Unit 1.15 Systemic Problem #4: STRANGER EVANGELISM

Systemic Problem #4:  STRANGER EVANGELISM

Human societies are actually living social networks of relationships where each person is linked by diverse forms of kinship. A gospel that spreads along human kinship networks will eventually unite people across all ethnic and socioeconomic barriers. Jesus, John Wesley and third world cell churches evangelize along these existing human networks and extend them. Systems prevent effective evangelism when they rely on preaching or any other mass media communication while ignoring the power of individual conversations to change lives.

Leadership is influence. Influence exists only within relationships. The work of the pastor is to equip the saints for the work of ministry; that ministry is the building up the body of Christ. The work of ministry to which the saints are called is specifically oikodomeo (oικoδoμεω), translated in the New Testament as either Abuilding up@ or Aedifying@ but can be understood in modern terminology as networking, linking, or connecting. The common element in every diverse  ministry of the saints should be the relational task of building community between individuals.[1]

Conversion is more directly related to relational influences on an individual than any other factor.[2] Building up the body of Christ literally means building true community between the members and, by extension, with potential converts. The kingdom of God spreads from person to person within human networks of influence. Modern culture hungers for this sort of relational, nurturing intimacy in a world growing more disconnected. As the church is the primary builder of social networks, the decrease in social capital is both a cause and a result of the decline of church participation in America.[3] The church is failing in the work of building and maintaining the bridges of God between people.

There were no strangers in Wesley=s Methodism. Wesley=s followers performed acts of mercy toward their neighbors and included them in lifelong small relational groups for ongoing support and encouragement. Wesley resolved not to preach where he could not include everyone in class meetings for spiritual community: I was more convinced then ever that the preaching like an apostle without joining together those that are awakened and training them up in the ways of God is only begetting children for the murderer. How much preaching has there been for these twenty years all over Pembrokeshire! But no regular societies, no discipline, no order or connexion; and the consequence is, that nine in ten of the once-awakened are now faster asleep than ever.[4] To convert people without the relational support that will disciple them fully toward sanctification is like fathering children and then abandoning them.

Acts of evangelism and acts of mercy to strangers, if they do not result in ongoing relationships that heal, support and spiritually nurture, are fundamentally selfish acts that disregard the commandment to love our neighbor; this is why it is always easier to Awitness@ to strangers. The attraction paradigm combined with evangelism as a salvation event has resulted in the approach of inviting persons to worship where they arrive as strangers, worship with strangers, leave as strangers, and remain strangers. Consumer Christians “don’t want to get involved.” If the gospel spreads only through relational networks, one certain way to avoid stress and overcrowding in churches is to focus evangelistic efforts upon strangers and away from people that Christians personally know and with whom they interact on a weekly basis.

[1]Ephesians 4:12. I prefer the Atriple definition of the one purpose@ interpretation by Markus Barth in AVI. The Church Without Laymen and Priests@ in Ephesians: Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1974), 34a:477-484. The saints are equipped for missional acts of service which result in the relational community of oικoδoμεω.

[2]Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 7-13. Cf. Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 114-138.

[3]Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000),  65-79, 391-392, 408-410.For more information, see the Workshop Materials section of this course.

[4]John Wesley, AJournal@ (August 25, 1763), The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), 3:144. This reflects a 90% loss of the faithful when there is worship available in the parish church without participation in a cell type network community as a means of sanctifying grace.

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