As I mentioned in my previous post, the final talk at the London Men’s Convention on Saturday was given by Rico Tice. Rico Tice is an associate minister at All Soul’s Langham Place, with a particular responsibility for evangelism (he is the main driving force behind the Christianity Explored programme). As he explained in his talk, he regards the actual practice of evangelism by himself as only a small part of his ministry, with his main focus being on equipping the saints for sharing the gospel themselves.
Now, there are two main problems with the way “personal evangelism” gets dealt with by much of evangelicalism. First, guilt-tripping: people are made to feel that, if they are not constantly “sharing their faith” then they are (a) second-rate Christians, and (b) personally responsible for the eventual damnation of their friends and relations. This all tends to cement evangelicalism’s reputation as a religion for extroverts in which more introverted and withdrawn types feel very ill at ease.
Second, what Ranald Macaulay has called “the virus of technique“: “personal evangelism” becomes a matter of finding the right “gospel outline” – Two Ways to Live, say, or the Four Spiritual Laws – and training people to use that outline. (Note: I’m not saying that good quality gospel presentations such as 2WTL don’t have a place, just that building personal evangelism programmes around them can lead to a “technique” mentality, in which the aim is delivering certain content to people rather than genuine communication with them as individuals.)
Neither of these tendencies had been entirely absent from the earlier sessions on Saturday (good and valuable though much of the earlier talks, by Al Stewart and Richard Coekin, had been). There is a natural tendency for an event specifically addressing itself to men to head towards a very “activist” approach to Christianity. So I was heartened to see that Rico had chosen, as the text for his talk on “How do I share the gospel?”, Colossians 4:2-6:
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.
Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
Taking this text as his start point, Rico set out the following model for how we can share the gospel:
1. Devote yourselves to prayer
Here is the antidote to “technique”-oriented approaches to evangelism: prayer. Rico quoted the Scottish minister Eric Alexander, who had stood up at the end of a seminar on “evangelising postmoderns” to insist with some vehemence that “The principal method of evangelism in all ages is prayer“.
As Rico pointed out, quoting 2 Corinthians 4:4,6, for our non-believing friends and family members to turn to Christ needs a miracle. It is not a case of finding the right method that will do the trick: the “god of this age” has blinded people’s minds and hearts so that they cannot believe unless the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” performs a similar miracle in their own hearts.
So Rico encouraged us to “devote ourselves to prayer”, in particular praying for our friends and family members by name (something about which I’ve become rather lax in recent years). This in turn will give us an awareness of the needs of those for whom we pray, and of opportunities for us to serve them. Which brings us to Rico’s second point.
2. Pray for wisdom and for opportunities to serve
As Rico put it:
“Is your life the sort of life that makes people ask questions about God, and is your conversation the sort of conversation that answers them?”
What sort of life does this? One of genuine service of others (“…ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake”). This is not about service only for ulterior motives, to put people in our debt so that they will then listen to the gospel. It is about finding ways to serve other people’s interests out of love for them.
This called to mind the Lutheran perspective on vocation and service of others: namely, that we do not serve our neighbour in order to serve God, but to serve our neighbour. God shows his love to us in the gospel, and we then show our gratitude through love for our neighbour. This love has no ulterior motive – such as achieving salvation or sanctification – because all those things are given to us by grace through the promises of the gospel.
Similarly, this love and service does not have the ulterior motive of seeking an “opportunity for the gospel”. Those opportunities, if they come, come solely by the grace of God, not as a result of our manoeuvring and manipulation (which people are very quick to notice, and to resent).
More negatively, Rico drew our attention to:
…those things we say or do that make it difficult for us to share the gospel.
In other words, the things we say or do that make us then feel it would be hypocritical for us then to share the gospel with people. This may be major moral compromises, or it may simply be what Screwtape describes as the “subtle play of looks and tones and laughs by which a mortal can imply that he is of the same party as those to whom he is speaking”.
3. Get the Bible open with people
If and when opportunities do arise for us to share the gospel, how are we to do this? Again, Rico Tice’s approach was refreshingly free of a “cookie-cutter”, technique-oriented approach. He urged us that our aim should be to open the Bible with people, and he invited everyone in the hall to practice his key question out loud, together:
“Would you like to look at the Bible with me?”
One of Rico’s most helpful contributions from other talks I have heard is his use of Mark’s gospel for evangelism, and I hope to post something on that shortly. He also took us to the passage that converted him, Psalm 103:13-17, which a friend read with him, “in five minutes between tennis sets”, at a time when the 16-year old Rico was mourning the recent death of his beloved godfather.
As Rico pointed out, one benefit of opening the Bible with people is that it gets us straight to the Word of God. It also gets people off to the right start in seeing the Bible as the source for answers to their questions about God, and the place where his promises can be found. (To quote James White’s line, “What you win with is what you win them to”). And, while it does involve crossing what he called “the pain barrier”, it is less of a barrier to cross than some approaches; and if people say “no” you can back off quite easily.
While I can’t claim to have much of a record when it comes to personal evangelism – see my grumbling about extroverts and introverts at the start of this post! – the one time when God has used me to advance someone in/towards faith in Christ came through using Rico Tice’s outline for Mark’s gospel.
I was delighted to hear Rico Tice speak again on Saturday. I first heard him back in 1994, and have always found him a very helpful and encouraging speaker. Most writers or speakers on evangelism make you feel completely inadequate, as they describe effortlessly striking up edifying conversations on the train or while buying a newspaper. Rico makes you think, “Hey! I could do this!”
As I’ve tried to make clear above, what I particularly appreciate is that what is describing is not some magical “technique” for effective evangelism. Rather, he is advocating taking what should already be central to our lives as Christians – prayer, service of others, reading the Bible – and doing them with a greater degree of mindfulness. Or as Paul puts it in Colossians 4:2, “keeping alert”.