Beyond Proclaiming Christ

Where We’ve Been

In the 1940s Billy Graham became one of Youth for Christ’s first full-time evangelists. In post-World War II America, he took to the airwaves and spoke at rallies around the world. Thousands responded. And, in some ways, modern-day evangelicalism was born.

Back then the Bible was taught in schools. It was a regular part of the curriculum for high school students to memorize John 3 or Romans 8 as part of their Bible classes. Church attendance was way up, too. Culturally, America was much more Christian than it is today.

The roots of most of what we call “evangelism” today are tied to this heritage. It’s all built on the premise that most Americans have a working knowledge of the Bible, that they believe in God. and look at the world through a somewhat Christian worldview. I’ve never attended a evangelistic rally, youth event or church service where the Gospel was presented, or anything in between that didn’t have these as working assumptions.

In proclamation evangelism the role of the speaker is to connect the dots in people’s heads. They’ve heard of God. They know who He is. They have read parts of the Bible. They’ve attended church in the past so are comfortable with the format. The speaker and evangelistic rally really puts it all together and creates an emotional, religious experience, and then calls them home.

I’m not going to say that the proclamational evangelistic rally doesn’t work anymore. But if you attend one today you’ll see that most of the people who go aren’t regular Joe’s– they are Christians who came to see a Christian band but are willing to hang out to hear the speaker. And for some of those perhaps the proclamational-style is what they need so they respond?

But take someone completely unchurched? Say, a neighbor whose parents didn’t take them to church and they think Christianity is a crock? Or, like the Average Joe in America believes that if they are a good person they’ll be OK in the end. It’s too weird for them. I know because I’ve done it. A bunch. And I’ve had to go back and apologize one-too-many-times to the point where I’d never invite another friend.

It’s not that I don’t believe, as an evangelical, that I need to share my faith. It’s that I think that for the people in my life the proclamational gospel message should be replaced with a methodology that reflects today’s culture– one that is three generations removed from the Bible being taught in schools and 50% of Americans attending church each Sunday morning.

Here’s what I’ve learned

We live in a post-Christian world. We live in a pluralistic society where Christianity is one of several religions on every block. (Go ahead, walk down your block and ask all of your neighbors what religion they’d ascribe to. I dare you.)

And every day another person, claiming to be a Christian, is deemed newsworthy because they have defrauded people, or gotten away with child molestation, or supported some right-wing cause in the name of God. For skeptics or self-proclaimed agnostics or leavers or  even members of other faiths… each of these reinforces a stereotype or an idea that Christians are ____.

They simply don’t know any Christians who are legit, like you.

The Age of Living the Gospel

In a post-Christian world you are going to have to live the Gospel before your friends, family, and neighbors to the point where you are asked, “What is it about the way you live that I can have?” Or “I don’t know any other Christians like you. What makes you different than what I see on TV?

Within pluralism, experience trumps information. Experiencing the Gospel through a neighbor’s goodness, kindness, grace, and love cuts through the stereotypes and defies logic’s last stand. It’s not that information isn’t important. It’s that information isn’t trusted until the source is trust and that trust is validated through experience.

You see, it’s not that I don’t proclaim Christ. It’s that I let my very life do the talking.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~ Jesus said this in Matthew 5:16

We now live in a world where the person with the microphone and the big crowd is less trusted than the guy who mows his lawn every Saturday morning. You are legit while the person on the platform is a potential suspect.

In a post-Christian world, people will hear Good News only after they’ve experienced Good News from you.

The challenge for you is this: Do you have the guts to live a life that reflects Christ? 

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Photo credits: Billy Graham in the 1940s Youth for Christ Peoria, Jack Ryan mowing lawns by Liam Ryan via Flickr (Creative Commons)






9 responses to “Beyond Proclaiming Christ”

  1. Jared Dilley Avatar
    Jared Dilley

    I agree proclamation rallys do not work. I would say personal proclamation is more important than ever. And while we must live out kindness and justice as we do it i have seen far too many christians who never move from good deeds to witness.

  2. Andy Gill Avatar

    I agree i don’t think the rally’s are bad, but aren’t necessarily the most efficient form of evangelism. Loving ones neighbor, co workers, guy you see at the coffee shop everyday, by building a friendship with him is far more beneficial… 

  3. John Carson Avatar
    John Carson

    Personally, I find that living a life that reflects Christ isn’t the part that requires “guts”.  My difficulty, and most often my failure, is to have the guts the step forward and verbalize to the Average Joe that their sin is an infinite offense to God but can be pardoned at the Cross. 
    Living a life that reflects Christ (opening my home to neighbors and their kids, mowing their lawns/shoveling their driveways, making cookies, being engaged/charitable/loving, etc.) actually improves my stature in their eyes.  But when I open my mouth to talk about Romans, God’s law, the exclusivity of Christ, etc…..that’s when I’m the religious nutjob who went off the reservation.  And of course we all want to look respectable….

