(Charis-)Missional Evangelism

(Charis-)Missional Evangelism

By Brother Maynard.

What heady days the 1980s were for us charismatics, regardless which stripe of charismaticism we claimed. It was not uncommon for people to flock to the site of the latest "outpouring" of God’s Spirit, and to find supernatural events taking place. One of the standard hallmarks of charismatic evangelism at the time was the belief in "Signs and Wonders," or as it was sometimes called, "Signs and Wimbers." John Wimber wrote Power Evangelism with Kevin Springer in 1986, and it was followed two years later by John White’s When the Spirit Comes With Power: Signs and Wonders Among God’s People. Charismatics When the Spirit Comes With Power: Signs and Wonders Among God's People Power Evangelism at the time argued the continuation of the charismata, and were finding increasing acceptance among evangelicalism during what Peter Wagner called the "Third Wave of the Holy Spirit" (formerly neocharismatics). The Vineyard movement even managed to poach an ex-Dallas professor right out of the heart of dispensationalism.

In his book, John "Power evangelism is a spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, empowered presentation of the gospel." Wimber defined "power evangelism":

By power evangelism I mean a presentation of the gospel that is rational but that also transcends the rational. The explanation of the gospel comes with a demonstration of God’s power through signs and wonders. Power evangelism is a spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, empowered presentation of the gospel. Power evangelism is evangelism that is preceded and undergirded by supernatural demonstrations of God’s presence. (p.35)

It was argued generally that we shouldn’t settle for traditional models of evangelism, but look to the Holy Spirit for power encounters where supernatural gifts might aid in the presentation (and acceptance) of the gospel — as Jesus and the early apostles had done. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the 1980s and into the early 1990s produced a reexamination of the question of evangelism, and it certainly needed reconsidering. By the early 1980s, evangelism had consisted for the prior two decades largely of tractivism and confrontation, which made "the unsaved" into evangelistic targets. Missiological thinking at the time was reconsidering what it meant to reach every nation, and had redefineded the Greek word ethnos to mean "people group," meaning we had more target groups.

While the charismatics were convinced that evangelism should be characterized by power encounters, non-charismatics were writing about lifestyle evangelism. People Out of the Saltshaker & into the World: Evangelism As a Way of Life Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You like Joseph Aldrich, Rebecca Manley Pippert, and Jim Petersen were advocating Evangelism As a Lifestyle — just getting to know people and letting the subject of faith come up naturally. It was argued that we shouldn’t rely on models of evangelism which hinged on confrontation or tract-bombing, but that we should first get to know people in their homes and the places where they interact and hang out, sharing our lives with them — as Jesus and the early apostles had done.

The astute reader will have noted two separate reactions to pre-1980 evangelistic models, each with counter-proposals based on the example of Jesus and the early church. While neither one rejected proclamation, the two proposals were nevertheless divergent in their focus. Proponents of power evangelism might conclude that lifestyle evangelism is slow and ineffective, while proponents of lifestyle evangelism might conclude that power evangelism relies too heavily on supernatural manifestations, which discredits the gospel if you have a dry spell between supernatural events. Of course, the problem with examining what Jesus and the early church did and calling it the model is that we can still come up with opposing viewpoints. We may also conclude that we should be hanging out and preaching to first-century Jews in Synagogues to make our evangelism more effective.

