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How “Relational Evangelism” Is Limiting The Completion Of The Great Commission.

1 July 2013 4 Comments

A lot is made in the Western Church about the need to be “relational” in our evangelism and NZ is no different.  relational

When one asks those who promote ‘relational evangelism’, they are often not sure themselves about exactly what they mean by “relational” as it relates to evangelism.

From what I have been able to ascertain, it means:

  • having multiple conversations with the same person on the topic of God.  The time spent in each conversation could be a few minutes or a few hours.  What’s important is that friendship is built through multiple conversations over time.
  • getting to know a person deeply by relating to them (being their friend) over a period of time.
  • viewing evangelism as a process, not an event i.e. those who advocate “relational evangelism” see every conversation “as a bit of evangelism”, drawing the non-Christian a bit closer to God.

SUMMARY? Relational Evangelism means ‘getting to know someone on a deep level through talking, so as to become their friend, with the purpose of leading them to Christ.’

What are we to make of this approach?

objectionThose who advocate ‘relational evangelism’ often object strongly to the idea of going to a stranger and presenting the gospel to them, without having first built a relationship.

Going to a stranger and presenting the gospel to them, without having first built a relationship is labelled by those who only advocate ‘friendship evangelism/relational evangelism’ as ‘confrontational’.

The word ‘confrontational’ is unfortunate, as it’s loaded with negative connotations e.g. harassing people, being obnoxious, being insensitive, bashing people with Christianity, getting into people’s person space, being offensive, being ‘in your face’ etc etc.

A better way to describe the approach to evangelism which we as a ministry advocate (after 30 years of trying every approach)  is what I call ‘getting-to-the-gospel-quickly’ evangelism.

But what’s interesting is that I have tried both i.e.  “relational evangelism” and ” getting-to-the-gospel-quickly” evangelism.

“Getting-to-the-gospel-quickly” evangelism’ is far more effective for at least three reasons:

1) It’s the fast track to deep relationship.

2) It’s the perfect approach for evangelising strangers.

3) Without it, (i.e. without going to strangers) we are never going to complete the Great Commission. In fact, without it, we are going to fail with the Great Commission.

Let me explain.

When I was first saved (at 22, and from a totally non-Christian background), I was told that ‘evangelism’ involved going up to strangers and having discussions with them about God.

I struggled with the dishonesty of this approach.  I’d sidle up to someone, be really friendly, get into discussion, and, as the Holy Spirit led, try and lead Honesty in evangelismthem to Christ.

The person I was talking to would soon click that the friendliness was feigned and that I had a hidden agenda.

Jesus calls us to walk in the light, as He is in the light, and this approach clashed with this truth.

I found that the dishonesty of this approach was actually a hindrance to evangelism, not a help.

Yet, I was told this was the best way to do ‘evangelism’.

I wasn’t told that to evangelise was to present the gospel.

This is because those who were teaching me didn’t know what evangelism was either.

I was taught that to evangelise was just to have good conversations with people about God and hopefully, try and become their friend, and lead them to Christ. There was no mention of actually presenting the gospel.

Edge-Icons

What sort of results did I get from this approach? Here’s an example.

We’d start off talking about the natural – their lives, their career, their dreams, their likes and dislikes, the weather, sport, current affairs in the media…whatever – small talk.

Then, at the right moment, we’d transition from the natural onto the supernatural by asking a question like “I go to church. Have you had any church background” or “are you into spiritual things?”

We’d have discussion about God and, hopefully, I’d  lead them to Christ.

I led a few to Christ here and there with this approach, but in the vast majority of cases we got into debates about issues such as the big bang, evolution, whether the bible had errors, Churches only wanting your money, etc etc.

Debating didn’t really work for me because what I found was that if I won the debate, I’d lose the person (this is not saying there is no place for apologetics or debating issues because there is a huge place for this, but that’s the subject of another blog!)

However, for many years, I kept this approach up, not knowing any better.

Then I discovered what evangelism really was –  to evangelise is to spread or proclaim the gospel.

And I didn’t really know what ‘the gospel’ was either.  And nor did the people who were teaching me. (people who’d been walking with God for many more years than I had)

To know what ‘the gospel’ is, please click here.

bright idea 2

So I changed my approach.

I would go out to the lost, strike up conversations with them, aiming to present the gospel, not just have good conversations about God.

But what I found was it was still VERY hard to present the gospel.

As I have said, we ended up going down rabbit trails or side tracks, debating issues, and not getting to the gospel.

The problem was this – TOO MUCH SMALL TALK ABOUT GOD and DEBATING ISSUES WAS GETTING IN THE WAY. IT WAS GETTING IN THE WAY OF ACTUALLY PRESENTING THE GOSPEL.

