Who put the 'pre' in evangelism?

When I was 14 I worked at McDonald's for $5-something-an-hour and a wicked discount on sundaes and soft-drinks. The work was repetitive and the pace was furious, but as a teenage boy who went to a single-sex Catholic school, this was offset by the presence of teenage girls. Occasionally I was allowed out from the kitchen (the boy's-own adventure), to the serving area (where the girls were) in order to re-stock the soft-drink machine. A lot was confusing about this, but let me leave girls aside and concentrate on the more basic confusion of soft-drink. It will help us with another confusion: evangelism.

Pre-Mix, Clear Stuff, and The Buzz at The End

Before I worked under the Golden Arches, I thought soft drink flowed in pure rivers out of a fantasy land brimming with good things - Willy Wonka-style. When I began at McDonald's I had my dreams shattered. I had to carry bags of soupy liquid called 'pre-mix' out to the server, where it would be connected up with a machine that combined it with sparkling clear stuff, before anyone could take a happy mouthful. This process gave me happy minutes in the land of the Amazonian server-women then, and a good way to break down the confusion of outreach now. Outreach has three parts, if you like: there is some pre-mix soupy stuff, some sparkling clear evangelism stuff, and its all about the buzz in the end.

The Pre-Mix: Pre-Evangelism

You will find the word evangelism in the bible. You have to translate it a bit - but it is there every time you read about 'gospel', or 'message' or 'witness' or 'appeal'. Evangelism is just the Greek for gospel-ism. Evangel = gospel. Because the gospel is the good news about who Jesus is and what God has done through him to save us, evangelism can be clearly defined. We'll do that in a minute. But who put the 'pre'-mix in evangelism?

In our little culture, the language of pre-evangelism comes from Peter Bolt's 'Mission Minded' (Matthias Media) - a helpful book designed to help us break down the tasks of ministry and church to keep their mission shape. Peter Bolt uses it to separate out a whole mix of things like 'making a connection' and 'building relationships' from 'telling people the good news about Jesus', which is evangelism.

This is really helpful - because my niceness to others is not who Jesus is or what he has done to save me. My niceness does not save either me or other people. It is nice alright, but it is not the gospel. Thanks Peter Bolt.

However, the confusion enters. My niceness to others is very different to my niceness before I knew Jesus. It is Jesus' niceness, really, in some loose form, because any credit must go to him. What's more, Christian niceness had a big impact on me becoming a Christian, and does so for many other people too. What about that Peter Bolt?

I think we can think about pre-evangelism as like the pre-mix in soft-drink. It combines many rich and nice things, which all have plenty of reason to be there from the scriptures. It is not the gospel, but it is the fruit of the gospel, and it does some work to show the gospel is as easy as could be. Let me unpack some of this soupy richness.

Pleasing, not stealing

In Titus 2 we are told that Christian slaves should please masters and not steal from them. We would think this is a long way from Christian outreach, but it is not. Paul says this so that 'in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.' (Titus 2:10) Apparently, 'nice' Christian living makes the gospel look good. The word for attractive is a jewellry word - like an ornament. It 'adorns' the gospel. So, pleasing-not-stealing is like a jewel that flashes on the neck of the gospel.

Suffering, without paying-back

In 1 Peter we are told that Christians should 'not repay evil with evil...but repay evil with a blessing'. (1 Peter 3:9) The logic of the passage is that such behaviour sets the stage for someone to ask questions which need an answer - ie. the gospel. 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give ether reason for the hope that you have.' (1 Peter 3:15) Again, 'nice' living makes sense of gospel-talking, and in this case even provokes it.

In every way

If you look again at the Titus passage to slaves, they were to make the gospel attractive 'in every way'. We could now count out the thousand ingredients in 'pre-evangelism' - like dealing well with anger, lust, marriage, honouring our word, blessing evil people, loving enemies. (Matthew 5) These all 'shine a light' into the world 'so that they may see you good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven'. (Matthew 5:16) We could talk about love between Christians by which 'everyone will know that you are my disciples'. (John 13:35) We could go on and on, pointing out every way.

More than schmoozing

in recent days, our felt distance from non-Christians makes us concentrate on making 'points of contact'. This is helpful when we really don't know anyone. However, I think it underestimates the number of contacts we have around us all the time. Christians do make contact - they go to marketplaces and public squares and so on. However, the accent of the New Testament is that Christians will just live Christian obedience out in every way in the face of onlookers and that it will make some kind of difference and make Jesus attractive.

But people only know it is Jesus who is attractive, and not us, if we speak 'Jesus' into what appears to be simply a life of personal niceness. So...while the pre-mix of evangelism is a whole mix of rich, soupy goodness, it needs the sparking clear stuff of the gospel to be communicated at some time.

Sparkling Clear: Evangelism

Remember, the evangel is the gospel. Because the gospel is the good news about who Jesus is and what God has done through him to save us, evangelism can be clearly defined. It is communicating, in speech or writing, who Jesus is and what he has done to save. Why must it be communicated in this way? 

I think this is obvious. Our niceness cannot communicate the strange idea that we are actually sinful but a death on a cross has remedied this problem. A picture cannot communicate that the one suffering was God himself. If people understand this from our niceness, or some picture, it is because they have already heard the gospel. Now our niceness is picturing the gospel for them. But if people do not know the gospel, we really do need words to clarify it.

This is why the gospel is like the clear, sparkling stream in soft-drink making. It is simply about Jesus - who he is and what he has done for us. You need words to explain it, and you need words to clarify it and keep it clear when people mix it up with other stuff.

The apostle Paul was very clear about this: 'Everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved...How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?' 

In the end, someone has to say something sometime. That's gospelling. That's evangelism.

The Buzz at the End

One danger is that all this talk can make gospel-talking seem like the real stuff and the pre-evangelism stuff seem like just odds and ends. I hope that is not how it seems at all. That rich soup of good stuff makes the gospel appear beautiful. It already is, but it sure makes it shine!

Ultimately, however, I want to remind us that both of them are part of an even bigger picture. Mixing pre-mix and clear soda doesn't really mean much until it reaches a buzz in a person's mouth. So both Christian living and evangelism are part of a bigger, transcendent picture that is the real buzz. 

It is love.

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that nothing we do is anything without love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) What is more, when all we do (including all our gospelling) is done, one ultimate thing will remain - love. (1 Corinthians 13:13) 

If our motivation for evangelism is people converting we are in danger of our pre-evangelism being about working a result. If our pre-evangelism is not about love for God and others, it will be contrived and insincere. Love really lays bare the heart of things. It shows where we are shallow and where we are deep. It is impossibly appealing, and sometimes, far too confronting. It is the buzz.

Whatever we do, love compels us. And if we love, we will delight in all the 'pre's of evangelism as beautiful things, and we will delight in evangelism as the greatest love declaration the world has ever known.

I hope this clears up some of our confusion about the whole mix of Christian outreach.