Evangelism that works

Sweet Publishing (freebibleimages.org)

Many Christians are looking for a style of evangelism that works, which is to say one that produces visible, measurable results. Surely every Christian desires to see people turned from darkness to light, but most have learned that reported results and genuine conversions are not necessarily the same thing. Let’s take a look at one of the Apostle Paul’s evangelistic efforts recorded in the opening verses of Acts chapter seventeen. Here we find a biblical example of evangelism that works.

A Strategic Location

This endeavor took place in the Macedonian city of Thessalonica. The location was carefully chosen. After laboring fruitfully, and being expelled from the city of Philippi, Paul and his missionary team traveled west. They passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia without stopping because they had their sights on Thessalonica. Both of these cities were smaller and less significant than Thessalonica. Were there people in these locations who needed Christ? Yes, but Paul, a master strategist, had reasons to push on to Thessalonica because of its major importance.

Paul apparently chose locations for their long-term potential. He wanted to expend his labors where the churches he planted had the most favorable conditions in which to multiply. He was looking for hubs that would send out spokes to surrounding areas. Thessalonica was the ideal place. At the crossroads of two major trade routes, it was the Roman capital of Macedonia, as well as its main seaport. People streamed there from all over the world, and the potential for evangelistic multiplication was enormous.

A Providential Opportunity

One of the things Paul highly valued was a Jewish Synagogue, which apparently did not exist in Amphipolis and Apollonia. Although there are a few exceptions, Paul usually bypassed locations lacking synagogues so he could utilize the advantages a synagogue afforded him. As a highly trained Jewish Rabbi, Paul could expect open doors to preach in synagogues. Because of the freedom of the synagogue, Paul’s credentials provided him the standing necessary for synagogue leaders to invite him to address their congregation. His preaching was sufficiently effective to earn him two return invitations, thereby proclaiming the gospel on three successive Sabbaths to a congregation of attentive listeners.

An Effective Method

But what did Paul do? How did he evangelize in this opportune place? He expounded the Scriptures. Nothing novel here. Paul simply opened the Hebrew Scriptures and preached Christ. Additional details of this evangelistic method can be gathered from the text.

First, we are told, he reasoned with them, a word suggesting the use of searching questions. He piqued their curiosity and held their interest by asking questions relating to the Scriptures with which most of them were familiar.

  • Do you know what this means?
  • Have you ever noticed this?
  • Do you understand the implications of this statement?

By using carefully prepared questions, Paul moved his audience to want to hear his message. Paul didn’t employ new methodologies, but made wise use of old ones.

Next we read that Paul was explaining. Another translation renders it was opening. In our own day, it’s not unusual to speak of someone opening the Scriptures, and that is exactly what Paul did. This word could also be translated exposit.

Paul was an expository preacher. What is exposition? It is simply explaining a text. What could be more basic than this? What else does a preacher do if not explain the Bible? But we live in a day when many have lost confidence in the power of God’s Word and resort to other methodologies. After all, we are told, times have changed, and therefore we must find new methods more suited to contemporary America, right?

The problem is that changing the method almost always changes the message. That’s not usually the intention. The goal is to find a more effective way to communicate the gospel, but unintended consequences almost always accompany innovation. The gospel is too important to be submitted to well-meaning experiments. We are not called to be creative program directors, but heralds who faithfully declare the message delivered to us in the manner our King has instructed.

Rather than innovate, why not do what Paul did and trust God to make it effective as it pleases Him? Do we really think we can improve on the methods of Paul, or of Christ?

The third description of Paul’s preaching is demonstrating. This word means “to set in order” or “to give evidence.” It suggests offering proof to further support an assertion that was previously made. Paul asserted from the Hebrew Scriptures “that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and that this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”

Paul had a huge task—to convince a predominantly Jewish audience that their promised Messiah must first suffer and die before he would reign in glorious splendor. That’s not what they had been taught, and they would not be easily persuaded. The only way to convince them was to prove it from Scripture, which is exactly what Paul did. He opened passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 to demonstrate the necessity of the Christ’s suffering and death followed by His glorious resurrection.

After laying the evidence before them, he could finally make his concluding claim, namely that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ promised by God. His crucifixion was not proof of divine displeasure, as the Jews thought. Rather it was the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy regarding the coming Messiah.

It was a hard sell, and the only possibility of success lay in convincing them of the true meaning of Scripture. Paul depended upon careful Bible exposition for his part in the work of evangelism, even as he relied totally on the power of the Holy Spirit to open hearts and cause his labors to be effective.

A Mixed Result

“And some of them were persuaded.” God blessed Paul’s methods, and crowned his labors with success. Some believed and were saved. “But the Jews who were not persuaded,” tells us Paul’s results were mixed. Some believed and others did not. Isn’t it nearly always that way? Occasionally we hear amazing reports of a situation where everyone who hears believes, but I have never witnessed this myself. I don’t doubt that it is possible for an omnipotent God, but I wonder if such reports are measuring genuine conversions, or merely visible results which will prove to be disappointing in time. Usually the results are mixed.

Does anyone believe the results would have been better if Paul had been more eloquent? Would the results have been greater if Paul had used different methods? There is no indication of this in Scripture. Paul used God-honoring methods, and God blessed Paul’s evangelism with lasting fruit. This is an example of evangelism that worked, and it demonstrates a pattern of evangelism that will work in our day as well if we faithfully employ it.

We don’t need different methods. We need greater confidence in the time-honored methods God has given, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

Greg Barkman bio


G. N. Barkman received his BA and MA from BJU and later founded Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC where has pastored for over 40 years. In addition, Pastor Barkman broadcasts over several radio stations in NC, VA, TN, and the island of Granada and conducts annual pastors’ training seminars in Zimbabwe, Africa. He and his wife, Marti have been blessed with four daughters and six grandchildren.

