Lex Loizides doesn’t hold back as he unpacks our role in bringing the gospel to the whole world.
“We’re not waiting for signs of life, we were sent to raise the dead!” Lex Loizides
Thank you to Lex for making this transcript available from his seminar given at this year’s Unreached Network Conference Online.
My name is Lex Loizides. In my 20’s I was converted from a thoroughly atheistic background. A year later I went into ministry at a church in Brighton whose team leader was Terry Virgo. The first two years of ministry were training in theology, evangelism, and leadership. The next two were learning on the job in the local church. Then my wife Jo and I relocated among the beautiful people of x to plant a church in one of the suburbs, which was both deeply challenging but wonderfully rewarding. That church is still thriving today. We then moved to Eastbourne to help Don Smith plant Kings Church Eastbourne, and three years later moved up to Newcastle to help establish City Church. From there we relocated to the US to help Terry and an emerging team launch Newfrontiers in the US, my role being primarily to help with training, and also to help the churches become more missional. From there we were sent to Cape Town, South Africa where we’ve been at Jubilee Community Church for 27 years. In 2016 Jo and I planted a congregation in the City Centre which has grown remarkably, and has a significant team of emerging leaders. Jubilee as a whole has a regular Sunday attendance of over 1000, with probably closer to 1500 calling it their church. But many folk who engage with Jubilee through our many social ministries also believe that Jubilee is their church, even though their attendance is primarily via one of those ministries rather than Sunday by Sunday. Our administrator and fellow pastor Steve Schlesinger recently reported to the elders that the total number of active participants in Jubilee is probably in the region of about 5000, which seems incredible to me. But it shows that the church is not only visible, or discernible, during the Sunday services. The impact of a local church can be much broader than that. Also, this illustrates that I’m speaking from a more ‘reached’ context.
I am theologically Reformed, intentionally charismatic, and instinctively missional. Much of what has helped me contextualise in evangelism has been drawn from remembering what it was like to be a non-believing non-Christian. I have at least two sets of ears: secular and Christian. I’m also half English and half Greek, although in most ways more English than Greek. I have benefited from experiences of being treated, on occasion, like an outsider. Although being treated like an outside is painful and often unnecessary, it is also hugely beneficial in terms of empathy. But I am also, of course, an insider in very many ways. I am an inside outsider. Or, maybe I’m an insider with, I hope, at least a brotherly outsider awareness.
I’m going to look at Paul’s experience of being in a country that wasn’t his, and whose insider culture was vastly different from his Jewish-insider culture. And we’ll ask a few key questions of ourselves as we read his experience.
So it’s Acts 17.16f
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.”
Our first question is
- Are we concerned?
The English translations describe Paul’s reaction variously as ‘distressed’, ‘deeply troubled’, ‘provoked within himself’, ‘stirred’.
When I speak to believers they always express a desire to get better at explaining their faith and commending Jesus to people, but they often hesitate.
And we all face a number of challenges, and I don’t know what your challenges are: – a real threat of persecution or intimidation, or violence
– I remember a two-hour conversation I had with an Imam on a domestic flight. And together we agreed to have a respectful conversation about Christianity and Islam without getting heated, or intimidated (he actually thought I was a journalist). When we got to Jesus, he described the classic Islamic view. I said, ‘A Xian would probably say you have part of the picture but not all’. He replied, ‘Oh! There are people would go to war with you for saying that.’ I said, ‘But we agreed at the beginning that we would respect each other.’ He said, ’Oh I wouldn’t, but there are people who would…’ Now for me, I was able to thank him for the conversation, and go and grab my luggage. For converts from within a non-Xian religious community, it can be a different matter, and that is a very real challenge. Incidentally, that’s not merely a non-Xian cultural thing: the Methodists experienced the same thing in 18th C England (with houses belonging to the new converts being torn down by mobs, and people killed), and in the 19th C with the Salvation Army members being beaten, and some killed by British mobs.
– but in a modern Westernised context a main challenge is probably that going to church just isn’t something people want to do (also a real challenge) – sometimes a non-Xian’s default response is to switch immediately to issues of tolerance and intolerance around sexuality, and you need patience to try and bring the conversation back to Jesus Christ
– You know what stops you speaking, so you have to ask God to give you both wisdom and faith. Wherever you are, the non-believing people we’re approaching are unreached with a true understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ and the ‘faith question’ for us is whether we believe they are unreachable, or whether we trust God to help us reach them.
– The worst of it for Paul in the Greek world was that he was laughed at. But his own people turned on him with a vengeance.
