A Strategic Problems of Evangelism in Post-Atheistic Society

The seminar for the pastors of the churches in Crimea

Sergei Golovin Simferopol,Ukraine

The forgotten meaning of the familiar parable What really happened? Who created a lie?
Awakening or illusion? What does tomorrow have in store for us? A non-typical conversion
In what we believe today Forward to the past To speak or to listen?
The purpose of man Adam, where are you? The power of conviction
Road towards God Always be prepared Until when?
With whom was Paul speaking? O death, where is your sting? Tell me the story

Translated from Russian by E. Molodchiy
Edited by Amy Shved

What does tomorrow have in store for us?

Up until now the situation remains pretty much the same: there is the overfilled carburetor and a lack of experienced ministers who can deal with the situation. Any church experiences this need today. Every denomination, nearly all the communities set up training courses to prepare ministers, regional colleges, and various seminars. It is done in order to process as effectively as possible the fuel that has accumulated in the carburetor. To this all of our efforts are directed these days.

But hold on a second, we are again preoccupied with problems that came down upon us here and now. Without a doubt, if we are faced with them, they need to be taken care. But doesn't the Scripture teach that if we decide to build a tower, we need to calculate beforehand all of the costs? Maybe, if we had taken care of today's possible problems beforehand, there would not be any of them now? Lack of planning always leads to emergencies. With God's help we of course will do everything possible in order not to lose those who came to church today. But what will happen then, when the problem of the overfilled carburetor gets solved? The fuel tank is empty!

No one runs excitedly to the shout, "God loves you!" Passers-by shy away from the booklets offered to them. More and more churches say No to annual large scale evangelism meetings: the exerted efforts do not justify themselves as they used to. All of this testifies to the emptiness of the fuel tank! No one is engaged in developing natural resources and preparing the soil any more. What are we going to do then? Evangelism methods that became traditional in the Christian society do not work any longer. We have not developed any new ones (if we do not take into account the propaganda of questionable commercial and historic advantages of Christianity), and have forgotten the old ones.

After carrying out this analysis and, as it appeared, discovering this problem, we shared our ideas about the issue with our brothers who work as missionaries in various countries. Are we in the wrong? The Bible teaches us to test everything. You can imagine our surprise when we got this response, "That's it! That's what happened with us in Chile!"

During Pinochet's regime any meetings and gatherings, including evangelistic ones were forbidden in this Latin American country. The difference from our situation was that Pinochet set a certain date to end the military dictatorship, after which there were set democratic elections. Many missions were waiting for this moment; they were preparing serious programs of missionary work in Chile. The brothers who wrote us a letter, developed for it a multi-layer strategy.

The first stage included work with skeptics ("gentiles"). It consisted in establishing initial contacts through mail, mailed literature, correspondence courses. The second stage was the work with the so-called "God seekers" ("Jews" in our diagram). The goal of this stage was personal testimony and setting-up of home groups to study the Scripture. The third stage involved work with "infants in Christ": teaching, mentoring, instructing for the purpose of spiritual growth. The fourth stage was preparation of ministers for work at all of the four stages.

It was a wonderful, carefully thought through strategy. The problem was that the strategy was designed for usual, standard conditions. Although the period, when preaching the gospel was forbidden, turned out to be shorter in Chile than in the Soviet Union, the situation there was similar - an overfilled tank. When all of the fuel rushed to the carburetor, it was over flooded. Although on paper the multilayer strategy still remained. Our brothers write, "We had so much third-stage work pressed down on us that for the rest of the stages we neither had time nor resources, nor people. All of our resources were sucked into that very carburetor, and we could not do anything else. When this problem was finally resolved and there were big churches established in the country, these churches would not grow. It was because while we were taking care of the carburetor, no one was developing natural resources, no one was filling the fuel tank, and preparing skeptics for the Good News. In short, they were not preaching the One God to the pagans. And the fuel tank was empty.

Forward to the past

So then, "traditional" methods of spreading the Good News do not work any longer. There is something wrong, with either the News or the methods. Adherents of the New Age movement are in a hurry to draw the conclusion: the Good News of the Christians has become obsolete! They say, the age of the Fish is over, and the new age, the age of the Aquarius is coming! Thus, rejecting the revelation of the Word of God, they pour carefree upon their listeners the water of variegated pagan ideas. Because, if there are no absolute standards of truth, then any idea is just as good! When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3; NIV).

