In 1975 James F. Engel wrote a book called:
What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest?
It was meant to get the attention of the church and nudge them into a new way of thinking. The main thrust of his writing was to convince us that evangelism should not be thought of as simply sharing the gospel. It is not effective to simply make the same broad-based message and spread it repeatedly. No matter how innovative that approach might be, it simply will not work the same way every time. Evangelism should be constantly evolving. What is the definition of insanity? Oh yeah, it is doing the same thing, the same way, and expecting a different result.
Engel introduced us to a type of classification scale to keep in mind as we observe the people we encounter. This scale is not intended to stereotype folks as much as it is to simply remind us not everyone is at the same stage of readiness to receive the gospel message:
For the person who already believes there is a God and is aware of their separation from God, the good news of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ is refreshing. However, for the person who doubts the existence of God or for the folks that have such little awareness of God that those three letters are really just an adjective you throw before a more profane word (yes they are out there–I have met them) the presentation of the gospel in merely a verbal form will fall on deaf ears, or even worse, become an obstacle to receiving his love.
If we picture people on a continuum from –10 which represents atheism, to –6 which might represent an open minded agnostic, to –1 which represents a seeker and on to +1, a new believer, and +5 as a person well on their way to spiritual maturity, then effective evangelistic activities (for –10 to –1) and effective discipleship activities (for +1 to +10) will depend on where the person is along the continuum. To effectively reach out to people, we must adapt our approach to where they are in their readiness.
In other words they might only be ready for a free Coke and a smile.
Remember it can take 12 to 20 nudges before folks make their way on the road to the kingdom. Just like people are different, so are the paths they are on. The nudges have to be adapted to the people. It is quite an irony that some of the first disciples were fishermen. There is a segment of society that understands adaptation. Ever been to a bait and tackle shop. Even a road side stand has more than one type of bait, hook, net, etc. If you want to see a real eye popping array, visit a store on Port Aransas, Walkers Cay or in Islamoroda.
People are as diverse as fish. God designed the kingdom that way. Rather than constantly train how to deliver the gospel, we need to train folks to be more in tune with the people they are connecting with. We need to train people how to observe and listen–not talk. Talk is cheap. That is why GO AND DO churches tend to thrive more than COME AND SEE churches.
Why is this?
The COME AND SEE CHURCH is entirely too committed to the investment in the place they want you to come and see. They have to be. They operated under the premise of “if we build it they will come,” and brick, mortar, glass and steel is not cheap. It is difficult to adapt once you lay down pegs. You can talk all you want about moving the tent pegs a bit further out, but the reality is the tent fabric will only stretch so far–move the pegs out too far and all you do is rip the tent. Having a good base camp is not bad, as long as you also invest in the gear you need beyond the tent for a variety of purposes. There is nothing wrong with having a great tent–just don’t expect it to also work well for cooking and starting campfires.
Meanwhile the “go and do” church is designed to adapt. You “can’t go and do” immersed fully in the community without adapting, even if the adaptation was not intended. You become relevant in a given situation because you have to just to survive.
When Jesus walked the earth, the region he was in was an agrarian based society. The gospels are filled to the brim with metaphors and similes that folks with dirt under their nails, from working the land, understood. I think there are a few layers of revelation that are lost on those of us that only harvest processed food. That is why I always have a garden. You learn a great deal when you get dirt under your nails on a regular basis. I had a bumper crop of tomatoes, jalapenos, and habaneros, so if you are in the Cincinnati area, stop by and try my homemade salsa! We can also have a chat about the harvest and adaptations you might need to make on your back forty.
Take a gander at the cover of the issue this month. This is not the “Harvest” Jesus was speaking of. We can’t make the “crops” we are called to tend as Christ followers into nifty little pegs that fit the same slots. We are designed with unique talents and communication skills because we are going to encounter people that are very different. There is no cookie cutter approach to evangelism that will work any longer.
There is nothing wrong with the harvest. It is the harvester that needs to be fixed.