In the emerging missional church, we’re heavily into the whole "everything old is new again" way of "ancient-future" thinking. And even though a good many people in the movement may not be able to tell you many memories from the 1980s beyond their favorite cartoons at the time, we won’t consider it ancient history just yet. If that disqualifies the writings of the 80s as too recent, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West...Again we might be prepared to look back perhaps to Saint Patrick to validate this line of thinking. It turns out St. Pat was a "take it to the people" kind of guy — George Hunter described his methods as essentially being among the people. In concluding his description of a Celtic way of evangelism, he quotes a Chinese poem:

Go to the people.
Live among them.
Learn from them.
Love them.
Start with what they know.
Build on what they have. (p.120)

I confess I’ve always had an issue with what we call evangelism. Out of the urge to proclaim the gospel, Christians have tended to enter each exchange with a "non-believer" looking for an opportunity to "share their faith," and later rate the "success" of the encounter by that yardstick. The redefinitions of evangelism from the 80’s did little to change this in my experience, and it eventually dawned on me that you don’t share your faith, you demonstrate it. In matters of salvation, shared faith doesn’t work, as saving faith remains an individual requirement. In some measure or another, either you have it or you don’t… but you can’t borrow anyone else’s even if they’re quite happy to share it. In this sense, the sharing of one’s faith always seemed to me to be more for the benefit of the share-er than that of the share-ee. Faith, if it is worth anything at all, must first be lived.

What can we share? I propose we share our lives. If our faith is active, if we are living it, the sharing of our lives puts our faith in proximity with others… and opportunities both for proclamation and demonstration will result in natural contexts. By "proclamation" here, I mean a dialogue of inquiry and response, and by "demonstration" I mean praying for people in a low-key way and showing the example of one’s faith applied to daily life.

These twin realizations led me to coin the phrase which became not only the tagline for my blog, but also a kind of manifesto for what it means to live missionally. I submit that this manifesto is the essence of missional evangelism:
"Live your faith. Share your life."
I submit that this manifesto is the essence of missional evangelism: "Live your faith. Share your life." If faith is lived, it will be evident in the life you share.

I believe it may be seen that if one practices the charismata in their life, the sharing of that life will display the charismata. That is, in the context of lifestyle evangelism, being attentive to the Holy Spirit is most likely provide opportunity for the demonstration of the gospel in what Wimber called a power encounter… but likely not every time. In lifestyle evangelism, we might find a 1980s expression of missional living, but in the integration of these two divergent evangelistic models, we may find an expression of evangelism which some have begun to call charismissional.

As a bit of an aside, I have strong reservations with the term "charismissional." If we are to absorb the lessons concerning evangelism that we’ve been drawing from the charismatic debates of the 1980s, let us learn that division is unhelpful to the cause. While the charismatics of the 80s were happy to be as "set apart" from dispensationalism as they were "set apart" from the world, I hope that a couple decades of maturing will have taught us that we’re after a common goal. Since the essence of missional is to be among people and to share our lives with them, let’s not fragment a good thing by labeling parts of it as charis- and others, well, not. It was denominationalism that taught us to label ourselves by beliefs and pratices which were distinct from our bretheren… and denominationalism is something of an antithesis to missional endeavour. Rather than label ourselves with a prefix meaning "grace," let’s just show it and be known by that instead. The early church did not pick the label of "Christians" for themselves, they were called that by outsiders because they were like Christ. Let’s follow their example, shall we?

I understand anecdotally (which is to say I cannot locate the source of the quote) that some years after writing Power Evangelism, John Wimber acknowledged a fatal flaw in its use as an evangelistic model. The flaw, he reportedly said, is that power evangelism assumes that other forms are already taking place, and that power evangelism occurs in that context. Whether Wimber actually said this or not, I want to highlight it as a fully accurate observation. In the sharing of our lives, the gospel advances. If the charismata are a part of our life, let them be shared in the same way. Whether there will be signs and wonders following is left with God alone, and it is left to us to neither manufacture nor hinder a power encounter …which goal we undertake always with one ear to the voice of the Spirit.

Brother Maynard is a respected thinker and blogger in the growing emerging missional church movement. He has written articles for Allelon.org, EmergingChurch.info, and Wikiklesia.org as well as published extensively on his blog.  He has sat on various discussion panels in public seminars on the emerging/missional church in Winnipeg, Canada, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.  Under his real name, he is a freelance writer and normal guy attempting to live his faith and share his life as best he can.