Tim Keller, Tim Vreugdenhil, Stephan Pues, and René Breuel analyse what can the world learn from Europe about evangelism.
What can the world learn from Europe about evangelism?
Tim Keller, Tim Vreugdenhil, Stephan Pues, and I explored this question at a livestream hosted by City to City Europe on May 6th. Our conversation gave me new food for thought and brought fresh clarity to questions I had explored before.
I encourage you to listen to the whole conversation. Here are some of the points that struck me.
In the city, we meet people of all ages, walks of life, and various religions. This pluralistic setting makes every belief feel like a choice among many. As we encounter people who do not believe or believe differently, our faith feels less certain. Why believe this and not that?
When we see our neighbors living differently, Tim Keller shared, “it makes your culture visible to you. And when your culture gets more visible, it gets more contestable or questionable.”
The urban setting makes discipleship harder, since Christians are often challenged by other worldviews. On the other hand, the city facilitates evangelism, because city-dwellers are also more prone to question their ideas and consider new points of view.
At our conversation, Tim Vreugdenhil shared that in Amsterdam he encounters many secular people who are moral and thoughtful. “[At seminary] we were educated for a world where you have either Christians or materialistic, not-God-fearing people. And I think the big lesson is, even in a secular society, so many people are asking very good questions and take very interesting decisions.”
We often think we should diminish the merits of secular culture so that people can perceive the benefits of the Christian alternative. But if we affirm people’s right choices and beliefs, it draws them closer and makes them more willing to listen to what we have to say.
It shows that we are listening and understand that the world is a complicated place, not a simple duality.
In Europe, it’s not enough to plant a cool church with great worship and social media. That may help us reach people who have had contact with a Protestant church in the past, but there aren’t many unchurched Protestants, at least where I live, in Rome.
Tim Keller shared that, “The American way of planting churches is to plant worship services. And what you do is plant a service that’s a great show, with great music. The only way that really grows is if you suck people away from other churches.”
Instead of relying on an attractional model, Keller encouraged a missional approach to church planting. “So, you really have to learn how to plant churches evangelistically, where you’re starting as a pioneer and don’t see big growth right away.”
The gathered church is important, but so is the scattered church that seeks to serve the city and be a positive presence beyond Sundays, the church building, and ordained ministry.
The ministries and churches that currently flourish in Europe often unite the efforts of Europeans and non-Europeans, when people who know the context serve alongside outsiders who bring a fresh perspective and an optimism that often is not present in Europe.
As an American, Timothy Keller offered pointed criticism of the American emphasis on technique and 3-step evangelism. He also added that “New World Christians do have something to offer to Europeans. Usually, it’s more optimism and more hope… The New World was a bigger place, we had all this space… The size of the New World had a social, structural impact on our temperament. People were more willing to start new things, start new churches, start universities because there was always more territory to move to… We can sometimes come along and be optimistic.”
I’ve found that congregations that reflect the global church and include people of various backgrounds in their leadership can announce the gospel in a way that is both fresh and contextualized.
For pastors and church planters in Europe, it can be tempting to see churches growing at a faster rate in other parts of the world. But Tim Keller shared a helpful reminder: we should take the long view.
“You have to be patient. The givers have to be patient. There is pressure on the church planter to show numbers, and the fastest way to show numbers is basically to steal sheep from other churches.” An evangelistic approach, on the other hand, takes time but leads to long-term growth and health.
As we consider the beautiful task of sharing the Good News in a continent where it is not perceived as “good” nor as “news”, it’s helpful to think in terms of decades, not months.