The Seven "Hazards" of a Relational Evangelism (part 1)

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Have you ever had a spiritual conversation with someone and then had the distinct feeling that you just blew it?   On other occasions, you can have a great conversation with someone and it appears as if the dialog went incredibly well, but then you stumble or feel stumped on how to go to the next step.  Being a Christian Case-Maker has "hazards" that lurk for all of us in unsuspecting  places.   To make a correlation, it is a little like the sport of golf... frustrations are sometimes self imposed and while at other times there are "hazards"  that loom all around us even when you are fully engaged.   You can find yourself in the middle of a hazard with a high level of aggravation. Like evangelism land-mines or boobie-traps that can catch us unprepared.    Oftentimes, hazards appear to be strategically placed that require a perfect shot and any deviation will mean you are in for a real challenge!   At other times, it is our own poor planning or strategic play that can cause one to land in a challenging situation which can bring anxiety. 

What if you could prepare in advance for those annoying  pot bunkers or water-hazards, or wooded areas before you engage in a spiritual conversation?  Avoiding these can help you maneuver strategically and make your spiritual encounter all the more productive and encouraging.   If we are not aware of these hazards, before you know it, you could be frustrated beyond imagination.  This three part series is dedicated to identifying evangelism hazards that are frequently encountered by your average well intended Christ follower.   

Special Note:  While everyone may not have the "gift" of being an evangelist, everyone should be engaged in the practice of evangelism.  The Great Commission applies to all believers, not just a select few who are endowed with specific gifts of an evangelist or a preacher!  After all, relational evangelism inherently requires a person to be adept at relational apologetics.   Giving a reason for the hope that is within us is commanded in scripture in 1 Peter 3:15-16.  Consequently, we all have a duty and an obligation to "be ready" to dialog with our unbelieving friend about our faith in Christ.  This paper is written with the concept of relational evangelism (relational apologetics) in mind as opposed to a one-time engagement discussion.  So keep this in mind as you read through these hazards that are common to many of us.  Being a Christian Case-Maker is really a combination of a person who is adept at relational evangelism and relational apologetics. This post will cover the first three hazards and future posts will deal with the final four hazards.

Hazard #1 - "Grip it and Rip it" Thinking

Golf Digest documents that the odds for the average golfer to shoot a hole-in-one is ONE out of 12,750.  Oddly enough, some people love to get up to the t-box and just "go-for-it" and let it rip.  Somehow, when it comes to evangelism, some have the same perspective...just "grip it and rip it."  For years John Daly was known as one of the games biggest hitters in the golf world but rarely did he power the ball to a hole in one shot!  When it comes to evangelism while it is possible to hit a hole-in-one shot, it is not probable.  Oftentimes, people have the mis-impression that if I just "grip it and rip it" the person will come to faith in one encounter.  Frequently, if one tries to hit the ball with all their strength it will frequently hook 50 yards off the fairway into the woods or the rough in a far worse position.  In the same way, people don't move from being an atheist or agnostic to a Christ follower in one engagement.  Can it happen?  Yes.  Is this probable or typical, absolutely not!  We are far better off understanding that evangelism is more like moving the ball towards the cup through a series of engagements that deal with varying situations and obstacles.  Evangelism is a process that takes time, study and evaluation.  Where is the person on their spiritual journey?  What barriers might be in this persons life that might prevent them from considering the claims of Jesus?   The point is that it may take a number of engagements to move the ball towards the desired direction.  Each of us needs to consider our unbelieving friends as human beings that have a variety of life barriers that prevent them from seriously considering the claims of Christ.  Pressuring people to come into agreement or to make a decision can have negative results.  Reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit as the vital agent that moves the person to be open to greater spiritual dialog is imperative.  Meanwhile, God uses his agents (us) in this process. Oftentimes, we never consider where our friends are in the grand fairway of life.    

Rather than adopting a "grip it and rip it" mindset that has our own agenda at heart, perhaps a more loving approach is to see evangelism as a process of engagement that has our friends mind and heart in focus.   This takes patience, prayer and compassion.  Rarely does one make life altering choices in one hasty decision because of a one-time conversation.  We see this concept unpackaged in scripture (Acts 17: 16-18) where Paul was in Athens and he was speaking  and reasoning with the religious minded in the Synagogue and with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the marketplace every day.  Paul took days if not weeks of dialog with Jews, and the God-fearing Gentiles and anyone who happened to be there!  Evangelism is a process.  It takes time, effort and patience!   Don't fall prey to "grip-it and rip-it" tactics or thinking!

