April 13, 2024

I needed a different model

I have never seen myself as an evangelist. Maybe that is a strange admission for someone who has been a cross-cultural missionary for more than 35 years. I enjoyed leading evangelistic Bible studies when I was a church planter in the Philippines. I found great delight in crafting and sharing a brief Gospel message at the end of each of our TESOL nights at the Central Baptist Church in Kyiv a few years ago. But just walking up to random strangers and initiating conversations about the Gospel has never fitted my personality. Nor did it seem particularly effective. My own distrust and avoidance of salesmen is probably part of the problem here. I would prefer a different model of evangelism.

My problem was further compounded by the amount of time I devote to interacting with other cross-cultural workers. The longer I have been in mission leadership roles, the fewer opportunities I have had to share the Gospel with those I meet on an ongoing basis. I needed a model that fit the new realities in my mission assignment.

As the years passed, my guilt due to my lack of evangelistic involvement prompted me to look for a different way of evangelizing. I thought maybe I should find a model that would play to my strengths in technology. I think I can also say that this was the leading of the Spirit.

So a number of years ago, I became a volunteer “online missionary” with Global Media Outreach. This involved responding to inquiries from people around the world who had visited one of the many evangelistic websites set up by GMO. More recently, I have begun interacting online with those from a certain unreached people group using a platform suggested by the Crescent Project.

A book about the diversity of models

Most of the books I have read on evangelism have focused on personal evangelism. Rebecca Manley Pippert’s “Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life” is a classic example.1 I see that this book was revised and republished with a number of new chapters in January 2021. I have not read the revised “Signature edition”. A number of years ago, I received training in Evangelism Explosion which is a combination of personal evangelism and visitation evangelism.

But other models of evangelism have been practiced over the centuries. They also have proven effective. So I am thankful for a relatively new book, Models of Evangelism by Priscilla Pope-Levison. Outreach Magazine selected it as a 2021 Resource of the Year. The author is Associate Dean and Professor of Ministerial Studies at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

Ambivalent about evangelism

Pope-Levinson notes that many Christians are very uneasy about evangelism. They don’t like the arguments and tension created by conversations about religion. The fact that religion has been so politicized, particularly in the US, is another reason for wanting to avoid evangelism.

The evangelistic temperature of many American Christians is cool and growing even cooler, according to a Barna Group study. When Christians were asked in 1993 about their agreement with the statement “Every Christian has a responsibility to share the gospel,” 89 percent of respondents agreed. In 2018, the same statement received only 64 percent agreement, which indicates a 25 percent cooling off in evangelistic temperature over twenty-five years.

Pope-Levison, Priscilla. Models of Evangelism (p. 21).

But Priscilla Pope-Levison is enthusiastic about evangelism and wants to engender that enthusiasm among others as well. She has taught an introduction to evangelism for more than 20 years in three different seminaries. Based on what she has learned in teaching students, she has written this book about the diversity of evangelistic models within the Christian church. She chose eight models that have been around for at least a generation or more, are described in a number of books and articles and is practiced by a large number of people.

Eight models of evangelism

In “Models of Evangelism”, the author devotes an entire chapter to each of eight different models.

  1. Personal evangelism – one-on-one.
  2. Small group evangelism – evangelistic Bible studies.
  3. Visitation – knocking on doors, initiating conversations.
  4. Liturgical evangelism – evangelism through the liturgy and worship services of the church.
  5. Church growth – planting new churches among responsive populations
  6. Prophetic evangelism – holistic ministry working for justice, social reform and compassion for the most vulnerable.
  7. Revival evangelism – large gatherings, highly organized with big-name preachers and musicians. Billy Graham style.
  8. Media evangelism – radio, TV, social media, Internet.

As I think about the various ways that SEND cross-cultural workers have planted churches over the years, I could give examples of each of these models of evangelism. Evangelistic Bible studies were the primary means we used in the Philippines. In a recent blog post, we featured an example from Japan of YouTube evangelism, which would fit into the media model. In the last few years, we have been talking about kingdom development goals, which seek to demonstrate a concern for the most vulnerable in tangible ways as an integral part of our evangelism. This would fit into the prophetic evangelism category.

For each model, the author talks about the biblical, theological, historical and practical foundations of that model. Then she offers an appraisal of this model of evangelism, showing both its strengths and weaknesses. She also seeks to answer some common questions posed of this model.

The author is not suggesting that one model is better than the rest. In fact, she sees these diverse models as all complementing one another. At the end of every chapter, she asks the question, “Which other model of evangelism best complements this model of evangelism?”

Five characteristics of good evangelism

In her conclusion, the author helpfully notes that despite the diversity of models, there are some common themes. She points our five themes or characteristics of “good” evangelism that she has found in each of the different models, when done well.

  • Hospitable – creating space to welcome strangers into your life
  • Relational – seeking to build relationships with those you evangelize
  • Demonstrating integrity in our lives and message
  • Bearing the message (proclamation of the Good News)
  • Rooted in a church

When we consider the dramatic differences that divide the various models we have traversed in this book—think church growth versus prophetic evangelism, revival versus small group evangelism—the recurrence of these five qualities is arresting. They glisten in every model in this book, like valuable ore in a deep mine. No matter which model you prefer, no matter which model you choose to implement, no matter whether you pick and choose an element here or there to create your own unique model of evangelism or merge several models together, these five qualities—hospitality, relationship, integrity, message bearing, and church rootedness—are the essential ingredients that gauge your evangelistic effort.

Pope-Levison, Priscilla. Models of Evangelism (pp. 181-182).

For those who want to understand the range of diverse methods within evangelism, this book will provide a solid biblical and historical background to each method. If like me, you are looking for another model of evangelism, this book will be helpful as well. However if you just want to know how solid your current evangelistic strategy is, this book can also be of service. Besides understanding the biblical, theological and historical underpinnings of your model, the five characteristics in the conclusion will provide some evaluation criteria.

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