If there is a problem with the methods, there are two things we can do. First of all, and it is just there on the surface, it is what the evil age of rushing after everything new tells us to do: we can find new methods. Maybe not biblical, but "strong" and "bold." Do you remember how in C.S.Lewis' Screwtape Letters the experienced demon the tempter was instructing his inexperienced nephew? He said, do not waste time on convincing the one under your charge in the truth of the proposed teaching, just convince him that the teaching is strong and bold, and of tomorrow.

The majority of the suggested "new, strong, and bold" methods of evangelism reek of market "pyramid" schemes and annoying representatives of made-up companies with loud names who accost passers-by in the streets and attempt to push off onto simpletons some old stock. In our case, the stock on the "market of ideas." It is not about salvation of the lost and the gift of eternal life as much as it is about recruiting the largest number possible of followers into an organization. The "evangelized" is of no importance to the "evangelizer," he becomes an impersonal "object of evangelism." Programs and methods (often manipulative ones) become the center of attention, and not the man and the News, not the Savior and the one who needs salvation.

Here is a parable. Two young men, John and Bob, went to a Christian camp. There, following the preacher's call, they "took a decision for Jesus," they "let Him into their heart," and became participators of the Great Commission (to go and teach all the nations). Having come home from camp, they decided to start their ministry right away. One evening there was supposed to be a disco at the dormitory. The friends decided to go there: there would be a lot of people; we would be able to repent more souls at once. So they went to the disco. It was dark, noisy, smoky, many were already stoned. But our evangelists kept their cool, they found an opportune moment, dashed towards the microphone, and interrupting each other started "proclaiming,"

"You are all sinners! You are going straight to hell! Repent, and be baptized, everyone of you! Make a decision for Jesus! He is standing at the door of your heart and is knocking! Let Him in! Jesus is the answer!"

Because no one knew the question, they were not interested in the answer either. But because of the goodness of the heart, they decided not to beat them up - you cannot hold accountable a crazy man for his actions, right? Peacefully they took them outside, so that they would not prevent people from having a civilized relaxation. John and Bob shook the dust off their feet saying,

"The gospel has not been received in our dorm. They will go to ruin. It's on their own heads, we warned them."

This parable may seem a bit thought up, but every little detail of it is true. Even the inconceivable term "to repent somebody." Don't laugh, I've heard it myself! It would be all too funny if it were not so sad. Because in this case to shake off the dust is the same as to wash one's hands.

If "traditional" methods of evangelism do not bring any fruit, maybe it is because they are not biblical? Where in the Scripture did you read that to repent means "to make a decision for Jesus"? It does not talk about some decision, which often can fall prey to emotions, but about the need for "metanoya," a cardinal change of thinking! Often it is done in spite of the emotional reaction, as it was with the twelve, "We didn't like either what you said. But where are we to go? What other people say doesn't even sound like truth!"

Where in the Bible did you read that Jesus knocked on the doors of a person's heart? What kind of doors are those, anyway? There is only one place in the Scripture where Jesus is knocking (Revelation 3:20), and there He is knocking on the doors of a church. He is not being let into the church! Because it is easier this way, to remain with one's own methods, rules, traditions. Let us, however, open up the doors of our churches for Him and His methods, the goal of which would be not making the disciples busy with whatever, as it is in the army, but seeking out and saving the perished!

Tell me, which of the methods that all of a sudden stopped working, were taken from the Scripture? Nowhere in the Bible do we see that Jesus and the apostles caught people in the streets and started answering questions that no one asked them. "Here is a list of your questions, and here is a list of our answers!" If a person does not ask a question, then he does not need an answer!

Whenever somebody asked Jesus a question, His answer always personally concerned this man or woman. Jesus had one and the same News for everyone - about the Kingdom of God - but He also had a unique way to give it to each one of them. He told the rich young man, "Sell your property and give it away to the poor." But then Nicodemus came to Him, and he was a very rich man. Jesus does not ask him to sell his wealth, but says, "You need to be born again." Nicodemus does not understand Him, he asks again, "How can a man enter the womb of his mother again?!"

