The following is an excerpt from Michael Frost’s new e-book, “The 5 Habits of Highly Missional People”, available as a free download from Exponential Resources (www.exponential.org/ ebooks/five-habits/).
It includes a reproducible accountability tool for use with churches and small groups. In this excerpt Michael explains the importance of living “questionable lives” for effective evangelism.
Contrary to the myth that every believer is an evangelist, Paul assumes a two-fold approach when it comes to the ministry of evangelism. Firstly, he affirms the gifting of the evangelist (interestingly, not the gift of evangelism, but that the evangelist herself is the gift). And secondly, he writes as though all believers are to be evangelistic in their general orientation.
He clearly places himself in the first category, seeing his ministry not only as apostolic, but also as an evangelist. But it doesn’t appear that he believes all Christians bear the responsibility for the kind of bold proclamation to which he is called. Note his description of this two-fold approach in his letter to the Colossians:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:2-6)
For evangelists, Paul asks for opportunities to share Christ and for the courage to proclaim the Gospel clearly (vs. 3-4). But he doesn’t suggest the Colossians pray as much for themselves. Rather, the evangelistic believer is to pray for the evangelists’ ministry, to be wise in their conduct toward outsiders and to look for opportunities to answer outsiders’ questions when they arise (vs. 2, 5-6). When it comes to the spoken aspect of their ministries, evangelists are to proclaim and believers are to give answers. This twofold approach can be summarized this way:TYPE OF MINISTER – Gifted Evangelists PRIORITIES – Clarity in the gospel; looking for opportunities TYPE OF SPOKEN MINISTRY – Bold proclamation
vTYPE OF MINISTER – Evangelistic Believers Prayer PRIORITIES – Prayer; watchfulness; wise socialising TYPE OF SPOKEN MINISTRY – Gracious answers
I think Paul assumed that the number of gifted evangelists wouldn’t be great. It seems clear that he thinks the gifted evangelists can be local (like Timothy – see 2 Tim. 4:5) or translocal (like himself). He seems also to assume that some gifted evangelists would occupy a leadership function in local churches (see Eph. 4:11), building up the church to be increasingly evangelistic. While it is an essential gifting for all churches, it isn’t a gifting given to every believer. Rather, the believers’ function, as noted, was to pray like crazy and to conduct themselves, in word and deed, in such a way as to provoke unbelievers to question their beliefs and enter into an evangelistic dialogue. Peter is in agreement with Paul when he writes:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Pet. 3:15-16)
In other words, the biblical model is for leaders to (1) identify, equip and mobilize gifted evangelists (with gifted evangelistic leaders taking the primary responsibility), and (2) inspire all believers to live questionable lives. If all believers are leading the kind of lives that evoke questions from their friends, then opportunities for faith sharing abound and chances for the gifted evangelists to boldly proclaim are increased.
This two-fold approach was so effective it literally transformed the Roman Empire. With evangelists and apologists such as Peter and Paul proclaiming the gospel and defending its integrity in an era of polytheism and pagan superstition, literally hundreds of thousands of ordinary believers were infiltrating every aspect of society and living the kind of questionable lives that evoked curiosity in the Christian message.
They devoted themselves to sacrificial acts of kindness. They loved their enemies and forgave their persecutors. They cared for the poor and fed the hungry. In the brutality of life under Roman rule they were the most stunningly different people anyone had ever seen. Indeed, their influence was so surprising that even the fourth-century Emperor Julian (AD 331-363) feared that they might take over the empire. Referring to Christians as “atheists” because they denied the existence of pagan gods, and believing their religion to be a sickness, he penned this directive to his officials:
We must pay special attention to this point, and by this means effect a cure [for the “sickness” of Christianity]. For when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, then I think the impious Galileans [Christians] observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendancy in the worst of the deeds through the credit they win for such practices. For just as those who entice children with a cake, and by throwing it to them two or three times induce them to follow them, and then, when they are far away from their friends cast them on board a ship and sell them as slaves… by the same method, I say, the Galileans also begin with their so-called love-feast, or hospitality, or service of tables – for they have many ways of carrying it out and hence call it by many names – and the result is that they have led very many into atheism [i.e. Christianity].
Julian was concerned that the Christians’ acts of hospitality and philanthropy were winning too many of his subjects. He decided to launch an offensive against them by mobilizing his officials and the pagan priesthood to out-love the Christians. He decreed that a system of food distribution be started and that hostels be built for poor travellers. He wrote:
Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism? I believe that we ought really and truly to practice every one of those virtues… For it is disgraceful that when the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Julian’s new social program utterly failed. He couldn’t motivate pagan priests or Roman officials to care that much for the poor. He failed to realise that the Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit of love and motivated by his grace. The message they shared – that God loved the world – was patently absurd to the average Roman. The pagan gods cared nothing for humankind. And yet in the miserable world of the Roman Empire, the Christians not only proclaimed the mercy of God, they demonstrated it. They not only fed the poor, they welcomed all comers regardless of their ethnicity. They promoted liberating social relations between the sexes and within families. The nobleman embraced the slave. They were literally the most surprising alternative society, and their conduct raised and insatiable curiosity among the average Roman. You can see how the proclamation of the gifted evangelists would have been far more effective among a society of people living such questionable lives.
I think this is what Paul referred to as “adorning” the gospel, or in more contemporary language, making the gospel attractive. He uses this phrase in Titus 2, when exhorting Titus to teach sound doctrine:
You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted too much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.
Note the way he concludes that list of rules (vs.10). He tells Titus to teach his congregation of slaves and free, young and old, to conduct themselves in this manner not in order to win God’s mercy – that mercy is offered freely in God our Saviour. Instead, Paul insists that Christians live this way in order to “make the teaching of the church attractive.”
Nothing would be more questionable in the first century than a slave who loved his master, or a self-controlled young man, or an old woman who didn’t engage in slander. In other words, this was Paul’s recipe for a questionable life in his time. Our challenge is to find what similarly questionable lives look like in the 21st century.
There’s an old communication theory that goes: when predictability is high, impact is low. In other words, when the audience thinks they know what you’re going to say, and you go ahead and say it, it makes very little impact. On the other hand, when an audience is surprised or intrigued they will think long and hard about what they’ve heard.
Those of us who are not gifted evangelists need to foster habits in our lives that draw us out into the lives of unbelievers and invite the kinds of questions that lead to evangelistic sharing. If our only habits are going to church and attending meetings, it’s not going to connect us with unbelievers nor invite their curiosity about our faith.
The trick is to develop habits that unite us together as believers, while also propelling us into the lives of others. We also need habitual practices that don’t just deplete our energy and burn us out, but which re-energize us, replenishing our reserves and connecting us more deeply to Jesus. I have seen the following habits do just that.
The five habits of highly missional people are:
- BLESS I will bless three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of our church
- EAT I will eat with three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of our church
- LISTEN I will spend at least one period of the week listening for the Spirit’s voice
- LEARN I will spend at least one period of the week learning Christ
- SENT I will journal throughout the week all the ways I alerted others to the universal reign of God through Christ