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There are 8 Comments

JBL's picture

Brother Barkman has issued a resounding call to scriptural faithfulness.  I roundly applaud his overture.  There are many new methods that change the glorious message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, who died for man's sin's and rose again.  Nothing must veil or alter this truth.  We are admonished as saints in Christ never to do so.  (Galatians 1:8-9)

However, for the sake of clarity, I feel compelled to point out that the term "new methods" is a very loaded one.  To some, this term refers not to a change in the content of the message nor the method of delivering the message, but a change in the methods of building an audience receptive to hearing the message.

I assume that the latter definition is not the one to which Brother Barkman objects.

John B. Lee

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Pastor Barkman, after reading your article, I'm wondering exactly what kinds or types of "new methods" you are referring to in passages such as this:

"After all, we are told, times have changed, and therefore we must find new methods more suited to contemporary America, right?

The problem is that changing the method almost always changes the message."

Could you provide some specific examples?  It's not clear to me. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

God blessed Paul’s methods, and crowned his labors with success. Some believed and were saved. “But the Jews who were not persuaded,” tells us Paul’s results were mixed. Some believed and others did not. Isn’t it nearly always that way?

Yes, that has been my experience. Thank you for the encouraging article!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Two examples I can think of regarding "other ways of evangelism" would be the "seeker sensitive" model that often borders on "church lite" or "gospel free", as well as high pressure tactics that seek to work with the emotions rather than the mind.  Not sure if that's what G.N. had in mind, but it's what comes to mind for me.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

Pastor Barkman, after reading your article, I'm wondering exactly what kinds or types of "new methods" you are referring to in passages such as this:

"After all, we are told, times have changed, and therefore we must find new methods more suited to contemporary America, right?

The problem is that changing the method almost always changes the message."

Could you provide some specific examples?  It's not clear to me. 

If we're talking about methods Paul never used, Sunday School is a new method.  Bus Routes are a new method.  Radio or Internet ministry is a new method.....etc.

Are we talking about those sorts of things, or something else entirely?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Sunday school is not a method. It's just a venue. Bus routes are just transportation to a venue...  I couldn't personally consider that a method either.

It's hard to say exactly where the line is, but does anyone really question that there is a whole lot of radical repackaging going on? The most obvious example is the emerging/ent church movement, in which every effort seems to be made to have nothing resembling a church and nothing resembling preaching (and usually nothing resembling the gospel). But there are many points along the spectrum that are not that extreme but are driven by similar values (e.g., human cleverness) and similar lack of faith in simply doing what God has asked us to do.

Seems to me that a very common first step in the wrong direction is when we begin to believe we are responsible for results. This is a business model, not a ministry model. In business, if you want result A and you aren't getting it, you innovate and invest until you start to get it. In a biblical ministry model, your goal is not an "outcome," but to faithfully carry out a task.

In business, "task-oriented" is death. In biblical ministry, it's apostolic.

I'll grant that there is a balance to be struck. Other things being equal, a method that "works" is better than one that doesn't. But effectiveness must always be secondary to humble and obedient trust. Not just secondary... effectiveness is subordinate and dependent on faithfulness.

So maybe "faithfulness-driven effectiveness" rather than what many see as "effectiveness-driven faithfulness." I think the latter rarely stays faithful for long.

(Then you have all the ministries that are neither effective nor particularly faithful... but that's another large topic!)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Sunday school is not a method. It's just a venue. Bus routes are just transportation to a venue...  I couldn't personally consider that a method either.

 

I understand your point Aaron, but the way in which "method" has been used in the IFB world (in regards to evangelism) has historically been virtually synonymous with "means" or "ministries."  In preaching, teaching, writing, and personal evangelism training they have long been used interchangeably, so that distinctions for practical purposes have been lost.

Growing up, at my IFB church and IFB school, I used to hear this little jingle from time to time:

"Methods are many; Principles are few.  Methods can change; Principles never do."  (Perhaps not verbatim, but close enough.)  Inherent in this is a view that "methods" is referring to the means---the ministries---employed in outreach.  (And that's how it was presented.)

If I Google "methods of evangelism" or "evangelism methods," the results that pop up are chock full of things such as "bus ministry" and "Sunday school" and "radio ministry."  Just one example:

 

"Methods of Evangelism Change Over Time

Evangelism is always going to involve calling people to repentance, to trust and follow Christ, and to be born again by the power of His Gospel. But we can think about eras of evangelistic methodologies.

A few decades ago many people came to Christ when they heard great radio preachers. Radio evangelism was significant and cutting edge.

The bus ministry in the 1970s and '80s was once a meaningful evangelism method. (My sister rode a bus to a church on Long Island outside of New York City.)"

.......................

"While we should be thankful the message of evangelism never changes, we should pray that we will always be sensitive to the changing methods so that many people will have the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ."

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/february/evangelism-never-changes-but-never-stays-same.html

 

Now if we were to be talking about the various styles, or approaches, to evangelism, that would be something else entirely, and what I think you're getting at.  But that's not what most Christians are thinking of when they hear "methods."

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks for the questions.  I have been traveling, so please excuse my slow response. The new methods to which I refer are in contrast with the clear teaching and preaching of Scripture.  They have nothing to do with bus routes or radio ministries, both of which our church employs.  I am concerned about drama, film clips, videos, testimonies, and even  sermons that contain little Bible exposition in place of preaching which aims to proclaim and explain Scripture.  I would also include "skyscraper sermons" (one story on top of another) which are entertaining, but do little to enlarge the hearer's understanding of Scripture.  Paul's method was to preach the Word.  That should be our method today.  If people are not interested, preach anyway, and leave it to God to create an appetite.  Preach in season and out of season.

G. N. Barkman

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