So he reaches Athens and he has a deep concern for the people. Why? Not because he saw them as lower down on some social scale, but the root of their lostness was they were hoping in false promises, false religious practices. The people
were trying to find guidance, or answers, or satisfaction in the wrong things. Good desires and longings were focussed toward impotent things that obscured the true God. However and whatever they were seeking, Jesus wasn’t in that picture.
Paul was genuinely distressed. And I wonder, are we? Someone who’s distressed will do something. He therefore took action. He responds to what he saw, and his response – and the Christian response – is to initiate the evangelistic moment. He starts the conversation.
He doesn’t wait for the non-Christians in Athens to trigger that process. He, as a Christian, understands that he’s been sent to begin that conversation. That’s the unavoidable missional fact: you have been sent to teach and preach Christ to others.
Obviously, the ‘mission’ is broader than just evangelism. So let me digress to suggest an important distinction between mission & evangelism.
Mission – is the advance of the kingdom of God into every area of life: Engaging in, and influencing the life of our towns at every level – spiritually, socially, culturally. Our mission is vitally connected with issues of wealth, poverty, justice, peace, loneliness, and social and educational improvement.
Evangelism – is telling people about Jesus Christ.
Hence Mission is the overarching context for all of life until Jesus returns. Evangelism is a vital, central, part of that: communicating the news about Jesus Christ to those who are as yet unreached by a true understanding of who He is and what He accomplished for us.
The power to bring permanent change is in the Gospel itself. Our good works can bring temporary change (we do lots of that at Jubilee). But the gospel can bring permanent change – and the impulse to make sure the gospel is communicated comes from us, not from those we are trying to serve.
Paul obviously wanted to help people respond to the message easily and quickly, but the impulse for the evangelistic conversation came from him.
It’s always been the same:
The church doesn’t go in, and sit there, hoping something will happen. The church goes in and begins preaching Christ and him crucified, in the power of the Spirit.
William Booth (Salvation Army) said, ‘Don’t tell me your city is too hard, that the people aren’t interested, and don’t pay attention – get their attention!’ Jesus said, ‘As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ John 20:21 The initiative to bring life comes from the outside. It breaks in. It’s an intervention! Spurgeon: We’re not waiting for signs of life. We’re sent to raise the dead!1
The Soul Winner 1
My question to you is: Are you concerned? If, in your heart, you’re tired, or less concerned that you know you should be, then you can pray for compassion. God will help.
OBJ: But Paul was bold, so was Spurgeon and Booth – they are exceptions. ANS: Yes, and no. This is about following Jesus. It’s a discipleship issue. Christian Discipleship is about becoming more like Jesus. Yes?
It’s about life-alignment with Christ – character, and gifts. Yes?
It’s being yoked to Him. Going His way. What He wants to do in us. Yes?
So here’s a primary Jesus goal for you, a main discipleship promise for you: ‘Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men and women’. Mt 4.19
This is not a promise about personality types, or gifting. It’s about serving. But most of us think, ‘How many people have I led to the Lord?’ Not many, therefore: evangelism’s not my thing, not my ‘gift’.
But Jesus is clearly saying that he will make his followers, fashion them, into ‘fishers of men’ – those who draw people to Christ. He’s creating something in them that wasn’t there before. So, the more mature we become as followers of Christ, the greater the potential to be ‘fishers of men’. I don’t want to resist that; I want to take hold of that promise and say, ‘Yes Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.’
But ‘normal’ Christians can tend to think that the evangelistically active person is someone who is basically inconsiderate, and embarrassing. Even a poor witness. Jesus isn’t asking you to become someone who tramples over peoples’ feelings, or social norms; someone who is impolite, or who doesn’t read the room carefully. Sensitivity to the Spirit of God will sometimes help you to be very bold, but being a witness is not about a personality type (eg, an extrovert).
Jesus isn’t forcing a type on you. He’s saying I will make you an effective ‘fisher of people’. It’s your personality, your story, your life experience, your expertise etc.
OBJ: I don’t have the magic gift of evangelism
People talk about the ‘gift of evangelism’, and they say, ‘I don’t have that gift because I don’t lead people to the Lord – so I’ll do other things.’
We get sidetracked by the idea that being a witness is a gifting issue. But it isn’t. In 2009, the Barna Organisation did a study on Spiritual Gifts which showed that only 1% of the church in America felt they had ‘the gift of evangelism’. They were concerned by that result. But they shouldn’t be. Because there’s no such thing as the gift of evangelism. It’s the wrong question.
The question isn’t: Do you have the gift of evangelism?
The right question is: Are you a witness?
The answer is Yes: either a good one: learning to be a fisher of men; or a silent one, who keeps the truth to themselves, and allows people to continue to be harassed by the evil one, or easy prey for false ideas,
or a bad one, who is putting people off (usually by bad behaviour)!