I became very frustrated with the ineffectiveness of this approach, especially in light of Jesus’ command to proclaim the gospel (Mark 16:15).  It’s the gospel we’re to get to, and get to as soon as possible.

Now I have found a better way.

I skip talking about the natural and get straight to the gospel.

I simply approach strangers in a loving, light and breezy way, introduce myself, and get straight onto presenting the gospel.

It’s really very simple.  And it’s honest.  It’s not complicated, once you know how.

Anyone can learn to do it.

If you read my previous blogs, you’ll learn exactly what I say, and how to do this. I give an example at the end of this blog.  Click here to download another example.

To read about what Jesus taught about simply planting the seed of the gospel in this way,  click heresowing

And what have I found?

After the gospel had been shared, the ensuing discussion is nearly always deep, meaningful, and “real.”

After the gospel has been shared  is a better time to get into apologetics and debates, because you’ll find yourself talking about the gospel, not issues!

In other words, “getting-to-the-gospel-quickly” evangelism opens up real and meaningful relationship in a dramatic way ABOUT THE GOSPEL, quickly and effectively, far more so than with so called ‘relational evangelism.’ And the key aspect to this is that it honest and upfront.

It does this because the gospel message plummets quickly to the depths of a person’s heart – their soul.

The bible says “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12).

Another verse which comes to mind in this respect is Romans 1:16 “The gospel is the power of God for salvation.” (Romans 1:16). This is saying that the Holy Spirit works powerfully through the words of the gospel to effect salvation.

God’s word is much more powerful that human small talk.

If the power of God is in the gospel, and not in small talk, why play around in the shallows with small talk and debating issues? (As I have said, this is not saying there is a place for apologetics  because their most definitely is!)

Yet “getting-to-the-gospel-quickly” has been labelled as negative by the general church population. But here’s the irony – the vast majority of people who knock this approach don’t do evangelism themselves.  They are just theorising about something they actually know very little about.

As I said, “getting to the gospel quickly” has been labelled “confrontational.”

Let’s drop the term “confrontational evangelism” and call it  ‘Genuine New Testament evangelism’.   This is more accurate.

I have come to conclude that those who advocate ‘relational evangelism’ cannot possibly have not done much genuine evangelism with strangers, otherwise they would not be promoting the approach.

I find this often. That is to say, people who don’t do much evangelism are quick to advise others on how to do evangelism and what’s the best way, and they sound like experts but really they are only just theorists.

They are not experts at all.

Sadly, they lead many astray with their theories.

I conclude that those who advocate ‘relational evangelism’ are stuck way back where I was 20 years ago, striking up conversations with people about God, moving from the natural to the supernatural, trying to develop deep relationship with non-Christians,  mistakingly calling this ‘evangelism.’

In 95% of cases it doesn’t work (the 5% of the time it does work is with friends and family, and even then there are pitfalls, which I have spoken about), if getting to present an uncompromising gospel message with love and grace is the goal.

The only context I found where so called ‘relational evangelism’ worked was with work mates (i.e. friends) and family – people I was going to see over and over, over a long period of time.

Even then, I had to concede that family is the hardest to reach and are best reached by a total stranger.

This is yet another reason we need to go to strangers i.e. you reach my family, and I’ll reach yours.

Of course, the general Church doesn’t want to go to strangers, so this plan falters before it starts.

There are other issues which are negative about so called relational evangelism i.e. reaching friends.  Often I’d become so friendly and close to them, in the end I didn’t want to share the gospel with them for fear of losing the friendship!

And what about all the many people we all brush with in the course of a day with whom we don’t have time to have a long conversation? (and often they don’t have time as well) i.e. gas stations, shops, etc.  Who is going to reach all these people? We desperately need strategies to reach these people with the gospel which don’t involve long conversations. Well, as a ministry, God has given us these strategies.

Ok, back to relational versus getting-to-the-gospel-quickly evangelism.

SUMMARY:

If building deep, meaningful relationship quickly is what the proponents of ‘relational evangelism’ want, confused manthen getting-to-the-gospel-quickly evangelism is the way to go.

“getting-to-the-gospel-quickly” is very relational, whereas ‘relational evangelism’ actually makes it difficult to engage in Biblical evangelism because of the dishonesty factor.

So by labelling ‘getting-to-the-gospel-quickly’ as being very undesirable, advocates of ‘relational evangelism’ are not being helpful.

They are unwittingly leading many away from being truly effective in evangelism and leading them into frustration and failure.

