I recently followed a discussion on whether outreach/evangelism was an event or a process. I have always found it amusing how bad people want something to be “this or that”. Subjects such as prayers should either be spontaneous or well thought out and written, bicycles should riden fully in the lane or against the curb or when ordering Ice Cream it is either only vanilla or chocolate. The issues are endless.
In the discussion I was following there were those who believed true evangelism only happened in an event. I heard echoes of the 1970’s confrontational evangelism programs that might have a disciple approaching a house knocking on a door and asking the question: “If you died tonight where would you go?” This evangelistic technique was not only used in house to house outreach but on High School and College campuses heavily. The evangelist was successful only if the “event” led to a decision by the person approached to give his/her life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
While the confrontational element of that form of evangelism is seldom used anymore (only by the most bold) the mind set of those who believe that evangelism/outreach is still an event is pretty solidly set. From person to person they will make very good intended attempts to bring that person to a saving knowledge of Jesus; social butterflies bouncing from person to person cherry picking only the ripest of sinners ready to fall at the foot of the cross in repentance. They see very little need in the process of building relationships with people that will bring them to their own faith and acceptance of Christ as the supreme sacrifice not just for the sins of the world but personally.
On the other side of the argument are those who simply believe that evangelism is a process and the thought of event is outdated. Process evangelists speak of at least twenty touches that are needed before people will open up and hear what is being said by a Christian or the Church. Those touches can be anything from simple polite hellos or the opening of a door to much more complex conversations. They are all important as they help set the groundwork for relationship.
To the process person the important thing is living the life we confess. Sayings like “the only Gospel people will see is the Gospel found in me” have come from proponents of this thought. After enough touches and observation the person will choose to follow the Christ we confess to follow without a traditional word of evangelism from us.
My question on the subject is why is it either/or, why this or that? If anyone knows me well enough they would know I lean towards the process idea. That is probably for a couple of reasons and one is that I am generally not bold enough for the “confrontational evangelism” method. I did not like it thirty years ago. I also am a very personal, relational type person naturally so the process idea fits my whole personality better. But that does not mean there are times and moments during that process that I may need to become bold enough to seek the event, to encourage a person to make that decision. It may be something as simple as asking them to come to church with me or something more complex as expressing verbally the story of the Gospel and why I have chosen to follow it.
I would encourage the Event evangelist to take some time and risk to start developing those relationships. You already have the tools to lead that person to Christ when they become ready. Relationship involves the possibility that you might be rejected where confrontational types of evangelism does not carry that risk; they are not rejecting you, they are rejecting the Gospel. Jesus took the risk of relationships and then when the time was right spoke His word.
I would encourage the Process folks, like me, to look for those opportunities when the spoken word is called for. It becomes too easy for us to hide away in that relationship and protect ourselves from rejection to the point we lose the opportunities that present themselves.
Actually I believe there are places for spontaneous spoken prayers and a time for well thought out and written prayers spoken in public. I am mainly a vanilla ice cream kind of guy but every-once-in-a-while I will get courageous and get a twirl! I believe riding my bicycle in the full lane is generally the smartest and safest way I can ride my bike but also know there are times and a place that courtesy just simply trumps my rights to the lane and slide over as far as it is safe to.