Pay attention: the gist of the question is always the same - the wealth that you are counting on prevents you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. But different people have different wealth. For the young ruler it was his money, his position in the society. If Jesus had offered Nicodemus to get rid of it all, he probably, would have done so without thinking again: he knew very well the vanity of material possessions. For Nicodemus the "real" wealth was his knowledge, his experience. He had already heard everything, seen everything, but, "They say that no one does the signs that this young Rabbi from Nazareth does. Alright, let's listen to Him as well." And Jesus tells Nicodemus, "You've got to reject the treasure of your knowledge and experience - they are not useful for the Kingdom of God. You have to become like a newborn baby!"

And now try to imagine: a young Ukrainian evangelist comes up to a gypsy woman making her living in the street (the intercultural distance is pretty mush the same as in the example above), and tells her, "My lady, would you like to be born again?" What do you think her reaction will be? That's probably what it would have been, if Jesus had told the Samaritan woman at the well the same words he told Nicodemus. But he gives the same News to the woman in a different way, by showing her that dead water (still water) from the well is not something that can quench the thirst of her heart. From the three people mentioned - the young man, Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman - it was the woman who turned out to be the most quick-witted, and she ran to share the Good News with others, leaving behind at the well her pitcher. Nicodemus and the young man, however, continued to lug their "pitchers."

But, somehow or other, Jesus never told secret things to those who did not ask Him about it. If a man does not ask a question, it means that he is not interested in it. If it is not interesting to him, he is not going to listen. It is quite a different case, that Jesus raised questions with His own life style. Take the same Samaritan - Jesus approached her and asked her to give Him some water. That alone was enough to give rise to astonishment, because Jews never drank from the same vessels that Samaritans used. There was something unusual about it! If your life does not differ in any way from the life of unbelievers, do not be surprised when nobody asks you anything. But as soon as the question is asked, the asker without realizing it becomes a hostage of the answer, because whether he likes it or not, he has to listen to it.

Thus, the main example for evangelism, that the Scripture provides us with, is that both Jesus and the apostles always addressed each person individually, on the level that the person was standing at. We as well ought to do the same, otherwise the word will not be received, and besides ourselves, there will be no one for us to hang blame on because of the scarce harvest.

But in order to know what to start the conversation with, one needs to know how to discern what level our listeners are on. If we are called on to change people's worldview, it would not hurt to figure out first what kind of a worldview it is.

Adam, where are you?

The need to turn away from market methods of "evangelism" to an individual approach, as it was in the times of the New Testament, becomes more and more obvious. In the USA already in the seventies James Engel developed a scale that allowed the evangelist to determine what help exactly is needed by the listener on his way towards God (James F. Engel, H. Wilbert Norton. What's Gone Wrong with the Harvest? - Zondervan, 1975.- p.45). However, this scale was specifically for evangelism, i.e., it is applicable starting only at the level of "Jews." Even in his later works Engel denies that believers have any part in converting skeptics ("gentiles") and traditionally treats conversion as a process of making a decision (e.g., James F. Engel, William A. Dyrness. Changing the Mind of Missions - Where Have We Gone Wrong? - Intervarsity Press, 2000.- pp.100-101). It is determined by the fact that for the most part the author has to face standard distribution of the post-Christian society, where the vast majority is "Jews."

Let us "reformat' Engel's scale by fitting it into our diagram and making necessary additions. There are four columns in front of us, the third of which is the scale proper. On which you can see the points already familiar to us: "zero" (conversion), "minus one" (agnosticism), and "plus one" (commitment). The column to the left of the scale is the role of the preacher, to the right - response to the preaching. One needs to remember, however, that transformation of worldview is God's business.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe - as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. (1 Corinthians 3:5-10; NIV.)

No matter how "advanced" our programs are, if we are going to solve these problems ourselves, we are destined to fail, because only God through His Word and with the help of His Spirit brings people to repentance, creates a pure heart, and restores the righteous spirit. Jesus told the following parable,

"This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain-- first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come." (Mark 4:26-29; NIV).