Why failure? Because with ‘relational evangelism’ it’s very hard to actually ‘do’ evangelism, for the reasons I have explained.

But there are other problems with ‘relational’ evangelism.

First, those who advocate ‘relational evangelism’ often also advocate only going to friends and family.

Now consider this.

The  genuine Christian population is a tiny proportion of the general population – about 5%.   If each of us in the church has five non-Christians friends and family members, and we faithfully presented the gospel to them all, we’d only evangelise 25% of the population. Who is going to reach the other 75% who don’t have a Christian friend or family member?

Another problem with relational evangelism is that most Christians are extremely busy people and don’t have time to have long conversations and debates with multiple non-Christians.

fail logoConclusion?

If to complete the Great Commission is the mission of the Church (that is to say, that every person on the earth gets to hear and understand the gospel clearly at least once), then clearly, using ‘relational evangelism’ we are not going to complete the Great Commission.

To say “we are bound to fail with the completion of the Great Commission if we persist with relational evangelism” (as I have described it) is an understatement.

If we are ever going to evangelise the world, we’re going to have to go to strangers, and lots of them, and we are going to have to use approaches that are much different from ‘relational evangelism’ if we are going to succeed.

Yet there are other problems with ‘relational evangelism.’

As I have said, proponents of of ‘relational evangelism’ have put a negative spin on ‘confrontational evangelism’ giving it that label.

The description “Confrontational evangelism”  is  very negative.   It suggests argument, being ‘in your face’, fighting, and creating ugly awkward situations.

But really, it’s none of these things.  It’s just doing evangelism with love and grace!

Could it be that those who advocate ‘relational evangelism’ are simply afraid of talking to strangers?

Rather than face their fears, they have knocked the approach which advocates talking to strangers, and haveConquer_Your_Fears_Logo_FINAL given it a negative label.

Finally, those who advocate relational evangelism often view ‘evangelism’ as a process.

That is to say, they view every little conversation with a non-Christian as ‘a bit’ of evangelism.

As I have said, this is heresy. Evangelism is an event within a process.  This is a huge point, and one of great significance.

Viewing evangelism as a process is simply unbiblical and undermines the Great Commission.  To read more about this, please click here.

Below is an example of how “getting-to-the-gospel-quickly” evangelism can happen effectively and powerfully, without the need to have multiple conversations with the same person over a long period of time.

—————————————————————————–

IMG_0646Yesterday I went into a cafe to get a coffee.  It was a long way from where I live and I am very unlikely to go back there.

I was taking my 4 year old daughter out on a date.  (that’s Eden in the photo on the left).  She loves fun!

The waitress (Sarah) was friendly and very helpful.

She dutifully greeted us, and took our order – a fluffy and a steamed soy milk for me.

The cafe was virtually empty,  so when she delivered our drinks, I gave her a www.biblein11.com business card.

“Sarah, have a look at this” handing her the card.

“We spent 10 years making a video which summarises then central message of the Bible in 11 minutes.”

“Oh, wow! Ten years!” she exclaimed as she perused the card.

She went on “When I was at high school I loved studying art history and became quite interested in religion. Michael Angelo and others were so interesting to study.”

“So where are you at now with religion?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t go to church or anything. I don’t think you have to.  I think that if you feel good about yourself and you do your best in life, not hurting others, then that’s enough. That’s what I believe. So I guess I have my own beliefs.”

“Mmmm” I said. “This is what I used to believe until someone asked me three questions. Can I ask you the three questions?”

“Sure” she said.The holiness of God

Then I proceeded to run through 3 of the 10 commandments: lying, thieving, and murder.

I was very gentle and gracious.

No one else could hear our conversation, except my daughter.

My conversation with Sarah was completely private, much the same as Jesus and Nicodemus. This is important.

As I asked the 3 questions, I had to brace up in my inner man.  It’s actually requires a bit of courage to ask a person these questions.

I imagine doctors and nurses and dentists feel the same way when they are about to do something to a patient which is going to cause pain e.g. give an injection.

Essentially, ‘bracing up’ is another way of saying “be courageous”.

As expected, she was guilty of all three. Yep, she found out she was a thieving, lying, murderer.

The atmosphere changed.  No more smiles. No more laughing. She looked taken back. She’d sobered up.

I had to brace up again in my inner man and keep going to the next step. It’s important to keep eye contact.

“Sarah, there are three things you must do now if you want to be forgiven. Do you want to know what they are?”

“Yes” she said.

What I said to her at this point is written here.

After this, Sarah went back to work.

court judgeI’ll never forget our conversation at the till at then end as I went to pay.

Sarah: “You know, I thought about what you said.  I am sure all the good things we do in life outweigh the bad things.”

