Author: Ron Graham
The Fifth Em: Method
—A lesson from Colossians
The ministry of the gospel message is sometimes called “evangelism”1 We have been looking at evangelism in terms of the mission, message and ministry of the gospel. Our next m is the method by which evangelism might be carried out.
This lesson is inspired by Paul’s comments in Colossians 4:3-6. Here Paul mentions the most important elements of his method, that is to say the way he went about his ministry of fulfilling the mission to preach the message of Christ...
1 Prayer to back up his ministry
Paul encourages everyone to "be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving". Then he asks, "Pray for us as well". He seeks the prayers of others for the work of himself and his fellow ministers. Paul knows that his gospel work will succeed so long as it is kept before God with supplication and thanksgiving. The minister of the gospel does not work in his own strength, but in the power of God through prayer (Colossians 1:9-12,29).
2 Providence to open doors
Corresponding to prayer is an attitude of expectation that God will bless the ministry of the gospel and open doors for the word. The expected often comes in unexpected ways, so we should ever be on the lookout for the opportunities that God provides. Whilst our work should be organized, we should not be so bent on keeping to our own system and schedule, that we rush past "a door for the word" which God has opened for us but which we have failed to notice.
3 Positive attitude toward problems
Paul has "been imprisoned" because of his ministry. Yet Paul is trying hard not to let this discourage him from continuing. Because of his belief in prayer, and his expectation of God's providence, Paul's problem does not seem insurmountable.
Paul is able to write, so he writes to the churches to teach and exhort them. He maintains contact with his fellow ministers and works through them. He expects, even though imprisoned, to "speak forth the mystery of Christ". It is easy to become frustrated in the ministry of the word, so we should encourage optimism and confidence in those who try hard to teach and the word.
4 Presentation clear and enlightening
Paul realises that when he gets an opportunity to speak forth the word, he "ought to speak" and handle the word in such a manner that he will "make it clear". The ministry is meant to "make manifest" the gospel of our Lord Jesus. As part of his method, the minister gets into the habit of saying as little as necessary and saying it as simply and clearly as possible.
5 Presence of mind to seize opportunity
Paul encourages us to make the most of every opportunity which he calls "redeeming the time". This is not the modern concept of "time management" which is a rather selfish method by which one prioritizes time and expects everybody else to fit in with one's schedule. It is rather being ready to fit in with others and "go with the flow". This interaction with others can be wisely used as an opportunity to teach and influence them. That is what Paul means when he says "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders making the most of the opportunity".
6 Personal approach to teaching
Paul says, "Know how you should respond to each person". Everyone is different and our and manner of dealing with each person should be tailored to suit that person. We must use the "appropriate approach" the main ingredient being "grace" but also using a little "salt". When we are talking to people about their souls we are talking heart to heart and we are entering into that person's most intimate and personal zone. So it requires that we be considerate, respectful, sensitive, and gentle. This does not mean that we sweeten what we say with sugar. What we say is "seasoned with salt". However one uses salt sparingly if one uses it wisely.
Added Notes on Colossians 4:5-6
In Colossians 4:5, Paul does not use the word "conduct". Whilst that is his meaning, it is not his word. He actually says, "Walk...". In his writings, Paul uses this metaphor "walk" about 30 times with reference to the Christian's conduct in daily life.
Of all the ways to travel, walking is the slowest yet often the best. It gives you time to think, to discover, to meet people and chat, to happen upon things you would otherwise have missed. Best of all, you sometimes never reach B and end up at C instead, which proves to be much better!
The method of ministry includes making it a "walk" in that we do not rush ahead trying to get more done faster, but move in step with the Lord, who incidentally often accomplished his own ministry by quite literally walking with his disciples.
In Colossians 4:6, Paul addresses the problem of "your speech". You cannot be a minister if you don't speak the word. Of course you have to talk. But how you talk —that's the issue. Paul gives us some pretty strong clues...
- First he says, "always gracious" —never argumentative, pushy, inconsiderate, etc.
- He says, "seasoned with salt" —not sugary, patronising, pandering, etc.
- Then he uses the word "respond" or "answer" suggesting very strongly that ministry of the word is not all one-way communication but includes dialogue in which you search for the person’s deep need of the moment and respond to it with God’s word.
This may mean ignoring a person's irrelevant questions and addressing the questions they are afraid to ask. Fortunately, while everyone is different, the deepest issues are always the same, and there is only one effective way to reach those issues and answer them.
You don't speak from your own wisdom and experience. You don't speak primarily from your own heart. You speak only from the word of God, and do so in such a way that the person sees that it is not your word but God’s.
And knowing how to speak includes knowing when to stop. Often you need to say very little, then let the word of God do its work. Just shut up and let the person think and talk and deal with the word. Let silence be. Let the person come back to you when he or she is ready, then respond again in the same way, apply the word and then stop speaking.
1Note:— Evangelism from the Greek ευαγγελλιον (euangellion), which means "evangel" or "gospel" or simply "good news".