Thus, the "soil" of the Kingdom of God bears fruit without our participation, all by itself (in Greek, automatos, automatically). Our task is to remove obstacles in this process. If there are stones, to remove them. If some needed elements are missing, to add fertilizers. If there is a lack of water, to water. If the fruits are pulling down, to help learn to give them up. The rest is God's business, and it is depicted in the first column of our diagram.

Living sacrificially

+ 1



+ 0.8

Transforming behavior, understanding, values

+ 0.6

Reading the Bible, praying, fellowshipping with believers

+ 0.4

Becoming a part
of a local congregation

+  0.2

Evaluating the decision made
(“infant in Christ”)






- 0.1

Making a decision to act


- 0.2


Realizing the need to act

- 0.3

Admitting personal problems

- 0.4

Agreeing with the Good News

- 0.5

Understanding the Good News

- 0.6

Knowing the Good News

- 0.7

Hearing the Good News

- 0.8

Discovering God’s attributes

- 0.9
Believing in the existence
of a supreme being

- 1


Let us start from the very bottom. Form the level below the "minus one" point. Here we deal with "gentiles" for whom preaching about the crucified Jesus is foolishness. It does not mean that they know absolutely nothing about God. Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20; NIV. Please, notice the phrase "without excuse." In Russian Synod translation - without response; in Greek - anapologetos.)

What is the reaction of a "gentile" to the revelation of the truth? They suppress it by their wickedness, holding it in sin's captivity (Romans 1:18). They build up strongholds in order to protect their cozy worldview, for which the Truth is an obvious and immediate threat. Our role at this stage is to break down these strongholds. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5; NIV).

This job, that is traditionally called apologetics, in essence is preparation of the soil for sowing. How to prepare certain type of soil is determined by what is wrong with it, what strongholds keep a certain individual from accepting the Word of God. If the soil is overgrown with weeds of false ideas, picking up stones from between these weeds will only encourage the lush growth of the weeds. If the ground is covered (or, which is worse, methodically paved) with stones of unbelief, there is no use to crawl around with a magnifying glass hunting out shoots of weeds and then removing them with tweezers. In order to effectively prepare soil for sowing, one needs to analyze first, what the main problem is. Only then our efforts to break down strongholds will not be in vain.

If a person from early childhood believed his school teacher that man evolved from the ape, one needs to demonstrate where the teacher had been wrong. If he considers that the Bible is a compilation of myths and legends, he needs to be told about the origin of the Bible, and not about the origin of man. If the problem is, "If your God is so good, why is my life so bad?" it would be of little effect to quote biblical prophecies and historic evidence. Here one needs to help the person to clear it up, "Have you even once allowed God to make it better for you?"

It is very important to discern what exactly hinders the individual, where the stronghold that he uses to fence himself off from God is located, and purposefully try to break it down. The preacher who does this job acts as an apologist.

When a person becomes a "Jew," the preacher's role becomes that an evangelist. Here his task is to sow the seed proclaiming the Good News. At the same time the work of the Holy Spirit is denunciation of the sinner. But, even after joining this group, at first a man believes in God only as in an abstract "supreme being." One of my friends, after overcoming the agnostic stage, stated one day, "I understood two things in this life: the first is that God exists, and the second is that He is not me." It is hard to say it in a better way. A "gentile" is his own highest value. After becoming a "Jew" he understands, that there exists something higher than he, and that it is God, Who is the absolute category.

Thinking about the nature of the Absolute, a man starts to become acquainted with the personal qualities of God - Love, Goodness, Justice. It is here that the first acquaintance with the essence of the Good News occurs, not just with the evangelical story (he may have known it before), but the News of salvation that is directed personally at him. The next stages are knowing the Good News, understanding it, and agreeing with it. Having reached this spot, a man starts to recognize his own problems that he is not capable to solve without God's help. It is here that the critical moment comes: realizing the need to act. This is the only place where the call for repentance is going to be appropriate! Only here can it play its positive role!