Me: (Gently, and looking at her right in the eye) “Sarah, that sounds nice, but you know what, it’s not true.  When someone goes before a judge in a secular court, in a court of law in NZ, the judge will convict the person in the dock for the laws they have broken, not absolve them from their crime because of the laws they have kept.  Sure, if the person has a great previous record, the judge might be a bit more lenient with the sentence, but ultimately, the judge must convict the person for laws they have broken.”

Sarah: “Mmmmm…I see what you mean.”

Me (smiling): “Sarah, watch the video.”

Sarah: “I am going to. Thanks.”

LESSONS?

1) BELIEVE BY FAITH GOD IS IN CONTROL: When one thinks about it, a lot of life is spent brushing with people with whom we will never have contact again: dairies, shops, gas stations, buses, planes, car parks, cafes, sports events…the list is endless.  Should these people be denied Christ because we can’t have Lord of the harvestcontinued contact with them? You know the answer.

It’s simply ridiculous to think that we can’t evangelise people with whom we will not have further contact, or with whom we have not built a relationship.

Who is the Lord of the Harvest?  Yes, it’s Jesus.

Don’t you think that almighty, omniscient, omnipresent God, whose will it is that all people are saved, is going to watch over and guide and convict Sarah?

Even bringing her eventually into His Church? Is the gospel the power of God for salvation or not?

Does God’s Word return void or not?

Could and would the Holy Spirit use what happened in the cafe to put a desire on Sarah’s heart to watch the video? And convict her of the Biblical truths proclaimed on the video? And through the video, draw Sarah to Himself?

Again, you know the answer.

If you think not, your God is way too small.

2) GET TRAINING: We must turn chance, short encounters with the lost into evangelism opportunities. How to do this is easily learned. Then we must practice, and be prepared to make mistakes.

3) GET COURAGE: We just need courage to do this, along with grace, tenderness, wisdom, and love. It’s hard asking people to confess they are thieving, lying, murderers.  It would have been hard for Jesus not to feel a pang in His heart when the rich young ruler walked away after Jesus had convicted him of his sin.

4) GET TOOLS AND TAKE ACTION: If I hadn’t taken the time to write the script for the biblein11 video, and someone hadn’t gone with that script to a graphic design house in London to turn the script into a video, and a whole lot of people hadn’t given £40,000 to pay the bill for having the video made, and I hadn’t taken the time to put the video on line, and found a web designer to do it, and write a follow uplaw of scrifice booklet, and taken the time to design and print some business cards with this web address printed on them, and if I hadn’t put some in my wallet, and someone hadn’t given some money each month on an AP to support me so I could pay for my soy milk and my daughters fluffy,  so I could spend time writing the video script and the follow up booklet, and designing the business cards, this whole encounter with Sarah might not have happened! (not to mention all the opposition at every stage!)

Dear friends in Christ, the evangelisation of the world is not going to happen unless we make it happen!

It’s going to cost us a lot of time, money, and effort. Yep, sacrifice.

My question to you is this?

When are we going to begin to take action?

If not now, when?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but God can only work through the people who are taking action. Give your money, time and effort to the cause of the Great Commission.

On your death bed, you’ll never regret it. It’s the main thing.

5) MODELLING: My four year old is learning how to evangelise by watching her dad do it.  Children are blotting paper. They soak up what they see their parents do, good or bad. And they have no fear.  If you are a parent, start modelling evangelism in front of your children.  It will be a better inheritance for them than giving them all your money when you die.

fear not6) FEAR: Could it be that many of those who advocate “relational” evangelism so strongly do so as a cover – to cover their fear of actually confronting people about God’s holiness, sin, hell, and judgement?  To cover their fear of being rejected? To cover their need to be accepted and liked? To cover their lack of courage?  To cover their feelings of inadequacy when it comes to engaging in biblical evangelism?

If so, these people need fear not, for I have found that I have got further and deeper into relationship with the lost after 11 minutes of sharing the gospel than hours of general conversation about God.

And anyone who has done both(i.e. sharing the whole gospel with love and grace in 15 minutes Vs developing a relationship with someone over a long period of time) will attest to the same truth.

7) EVANGELISM IS NOT A PROCESS, IT’S AN EVENT WITHIN A PROCESS.  Evangelism, understood Biblically, is not a process.  It’s an event within a process. To think of evangelism as a process is a fatal mistake.

8) LOGIC: Research shows that most Christians don’t have a non-Christian friend.  The research also shows that if Christians DO have non Christian friends, they lose them as time progresses.  Now, put this into the equation – if genuine believers in NZ are only 5% of the population, who is going to reach the 95% of people who are unevangelised? i.e. who have never heard the gospel?

