Why evangelism is not enough

What most of us understand as evangelism requires a Christendom mindset.  Now I know, before any of you get upset, South Africa (my context) still has a very large Christendom mindset.  And while there also exists among many people very strong pre-modern (as opposed to modern or post-modern) tendencies, it would seem that there is still a huge case for evangelism as we know it.  And yes, I agree with much of this thinking.

However, I suspect that the shift from pre-modern Christendom to the relativism of Europe and parts of North America, will move at a far more rapid pace than what we have seen over the last two hundred years in the west.  After brief stops to take on board privatisation of values from modernism and ethical and spiritual relativism from postmodernism, mix in some misguided understanding of tolerance, some African spirituality and values and leave to rise and set for the next 10-15 years and I suspect we will have a very different picture of urban South Africa.  One can already see a strong movement in this direction in the major urban centres.  The rural areas I suspect will remain largely untouched and have a similar effect on the cultural landscape as I imagine say the Bible belt does in the United States.

So where does evangelism fit into all this?  For most of us evangelism is one thing among the many things that we do as a church.  Many churches may even have an evangelism department or pastor.

Evangelism assumes a familiarity with Christianity and church culture.  It assumes a similar worldview and these are very often the converts we see through our Christendom models of evangelism.  Much evangelism has to do with getting people to come into our church.  That may be through events like a special service (gospel service, evangelistic, seeker etc) or through an evangelistic programme designed around a pattern of going out  and then coming back (hopefully with others in tow).  Evangelism assumes that church is a familiar concept in people’s worlds, this is a Christendom mindset.  For the post-Christian world church is as much a part of their life as space travel.  We know it’s there and it’s important to some people but it has absolutely no bearing on how I live my life.  Nor am I particularly concerned or bothered about it.

Evangelism has an overemphasis on proclamation to the exclusion of the role which the covenant community plays in commending and demonstrating the goodness of the life lived under the reign of King Jesus.

Evangelism, as we know it, is good no doubt, but it is not enough. Increasingly it will involve fishing from an ever-diminishing pool of potential converts.  As South Africa becomes more and more culturally distant from Christianity (watch the rhythms and attitudes of the young people – they are the parents of the next generation) evangelism will simply not be enough.  We will need to become missional.

So what is the difference?  Yes, perhaps we are simply playing games with words (and that quite frankly does bore me) but I think there is some significance in what these words have come to signify.

Missional (and here I am using it in a similar sense to what many might call incarnational) is not a department or programme it is a complete restructuring of every aspect of church life around mission.  Rather than a come to us model of evangelism it is a go to them model.

Missional is not a go out and come back to the safety of established church buildings but rather a “go out (together) and stay out among them” and become one of them model.  Missional is not about getting them to come to church but rather about us going and being church among them.

Missional is about planting the gospel among a group of people and allowing it to grow among them with no expectation of what shape or form church should take as it grows.  Missional is about giving up our preconceived notions of church style and structure and allowing the Spirit to create among us something new.

Missional is not about a Sunday meeting or even a series of meetings – it is about shared lives together that demonstrate that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.  A community living under the reign of King Jesus will be a profoundly counter-cultural and counter-intuitive community. As we live in this manner proclamation is inevitable

Missional is not a pulpit centred movement but rather the Bible “dwelling among us richly” as we daily gospel “one another” in the context of shared lives.

Missional is re-inventing church from scratch.  Not for the sake of novelty or to suit our own desires of how we would like to see church. But rather a community of people whose whole lives are structured around living life together on mission.

Call it church if you will… (I would)

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3 thoughts on “Why evangelism is not enough

  1. sihle

    I really appreciate you opening up this very important discussion . Your point that an increasingly changing South African mindset will require a different ways of witnessing to Christ is well taken and the growing need for missional communities.

    The question for me is in which direction is South africa changing . I am not sure I buy the idea that South Africa and Africa is merely following where Europe and parts of North America is going. I think that Africa ,Latin America,the middle and far east are hugely influenced by the West and are moving in that direction in some areas not in all areas.

    I think that the situation is much more complicated then that. What you are describing may be trends discernable among white young people who have broadly western world view.

    It is my observation from doing student ministry and church planting in the townships that modernity never quite penetrated very deeply into the world view of most people with an African world view(you might call them pre-moderns) . The most modern urban black South Africans u’ll find can navigate the modern world but if you dig deeper you’ll find essentially an african world view. You could even say they operate from two world views depending on where they are and what the situation requires.
    Post modern ideas have only served to reinforce this ‘flexibility’ and made it more acceptable .

    If we are looking at broad trends ;I believe that mainstream urban South African culture is found and made in the townships…I don’t see young people being impressed by the ideas of secular humanism but I see a growing interest in the reality and power of the spiritual world and postmodernity exposes them to a greater variety of sources of this power. I think this is also the trend in Latin America and the east.

    In my understanding secular humanism is a child of modernity and modenity in Africa is yet to take root even in the most urban centres.

    Yet I do agree with you that missional communities will increasingly be the most fruitful way of witnessing to christ in for different reasons.

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  2. John Post author

    Sihle,

    Thanks for your excellent response. I am essentially in agreement with most of what you say. Your comment forced me to reread my post and was surprised to discover that I had mentioned secular humanism. That was the incorrect term to use (I have made a change to a more accurate term) I agree with you on your analysis of the role and depth to which modernism penetrated Africa. I think I alluded to it in the post.

    Rereading the post again I think your caution is a correct one- it certainly does seem to indicate that we are merely following Europe and parts of N America. This post fails to reflect the reality that although I expect to see urban Africa looks a lot more relativistic and spiritual rather than a Christendom picture, it will also have a distinctly more African flavour. (thanks for forcing me to make my writing more accurate and sharper)

    You are spot on to say that post-modernism resonates more with the young black person moving between a “western” and an “African” mindset in perhaps his own thinking, perhaps his work & social environments, perhaps friends and family or most notably urban and rural.

    I do think that the privatization of values is one modern concept that has been taken on though – especially in the more post-modern relativistic version.

    I could not agree more that the situation anywhere but certainly in SA is way more complex than any blog post could ever describe 🙂

    Interested to hear your reasons as to why you think missional communities will be the most fruitful ways to minister to Christ? I suspect we may be more on the same page than you imagine…

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  3. Stephen Murray

    Sihle interesting to hear your comment about ‘township’ culture leading the mainstream. I wonder, and I’m just thinking out loud here – I have no tangible evidence, only a “feeling”, but I wonder if there is a difference between Jozi and Cape Town in this regard. I tend to feel that large parts of Cape Town are rapidly secularizing and that the pockets (very large pockets) of people with African worldviews tend to stay isolated from that. Maybe this is just in the city bowl, but to me it certainly doesn’t feel like the township is leading the culture here. Comments?

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