 

Hazard #2 - Bad Diagnosis of Course Conditions and Hazards

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So often, people have great zeal to move the ball down the course but they frequently fail to evaluate hazards (or barriers) that can clearly impact progress.  You may have known golfers who fail to consider all of the course conditions.  In fact, there are times when you cannot see the green or the pin when you tee off.   You must know where you are in conjunction with where you want to direct the ball for the shot!  If you don't know in advance it can be disastrous.  You must know the course conditions, the position of the ball,  the location of the green, the hazards in play, etc.  It is imperative to study and evaluate the distance, barriers, conditions, and hazards.  It is likened to a physician who jumps to the conclusion to treat a patient prior to making an adequate diagnosis of the patients real medical problems.  Frequently, disaster ensues.  As we build relationships with people, one of the things that we must ask ourselves is "what past experiences, opinions, or viewpoints does this person have about spiritual matters?"  When dealing with personal issues as apposed to objects, you are forced to ask strategic questions.  A proper spiritual diagnosis requires one to ask strategic probing questions.  Questions take time, investment, and patience.  (Go to Quest Ministries link "Big Questions")  Elsewhere Ravi Zacharias recommends four broad areas of questions; 1) Origins 2) Meaning, 3) Morality and 4) Destiny.  The goal is to uncover any emotional or intellectual barriers that a person might have about Christ or Christianity.  What has shaped their views, ideas and concepts that has shaped their belief system?  Asking the right questions will assist you in understanding barriers or beliefs that a person has about what they believe.  Another great resource is Greg Koukl's book Tactics, A game plan for discussing your Christian convictions.  If one skips the step of diagnosis it can lead you in a direction that is unfruitful or mis-directed.  In most cases, we are far better off asking strategic questions rather than telling them information about the gospel. Artfully and skillfully communicating truth is a key to making people think and process information.  Love compels us to be patient, asking strategic and tactful questions.   Jesus used this technique all the time!  Questions are the key to making a proper diagnosis about their barriers. 

Again we see Paul engage with the philosophers of his day when he went to the Areopagas and he was able to connect with them because he knew their culture, religious backgrounds, and questions.  Paul took time to know what they believed prior to spiritual conversation.  He correctly diagnosed the barriers and hazards of the people he was engaged with so that even in the end "some believed."  Acts 17 records that Paul earned the right to be heard! 

 

Hazard #3 - One Club Golfing or Using One Approach for All Shots

The USGA Rule #4.4 states that golfers may not possess any more than 14 clubs when playing a round of golf.  Clearly, it is to ones advantage to have all 14 clubs to deal with all sorts of situations.  Can you imagine a golfer who uses just one club for a full round of golf?  It would be like Three Stooges golf!  It might be humorous but it is a comedy of the absurd. Surprisingly, that is the way many people view and practice evangelism.   They have one way of communicating about their faith.  They use the same line and the same approach time after time.  For the lack of a better term they are one club golfers as it relates to evangelism.  People using one club (regardless of which one) will typically not work.  Additionally, at any given point, golfers must calculate their distance from the pin (hole) and take into consideration the windage, lie of the ball, hazards, course condition, etc.  Once the golfer knows all of these variables, he can then select the proper club and then more accurately hit the ball closer to the place where he desires. As in golf, evangelism requires that we make clear assessment of the person's spiritual proximity, receptivity, heart conditions, barriers and then make a proper "selection" of the approach he should use.  It also means that one must execute the shots that are required.   They make a habit of practicing with each club to achieve the desired outcome.  Asking the right question at the right time with the proper attitude can propel the conversation in the right direction.  This means that previous preparation, and practice can make a big difference.  Sometimes it is not a question or a statement but it could be a simple act of kindness, and other times just being a true friend.  Having a working knowledge of practical apologetics will be critical because people will ask basic questions about Christ, the Bible, the problem of evil and so forth.  Analyses proves that if you master about 10 questions you will be able to answer 90% of the average person's objections.  Knowing how to answer a question is like knowing how to use a 3 iron instead of a 9 iron - each is engineered and designed to overcome a specific challenge. You don't have to be a PGA pro to use the clubs properly but if you are a Christ follower - you are by definition a Christian Case-Maker whether you like it or not!  The question is.... how well prepared are you as a Case-Maker?  Being a Christian Case-Maker is all about knowing how to deal with various questions that could be thrown your way.  Knowing what questions to ask and what answers to give in any given situation is just like a good golfer selects the right iron for the situation.  Asking the right questions and knowing their specific barriers enables you to function more efficiently to address the specific hazards that lie in the heart and life of the person you know.  Don't get caught using one approach to your spiritual conversations - ask probing strategic questions to understand the barrier AND know how to answer the questions that are presented.  This will  enable you to be far more effective and conversational with your friend.

Scripture again is our standard.  Here Peter instructs those who are believers that they need to be ready to give an account for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3: 15-16)!  When it comes to giving a defense of the faith, it requires us to deploy a variety of tools frequently customized to the audience.  Our lives must be demonstrably different or attractive so that people wonder "What makes them so unique and their lives so compelling?"  We have a grand opportunity to tell people about our hope but also take the initiative to know and understand their objections, barriers or "hazards" that we might encounter!  It takes effort to respond with gentleness and respect but Peter gives an imperative to do so!  When we do so they get to see unique and wonderful representatives of a great and wonderful God. 

Being keenly aware of these evangelism "hazards" will make you far more engaging and it will enable you to be used by God in unexpected ways.  It does take some preparation, study and prayer but God will honor your efforts to be a Christian Case-Maker when you avoid specific hazards that are oftentimes avoidable.  The next articles will deal with four more "hazards" that are common to the average person but often derail spiritual conversations and your aspirations to be a case-maker.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series "The Seven Hazards of Personal Evangelism - Hazards #4 & #5!