If we only used “relational evangelism”, each of us would need to be developing a “relationship” with 20 non-Christians!

It’s only logical that if we push the “relational evangelism” view too far, we are going off into la la land, if indeed our mission is to evangelise the world.

Friends, the only way to reach the vast majority of the unreached with the gospel is to devise tools and strategies which are suited to chance, brief encounters with people.

Thank about it – most of Jesus’ encounters were brief, chance, encounters e.g. the woman at the well, the rich young ruler etc etc.

Now there’s something to think about…..

 

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  • Alan says:

    Hi Julian,
    Love your blogs they are so apt, and I send them on when and where I know they are applicable. This one really spoke to me because I have befriended a 96 and 84 year old who are not believers and although I work in God conversations and they have tracts, I really need to get to the main point the Good News before it is too late. You see I am in a sense selling them real estate-paradise-and I need to get to the closure.
    In another case this week I had my tracts and cards and was 10 minutes early for an appointment as I passed a lone figure in a bus stop. I sat done and we got on like a house on fire and I learned she was in NZ for 18months from North India and worked in a local Resthome. But I was too slow, as I reached for my tracts and sorted out my introduction someone else arrived and the bus pulled in and the moment was lost. I had to go on to my appointment but I will patrol that bus stop. I am sure God will continue to bless you and your work. Alan.

  • Bruce McIntyre says:

    Hello Julian,
    I did call this morning to share some thoughts I have been having, but decided to send this message instead.
    I am not surprised at the reaction from Christians when the word evangelist is mentioned, this being that when mentioned they either take of in some other direction as if it is has a horrible conotations to it, or those who are in leadersip roles within the Church somehow get grandiose visions of some specialy gifted person speaking forth the words of the Lord, which can and has been at times some grand performance that attracts the multitudes to take in the awe of the occasion.

    Please forgive me for seemingly to take all this so lightly or even critically, but I do beleive the role of the Evangelist as mentioned in the Book of Ephesians has been turned into something less than what the true Evangelist should be.
    I do think that this role of the evangelist as it is now has almost reached a point where some evangelists think they may be a gift to the gifted within the Church, and I have seen hints of pride in this position that the Lord has bestowed on some.
    With this in mind could I venture down a slightly differennt path here, I say slightly because that is exactly what the path I am thinking about really is.
    As you mentioned in one of your blogs, an Evangelists role is one of the 5 gifts that the Lord gave to the Church to encourage and to build up the Body of Christ so that they could do the work of the ministry both in the Church and without.
    Many in the Church quite legitimately beleive they are not gifted Evangelists, and according to Scripture where the word is used leaves the impression that not all are called to be Evangelists, and so they can relinquish the responsiblity to those who are, with the notion that they are somewhat off the hook, and maybe quite rightly so.
    HOWEVER, there is the command that Jesus gave that they cannot by anymeans whatsoever pass the buck to others who are especially endowed and that is being a witness for and of Christ.
    In the Gospel of John Chapter 15 v 26 / 27 Jesus tells the Disciples that the Holy Spirit will come to testify of Him and that the Disciples will also be witnesses of His.
    Looking up the word witness there is a definite testifying of the Birth , death and resurrection of Christ.
    And the word witness in Greek is one of testifying about this with the ultimate testifying being one of martydom.
    It is the word witness in greek that we get the english word martyr.
    WIth this all are called, not especially endowed or gifted individuals. Removing all excuse from the individual Christian from his or her responsibilty to take the truth of Christs death and resurrecion to a lost world.
    Looking at this from a legal perspective, as with a court scenario, a witness is a person who brings to the court all relavent evidence to prove the case either for or against.
    If one withheld that evidence, which could be crucial, he or she would be held with contempt of court and tried accordingly.
    In the case of Jesus and His wrongful accusation and subsequent penalty of death, we as Christians have the responsibilty of being the witness to these events and to show them to the world, which we could see as the jury, who hearing can either accept or reject the facts as seen clearly and concisely by those who originally saw it all.
    However if we as the Church do not bring this evidence to the Jury?
    They overcame by the Blood of the Lamb and the WORD of thier TESTIMONY I wonder if this is what that verse in Revelation really meantt.
    Your thoughts Julian.
    I was going to put this on your blog, but on consideration, I thought it wise to run it in front of you first..

    GOD BLESS

    Bruce

  • Julian Batchelor says:

    Excellent article Bruce…well done mate.

  • Julian Batchelor says:

    Great Story Alan…love to hear you are still active and keeping on going. What a blessing you are!!

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