  4. Jon Wasson Avatar

    Evangelism is boring. I don’t mean that being a witness to God’s action in the world is boring. I mean evangelism. The kind of recruitment slash get-as-many-on-the-team as possible type. The problem with critiquing what you call proclamation evangelism and then replacing it with lifestyle evangelism (which has been suggested elsewhere for decades) is that both operate upon the assumption that our duty is to find the best method to get people to believe. I think that’s a faulty assumption saturated in pragmatism. Evangelism, the witnessing to God’s action in world kind, ought to first ask, what is faithful to who God is? Is God the kind of God who exploits human freedom and uses relationship or rally to recruit the sinner? Or is God the kind of God who comes to human beings in relationship to share our humanity and in doing so tell us a great deal about the kind of God he is? Furthermore, the idea that we are living a life so different that people see us and want it is absurd. Why? Because the gospel is absurd. The living out of the gospel faithfully, at least in America, ought to beckon the kind of responses Prince Myshkin from Dostoevsky’s Idiot received. Who witnesses people sharing in suffering, forgiving at high costs, loving their neighbors, and embodying the invitation of Jesus to come and die and just says…”yep, that’s what I’ve been missing!!”? What lifestyle evangelism and confrontational evangelism both fail to recognize is that God is working regardless of method. So asking the question ‘how we convert’ instead of asking the question ‘who God is’ will always be shallow and boring.

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      Jon- I think you’ve put words or assigned a methodology to what I’ve said. I am describing a lifestyle of living the Gospel in my neighborhood. One that, believe it or not, leaves friends and neighbors asking me “What is that and how can I live like that?” It’s not propositional or proclamational, its embodying the fullness of the Gospel by living among rather than a posture of ministering to. 

      1. Jon Wasson Avatar

        I apologize, maybe I misunderstood you. So, you’re not saying that you live among those people so that your relationship might be used as a way to evangelize? Because it seems like your challenge is to live a life that reflects Christ so that other people will think, “I want to be Christian too!” I just don’t know if that happens. Nor do I think it really even aligns with Christ’s invitation to ‘come and die.’ How is that attractive? Or is it that Christians with this understanding of evangelism paint a picture of being Christian that is simply untrue to make it attractive?

        1. Adam McLane Avatar

          Again, I think you are applying the word evangelize when I’m not sure I’d say my life (or lifestyle) is out to evangelize. Sorry if I’m getting caught on semantics… that word just is so loaded. 

          I think my point is that if we would stop with the titles and stop with trying to “win” people… and just lived like Jesus told us to live, that’s far more attractive than anything I could ever say. 

          “Because it seems like your challenge is to live a life that reflects Christ so that other people will think, “I want to be Christian too!” I just don’t know if that happens.”

          Honestly, it happens. 

  5. Bradley Buhro Avatar

    Are you familiar at all with Thom Rainer’s books on the unchurched, particularly “The Unchurched Next Door”?  Because while I certainly don’t disagree with anything you’ve written, and I both understand and appreciate the challenge to be a living witness you present here, I do wonder just how accurate the assumption that we are living in a post-Christian world really is.  While it is certainly increasingly post-Christian, Rainer’s research seems to suggest there are still a lot of unchurched people out there who, for the most part, respect the clergy, have positive feelings towards the church, recognize the Bible as having authority and live with at least a partially-Biblical worldview.  Admittedly Rainer’s methodology was more anecdotal than scientific; they conducted extensive interviews with a small (c 300) sample of unchurched people rather than sending surveys to a larger representative sample.  But still, I wonder if sometimes we don’t proclaim because we assume people aren’t ready and willing to hear our proclamation, when in fact, the Holy Spirit has them ready and eager to hear the Word and they’re left wondering why so many Christians won’t say anything to them.  I don’t have the book with me at the moment, but actually in his research those who’d fall into what you’d call “post-Christian” were actually in the minority of the unchurched.

  6. Joshua Bishop Avatar

    Evangelistic rally’s can be helpful to Christian teens to know there are others out there, and Speaking from a stance as a Youth for Christ Staffer relationships are key to reaching lost kids for Christ.  I always find it interesting in the Bible when Evangelism is mentioned that Discipleship is with it.  I work with a majority of nonbelieveing teens, and one thing that I would say is most of those teens know more about Christianity than their church attending counterparts.  Not because they believe everything is true about the Bible, but because we have discipled them in a relationship to see Biblical truth either directly or indirectly from the Bible.  I will admit it has a lot of hard work and heart break especially when a kid you have seen grow close to a decision for Christ gets busted for possession or something else, but they know who cared and go back to that relationship a relationship that should have Christ if not in it starting into it. 
    Today (and the last 20 odd years) YFC is using what is called 3Story Evangelism.  (God’s Story, My Story, My Friends Story) Simplifying Evangelism / Discipleship the relationships to Abiding in Christ, Listening to my friends story getting to know the true them, and learning my personal story, strengths/weaknesses and all.  Then connecting stories.  This allows Students who don’t know Christ as their savior hear about the real Jesus of the Bible and become attractive to them.  I have seen in the last year students who grew apathetic in the Bible take on a new excitement (and get back into church) when for the first time they saw they can use the Bible to reach friends relationally and not lose those friendships.  I have grown tired of “Evangelistic Rally’s” that are only that in name and call nonchristians out to praise and worship times.  That was not meant for them, they have not found a reason to praise God…yet.  But Evangelistic Rally’s that are used to train and equip, not just create a short excitement but a life model of relational evangelism.  Training kids to do something that seems almost lost on this generation, build relationships on who we are and not just playing the latest hot video game.  This Opens paths to deeper friendship where honesty can reign and Christ can enter.  It does take time, sometimes a long time.  This can be a relationship of pursuit, not just of getting numbers, although the numbers come with duplication of your believers as they choose to believe.  I have had more kids make decisions at rally’s than in relationships but the ones in relationships are the deeper decisions for Christ and they can go back to someone where the rally is gone and no longer around (I at least youth leaders using those events at least get to know their kids more than just by name so they can go back for questions and concerns they have in life).    I do believe that Evangelistic Rally’s are still helpful and in all honesty the way they were originally meant, tools for Christians to take their friends to the cross either directly or indirectly, but making relationships should be the key not the event.

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