As long as a man has not reached this point, any of our efforts to push him toward repentance will either be unproductive or, which is worse, can produce an opposite effect! As soon as an individual starts getting first initial ideas about God, he understands that God is Freedom. And also that he himself has freedom given to him by God. When we start pushing him toward making a decision, it gives rise to internal resistance. Partly it happens because sin continues to work inside of him; it is innate rebellion that makes departure from God natural. On the other hand, he is resisting coercion, which he perceives as coming from you, understanding that it is against the will of God, who wants everyone to come to Him freely, on his own will.

But even at this point, being prepared in advance for repentance, man can choose to reject the Good News. Often it is what happens, there is no rigid mechanism. Man is free and it is up to him to choose either life or death, either blessings or curses (Deuteronomy 30:19). If that happens, instead of sky-rocketing toward God, he goes back to the stage of knowing the Good News. Internalized information will not go anywhere, but the relationship takes a set back. Man can move along this exclusive circle all life long and never move on to the next level. That is why it is so important to call him to God, and help him break the captivity of sin.

However, if a man makes a step towards God, rejects himself, and turns into a "zero," he undergoes the biggest "metanoya" of his life. The new convert gets baptized, and God justifies the sinner by His grace through His Son's blood. He does not count man's sin against him, but gives to him the righteousness of Christ, and makes him the object of adoption.

All of these immense changes happen in the spiritual world. But outwardly the person remains the same! He, an "infant in Christ," still drags both his old nature, and worldly life experience, and habits of the past life. As a rule, changes are not seen right away. A person is just starting along this road. Sometimes he even resists the work of the Holy Spirit inside of him. One of my acquaintances remained especially long at the "infant in Christ" stage - it was hard for him to deal with a serious problem: he liked gambling. One day he came to me and said,

"I don't get it! I was playing the way I always do, but the tricks that always worked didn't work today! Why is God not helping me?"

Why do you think He is NOT helping? Of course He IS helping! In the past He allowed you do these stupid things, but now you entered into a covenant with Him. You know that this kind of stuff is forbidden by God. That is why you are going to get punished for the same thing that unbelievers go unpunished for. God loves you so much that He accepts you the way you are. But He loves you too much to allow you to remain the way you are! "…the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (Hebrews 12:6-8). God started dwelling in you through His Spirit, and He will make efforts to see you change. If you want to get a beating all the time and avoid His blessings, you can resist Him. Again, it is your free choice. But God promised not to leave you alone, and you can be sure - He will keep His word. He will constantly be drawing you to Himself.

Paul called this action of God sanctification. At this stage, mentoring is what an evangelist should do. Here he plays the role of a teacher. A teacher cannot afford the luxury to have one lesson for everything that happens in life. As everything else, infants grow and change little by little. That is why it is important for the teacher to understand where his student is standing at a given time.

At first a new convert lives through a period of time when he evaluates his decision. He compares the reality with the expectations that he used to have, and the teacher needs to direct this process by helping the student to analyze again his expectations in accordance with God's will, and not in accordance with the carnal nature that gave rise to those expectations before his conversion. Otherwise, the neophite can become disappointed. What happened to those who "seeped out of the carburetor"? Because a limited number of ministers ended up with too many infants in Christ, the latter either got disappointed in their expectations or did not find their place in the congregation. There was nobody who could either correct their views, or help them discern their gifts and find a ministry for them.

At the next stage the believer becomes rooted in the local congregation. He spends more time reading the Bible, praying, fellowshipping with his brothers in the faith. Through all of this and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, his behavior changes, his understandings change, and so do his values. It is here that a man approaches the highest conversion that is called "commitment." He becomes a mature Christian, becomes faithful. He learns how to sacrifice (an understanding that it is more blessed to give that to receive) and how to be ready to minister. He is ready now to deliberately witness, and, lastly, to spiritually reproduce, that is, to be able to play the role of an apologist to skeptics, of an evangelist to those who seek God, and a teacher to believers, both the "infants" and the "faithful."

Without doubt, this diagram is very relative, and it does not mean that everybody necessarily goes through all of these stages or that passing through the stages that are equally removed from each other on the scale takes the same amount of time. One person may walk for a long time in circles, another one can pass several stages in one day. Think about the same Dionysius and Damaris, who became believers after starting off as "gentiles." Nevertheless, by using this diagram, a preacher can approximately figure out, where a certain person is standing in his way to God, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19; NIV).