Is there any more fundamental and tricky question when it comes to evangelism and church planting than “How much, and how fast?“?
Acts is all over the place
There are “evangelism explosions” in the book of Acts. There are also effective instances of “lifestyle evangelism”. There are instances of bold, public proclamation. There long “inquirers’ classes”. There is much constraint upon proclamation at times in the public square. There is unhindered proclamation while missionaries are in chains.
Sheesh. This doesn’t help.
Our heroes would be disappointed
How much? How fast? I’ve got neighbors, friends, co-workers. I have the greatest news ever. I have a wonderful Savior. I love, really love, my neighbors, friends, and co-workers who very much need Jesus. I feel like a slacker. I feel like I’m pushy. I feel like Bill Bright would be ashamed of me for not being direct and punctual. I feel like D. James Kennedy would scold me for not being … explosive. I feel like Tim Keller would shake his head at me for not referencing The Atlantic and The New York Times. I feel like Billy Graham would scratch his head that I’m not renting a stadium.
What’s Paul up to?
What’s interesting is that Paul gets a shot at making a gospelicious, public defense of his faith before King Agrippa and a whole slew of others. Agrippa seems to feel uneasy about how personal Paul is getting in his litigation.
“In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28)
Oops! Paul is rushing things! Relax, Paul. Practice some basic Gospel Neighboring.
Paul’s response is delightful:
“Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Does Paul have 5 minutes before a crowd? He’ll winsomely build a bridge from wherever the crowd is to where he and Jesus are, and double-dog-dare one and all to come on over. Does Paul have a couple months on the island of Malta? He’ll heal the sick and tell them of Jesus, sometimes being called accursed and sometimes being thought to be a god himself. Does Paul have 2 years under arrest in Caesarea or Rome? He’ll start an inquirer’s class that develops into an urban monastic order.
One key observation to make is this: No matter what the occasion, Paul sought to be a ‘gospel neighbor’. His question was not so much “who is my neighbor?” but “what would it look and sound like for me to be a good-news neighbor, considering how much time I have, and who I’m being called to neighbor with the gospel?”
Paul helps me believe that, by being a gospel neighbor, I can see Jesus claim people lickedy-split through my public proclamation, and I can see Jesus claim people slowly-but-surely over the course of years as we share a neighborhood.
How much? How fast?
Instead, how about ‘What next? What now?’
These questions can be prayers instead of attempts to channel our evangelistic heroes. And they make us accountable to act with urgency and patience: urgency with respect to the next thing Jesus calls us to do; patience with respect to what Jesus has in mind for their spiritual journey.
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