From Leader to Leader – Evangelism Phobia

(Summary of a Podcast by Gerry Pool)

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

I was listening to a Church Leaders Podcast, with host Jason Day, where he interviewed Gerry Pool, a well-known, outreach strategist, church planter, best-seller author, and lead pastor.

I appreciated Gerry’s simple ideas on how we can embody God’s mission as we reach those in our circle of influence, who need a Savior.  Gerry is best known for shifting church cultures and turning up the evangelistic temperature of its members. 

In this particular episode, Gerry shared why he thinks many churches are struggling with evangelism. He suggests that adopting a multi-generational approach, creating trust among those who are not believers and being intentional about evangelism without seeing unsaved people merely as the end result of a project, is foundational. 

The premise is that most churches are struggling with evangelism.  A majority of churches are rating themselves a “3”—on a scale of 1-10—with some pastors even rating themselves in negative numbers.  Many Christians report they don’t know what their church’s evangelistic expectations even are. Gerry reminds his listeners that evangelistic conversations typically will not take place by chance.  Actually, they tend to take place when we have intentionally prayed and planned to be open to the Spirit’s promptings about who, how and when to have these transformational conversations.

Some people are quick to excuse themselves from evangelistic conversations by arguing that these are not their gift; however, if we are disciples of Jesus, we need to become fishers of men as our divine Master was.  Gerry’s evangelistic approach is organic and natural, but also very intentional.  As he presents his approach to groups, he likes to start with a simple exercise that he recommends as part of evangelism training. After the group is divided in half, one half is asked to: “discuss all the reasons you think non-Christians avoid Christians”.  The other half is asked to “discuss all the reasons Christians avoid non-Christians”.  He gives both groups 15-20 minutes to come up with some bullet points identifying why this mutual avoidant phenomenon exists and what the primary challenges are to engage with non-Christians. 

Gerry believes that many Christian are afraid to witness because they may be asked questions that they don’t know, because they are afraid that their friends will think they just became “projects”, or because they’re afraid of not being politically correct.  On the other hand, non-Christians are often afraid they are going to be judged, preached at, sermonized, not heard, and may even feel devalued in the process.

Gerry developed a strategy to minimize these common obstacles while honoring non-Christians and facilitating engagement in spiritual conversations.  He calls his strategy 3-D-1 and believes that this is a user-friendly framework to help an average Christian feel more comfortable about becoming a mission-focused disciple.

Identify One-life

One person in your sphere of influence who is far from God, someone where you live, work or play; one person that you can pray for and eventually strike a spiritual conversation with. Pick one person that God has put on your heart to reach.  Don’t make him/her “a project”. Be intentional about creating a genuine friendship as you keep in mind that this person really matters to God and therefore, should matter to you. Once you have identified your One-life, you are ready for the 3D’s.

Develop Friendship

Develop an ongoing, authentic, genuine friendship.  This friendship should be intentionally grounded on common interests, with the purpose of developing bridges that will eventually develop trust.

Discover Stories

This is the paradigm shift in evangelism.  Invite Christians to develop the curiosity to discover the stories of their One-life. Ask questions and really listen and understand where people are coming from, which typically is not a Christian perspective. Discover their life stories and explore their life experiences.  The emphasis here is that we, as Christians, need to earn the right to tell our stories by listening and being curious about learning the story of the One-life before we tell our story and share the story of Jesus.  “In other words, seek to understand before you seek to be understood”—explains Gerry.  “You show empathy, learn their perspective, learn to see things through their eyes”.  This develops trust because you learn to care for and deeply value your One-life friend.

Discern Next Step

We ask Christians to pray and rely on the wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to determine what the next best step to take with your One-life is.  “We ask people to pray—says Gerry—”so based on a person’s story we can discern what is the best next step in their spiritual development.”  Is it to just continue hanging out, or to invite them to dinner, or start Bible studies? Is it an invitation to a small group or church?  Or maybe we’ll be prompted to invite them to accept Jesus into their lives.

This method is an organic, natural way of reaching out to the non-Christians in our spheres of influence without making them feel uncomfortable, judged, or as objects of a project.  As we go through our summer and the rest of this year, can you think of One-person that you can start praying for that you can eventually strike a spiritual conversation with?  Perhaps the focused intentionality in your prayers might change everything; after all, Jesus said “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7,8).  Would you be willing to try out this simple, 3-D-1 method and possibly experience God not only taking away your fear/apprehensions about evangelism, but actually surprising you with unexpected transformational friendships, as you become a joy-filled fisher of men?

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