are recipes where some ingredients need to marinate overnight in a refrigerator before being added to other ingredients. It’s not just having the right ingredients. You also need to combine them in the right order, in the right proportions, using the right settings, etc. or the results won’t be what you drooled over when you watched The Food Network.
I wonder if certain “ingredients” of the gospel need to marinate in some people’s minds before we add other parts of our message.
For example, the cross resolves a crucial tension that some people feel. They sense there is such a thing as righteousness or holiness, even if they don’t use those theological terms. They also sense they fail to live up to such standards, even if they can’t say the word “sin.” They wonder how God can uphold his righteous standard and still love them when they think and do such terrible things. For such people, the cross is the most wonderful resolution they could ever ask for.
But many people don’t feel that tension. Thus, the cross seems unnecessary, irrelevant, or just plain weird. They would never say that. But I’ve seen quite a few puzzled looks on people’s faces when I’ve tried to tell them they need something as drastic as the death of the son of God. They can’t figure out why it’s such a big deal.
– Perhaps we need to preheat the oven by asking how they deal with two competing issues – the distinct sense there is a standard of goodness and the painful realization that we don’t live up to it.
– Maybe the next step of the recipe comes after people try to be “good enough” and fail enough times that they cry out for something better than more effort, new resolutions, or longer to-do lists.
– Maybe the combining of ingredients happens when we help people see that their longings for intimacy or beauty or cleansing aren’t psychological disorders but things planted in their hearts by their creator.
This kind of recipe-pre-evangelism can take many forms. I think it’s worth exploring. Like good recipes, it may take some experimenting, some flops and failures. But, then again, we may discover ways to connect to people who have dismissed our message for a very long time.