Whichever of those you are: good, silent, or downright bad, you are a witness – however you may have been gifted.
If someone said, ‘I don’t have the gift of worshipping’ – we’d think he was odd. Sorry, I don’t have the gift of worshipping, so I don’t participate on Sundays; I serve God in other ways. Or, I don’t have the gift of fellowshipping. It’s obviously nonsense.
Now you might say, ‘I’m not an Evangelist’. Ahh, that may be true. It’s OK to say you’re not an Evangelist, or a Prophet or a Pastor, but we’re all called to be witnesses. And you should be concerned for others. Your love for others should provoke you to witness, and not stay silent. ‘Follow Me and I will make you fish for souls.’
Rick Warren illustrates this beautifully: In a court – advocate, the lawyer knows the court procedure etc. It’s complex. He’s trained for years, and keeps up to date on precedent setting cases and rulings. Like a skilled evangelist answering difficult questions. He knows his way around.
But the lawyers aren’t the only ones in court: Critical evidence, admissible in every decent court, is the testimony of a witness.
Witness – just says what they saw, or heard, or did. They just say what they know. And a whole case can turn on a credible witness.
So never write yourself off! He will make us fishers of men! Central part of what Jesus promises to those who follow Him.
YOU CAN DO THIS!
So, Paul was concerned, distressed even.
So, 1. Are you concerned? and now 2. Are you engaging?
- Are you engaging?
17 He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. 18 He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”
19 Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. 20 “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” 21 (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)
v.17 ‘he begins to reason with them’, ‘he spoke daily’, v.18 ‘debating, conversing’
Are you engaging? Now it’ll be different in different contexts. Some social contexts are very interwoven: everyone knows everyone (eg, my Greek culture). News travels fast. Others are very separate (eg, my English culture). You don’t necessarily know the people who live right next to you.
The point here is that Paul acts. He gets in, and he does so in a way that fits his gifts. He discovers a place where men are teaching their theories, and he jumps in and teaches his: the gospel.
Sometimes it’s easier to get something going if there’s a few of you: most of our social ministries (which have led to many conversions) have been the brain child of one person, but then a group is formed.
Same principle with Bible Studies, Book Clubs, Mum’s Groups etc, church-organised things. Even going to social events like birthday parties etc.
Eg, One of Jo’s SunShade ministry ladies, a Muslim friend. Packed front room. Karaoke. They pressed Jo and I to sing. Endless Love (Lionel Richie and Diana Ross). So we began and suddenly another guest grabbed the mic, and I sang a duet with her instead! What to do!? Great memories of community though (they kept calling me Barry White after that! NB. they were being cheeky).
Are you engaging with what’s happening in your street, neighbourhood, village, town etc.
– v 17-18 ‘Paul spoke daily’. Paul is engaging every day, with a view to conversions.
– Paul is confident. His expectation is that he would speak shoulder to shoulder with thinkers and influencers.
Are you engaging with people regularly?
So, Are you Concerned, Are you Engaging, the last two questions which we don’t have time for here, is whether what we’re doing is relevant to those we’re trying to reach, and whether we’re confident that the gospel itself, the word spoken or read, has the power to convert.
Maybe I’ll finish with stating two further observations from Paul in Athens: He was Winsome but Authentic
Paul presents the gospel winsomely, quoting their poets etc, but he doesn’t soften the message:
- 30 – ‘God … commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.’ The actual gospel message is important! Jesus died and rose, therefore repent and believe.
Not an uninterrupted story of success
v.32-34 mixed results:
‘Some laughed.’ Which usually means that the evangelistic moment over (for now)! Some said, ‘We want to hear more.’ There’s an opportunity to follow up on. You must initiate that once again.
But some became believers. The gospel worked on the day. And the gospel may well work on the first hearing. Eg, one time preaching in the USA in ‘slow-time’, and 7 responses most of which were from a group of Chinese university students. I spoke with one afterwards who had responded to the appeal, and I explained the gospel again, and he said, ‘Oh, I believe it!’ I said, ‘Oh? Sorry. I got it wrong. How long have you been a believer?’ He said, ‘No. I believe it now.’
In the Westernised world we have been so moulded and shaped by academic processes that even I, who was supposed to be an evangelist, struggled to believe that someone could hear and believe, and be born again, on the first full explanation of the gospel. We’ve been conditioned to think it must be a long, drawn out process. There is a process (the kingdom is a seed, planted, grows, and then gets harvested – Mark 4), but it’s a supernatural process. And, although it may be unusual, I learnt that day that God can do it in a single sermon, heard for the very first time.
May God give you grace to have a deep concern, to take the initiative, to engage and be relevant, and have the joy of seeing many come to Christ.