I'm enjoying reading George Hunter's The Celtic Way of Evangelism. In chapter four, Hunter explains how the Irish church dealt with people new to Christianity as compared to the Romans. Roman Model
1. "Present the Christian message."
2. "Invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians."
3. "If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship."
1. "You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith."
2. "Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship."
3. "In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit."
Roman Model Celtic Model
Decision Ministry and Conversations
Fellowship Belief, Invitation to Commitment
Hunter also points out that most people today come to faith in Christ gradually (Celtic way), rather than suddenly (Roman way). I think he's right. Let me be clear: I am not saying that justification does not happen at a particular point of time. But we may not know precisely when that moment takes place. Normally, I think conversion is experienced as more of a process. We look back and say, "My, have I changed. Of course, I believe in Jesus." I would argue that often our "points of justification" practicing the Roman model are artificial and arbitrary, reflecting our methods more than reality. This leads to a host of problems. We share the gospel message and encourage someone to make a sudden, rushed decision. And we wonder why the person doesn't "stick." This leads either to an unregenerate church or to scores of people who have false assurance outside of our doors.
Here is my approach to evangelism, which I know is quite controversial. It certainly doesn't result in impressive statistics. I never pray a prayer with anyone and declare him or her saved. I rather share the gospel, and study Scripture with someone over an extended period of time, encouraging the person to trust in Christ, and praying that God would draw the person to Himself. Then, as I see the person repenting of sin and trusting in Jesus, as well as rightly articulating the basics of the gospel, I then encourage the person to be baptized.
All the time, I am encouraging that person to be a part of Christian community, as Hunter recommends. Seeing the faith lived out in front of the person is a a powerful apologetic. That skeptic can join in on Bible studies, times of prayer, fellowship activities, etc., which can have a gradual, powerful impact. We can't expect the person to figure it all out before coming into the church. Rather, we make our Community Groups and other events safe places where he or she can ask lots of questions and explore Christianity alongside of us. Membership is taken quite seriously-- it's difficult to join. But it's incredibly easy to hang out with that community, seeing what the faith is all about. I am delighted to see a return to these ancient, Celtic ways. God has used the "Roman" method, for sure. But it seems that the potential for harm in that approach is great.