Evangelism: Paul in Greece 2012
I penned these reflections on the final day of a ten day “Paul in Greece” tour. As I gazed that evening from my fifth floor window of my Athens hotel, the ancient Acropolis was in full view with the Parthenon shining like a new dime (they literally light it up at night). As I stood on Mars Hill a few days earlier, I tried to imagine the Apostle Paul among the intellectual elite of this city and determined to learn evangelism from the master evangelist. So I immersed myself in Paul and in Greece. After reading and re-reading the Acts account and traveling the country, I now much more easily imagined sitting on the Acropolis and listening to this driven man with a strange new message for the Athenians…and perhaps an even stranger message for us today. Here is what I heard:
1. Paul had a clear message. Paul preached Christ crucified and resurrected. This would offend both his Jewish and Greek audiences. The sense of the Jews could not get past the fact Paul claimed the promised Messiah had already come and gone and Israel was still under Roman occupation. The sensibilities of the Greeks could not get past the idea that a Jew crucified by the Romans, rose from the dead and was the one, true God. Paul had two distinct and almost mutually exclusive audiences with neither particularly predisposed to welcome his message but still he preached.
2. Paul was bi-cultural. Paul was a Jewish Roman citizen from cosmopolitan Tarsus in Asia Minor, trained under the most famous of the Jewish teachers in Jerusalem and had plenty of Frequent Flier Miles. When it came to evangelizing his world, he had a Jewish gill and a Roman lung. He knew both cultures, lived in both cultures and could communicate with both cultures using language, illustrations and metaphors his respective audience understood.
3. Paul was relentless. Paul was a zealot when Christ “knocked him off his high horse” and remained a zealot. He clearly had the same motor, Jesus hooked it to a new transmission. He had wanderlust in his bones and took Christ with him. Paul preached everywhere he went and kept teaching regardless of warmth of his reception or the intensity of his rejection.
4. Paul expected hardship. Every day Paul chose to proclaim Christ was a day that his life was again put in harm’s way. He also caused hardship for others. Paul would come into a Greek city and disturb the peace. When he was chased out of town he left both new converts and intensified persecution of the Christian friends who he left behind him. There were casualties.
5. Paul lived lean. Paul was a tentmaker and earned his keep as he traveled and preached. Places like Corinth provided good ministry opportunities but also provide good work. He made no demands for hospitality or comfort and gladly suffered that his message not be compromised. By not being attached to material things, he freed his life for evangelism.
6. Paul knew his rights. Paul was a Roman Citizen and played that card when he desired. He was not content to be devoured by persecution without biting back a bit. Though Paul was technically a martyr, he did not have a martyr complex. He had a clear call, knew the law and shoved on things that needed to move.
7. Paul expected success in ministry. When he entered a city, he expected to find local human building blocks for the church he would leave behind. He mentored traveling companions and left them to lead churches. He expected to raise money for the Jerusalem church from people who could have cared less about the Jerusalem church.
Four Evangelistic Conclusions
1. We lack a clear, central message. We have become a faith of messages, rather than a message. I am stunned by how much competition “Christ crucified and resurrected” has for the central message of the Christian faith.
2. Clergy are culturally disconnected. I am around professional clergy on a regular basis who I find caring, committed, intelligent and compassionate. However, many could not function outside of the church subculture. There is something about the professional clergy track that seems to disconnect clergy from regular folks on one hand and draws folks who never really did connect on the other.
3. We are tentative. Seminaries seem to get the dander of their students up about almost every cause but the cause of evangelism. The last time I was on a seminary campus I saw posters about taking a stand against cock fighting but couldn’t find a thing about inviting people to Jesus. We seem to value activists far more than evangelists but frankly, most Christians are neither activistic nor evangelistic; they are just really nice. No one in Greece described Paul as really nice.
4. We lack expectation. In a national church environment of general decline, what little evangelism we do, seems to be done without expectation. Churches often engage in poor marketing and consider it failed evangelism. Even when we play, we don’t play to win.
Four Evangelistic Recommendations
1. Churches effective in evangelism need to become teaching churches. Any church of any size that has doubled in worship attendance in the past five years, with over half their new members being new Christians, has a compelling story to tell.
2. Evangelistically effective churches must be willing to leave their comfort zones. We have gone multi-site. I know how to do church in one location but I am just learning how to take that energy to other locations. I am only over my head on days ending with “Y.”
3. Develop evangelism triggers. Ask yourself, “Where in our church construct are people openly challenged to engage Christ?” Evangelistically effective churches have strategic triggers to confront people with the opportunity for personal conversion.
4. Take some risks. Ministry is going to give you ulcers whether you are effective or not, so why not risk effectiveness? I would challenge pastors and congregations to take one great evangelistic risk this upcoming year. Try what you would try if you knew you could not fail. This is what Paul did everywhere he traveled…and especially in Greece.