God Came Down: An Interview with Rebecca Manley Pippert

Q: You’ve been known to say that looking at the life of Jesus is a “shortcut to evangelism.” What do you mean by that?

In the context of a seeker Bible study, I think looking at the life of Jesus is one of the greatest shortcuts to evangelism. The seeker studies I lead and train people to lead are what I call Jesus’ “come and see” approach.

When people who have a fragmented understanding of faith or the Bible come together with say, two Christians, to explore a Gospel passage that confronts them with the person of Jesus, they’re intrigued. Repeatedly, I’ve watched as Jesus suddenly comes alive to unbelievers as they read the Gospels in a seeker Bible study. And seekers nearly always invite more seekers to come.

The key to a seeker study is that the majority of participants must be seekers; too many Christians are intimidating. And it must take place in a non-churchy atmosphere where seekers aren’t pressured or embarrassed by their lack of biblical knowledge. People who wouldn’t darken the door of a church are willing to come to a home because they feel it’s a safe place. 

The life of Jesus seems to be a cultural theme these days. You’ve got Kanye West posing as Christ with a crown of thorns on his head on a recent Rolling Stone magazine cover. Dan Brown’s best seller, The Da Vinci Code, is raising all sorts of questions about His life. 

That’s why seeker studies are so relevant. They appeal to our postmodern world. They convey God through narrative passages in the Gospels, revealing the humanity of Jesus. The Da Vinci Code has taken Americans by storm because they’re looking for a more human Jesus. The Church tends to emphasize the deity of Christ at the expense of His humanity. 

I hear all the time, “I have never thought about Jesus as a human being.” But in the Gospels, we see people drawn first to Christ’s humanity, and then they slowly become aware of His deity. It’s the same today. Seeker studies also resonate with postmodern views because they’re so relational and foster authentic friendships. They offer the experience of community through a small group of people who have many of the same questions. They honor a seeker’s need for process and dialog. 

And I always stress this to churches that are struggling with finding enough volunteers to lead Bible studies. Seeker groups don’t require the leader to be a Bible teacher or scholar. The facilitator’s job is to prepare the seeker Bible study guide and ask questions, but the text is the teacher. We have to prevent people from feeling that only powerful communicators have the ability or gift to share the Gospel. They need to feel assured that God will use them just as they are. It is important, though, to have good seeker Bible study guides with questions that are faithful to the text, while being truly seeker-friendly. 

And seeker studies engage in the eternal. They depend on God’s Word, His Spirit and His love. One of the great weaknesses in evangelism today is that Christians are sitting on dynamite—the power of His Spirit—and they don’t even know it.

Q: For pastors who are leading ingrown congregations, what can they do to ignite that fire for seeing others meet Christ and begin to make outreach part of their church’s DNA?

Begin in the pulpit. If I had just one chance to preach an evangelistic series, I’d focus on the person of Jesus. The deepest motivation for witnessing comes from understanding the heart of God—what reveals God’s heart more than looking at Jesus? I’ll say it again: Embracing our Christology and revealing the ways in which Jesus reached out to the lonely and the forgotten, the rich and the poor, the seeking and the defiant, is one of the greatest shortcuts to evangelism. 

Then, make sure you’re actively engaged in personal evangelism and you’re sharing that vision from the pulpit. 

Teach where the power lies. Many postmodern Christians have lost confidence in the potency and divine power of God’s resources. But there is divine power that operates through God’s Word and Spirit, and through His love. These divine resources are available to us, as we engage in the work of evangelism. 

Believers need to understand the great difference between God’s role and their role in evangelism. Once they grasp that we can’t make someone become a Christian, that only God has the power to draw people to Himself, it helps them relax and motivates them to pray.

Offer training. You need to continually offer evangelism training at the personal and small group level. Most people won’t get it all in one shot; some will need to revisit the training to gain needed confidence. Have a plan that involves as many areas of church ministry as possible. 

One church I worked with set the goal of helping its congregation develop confidence and competence in personal evangelism. In September, the pastor preached a series on evangelism. The church also asked all of its small groups to study Out of the Salt Shaker (InterVarsity). In November, I led a Salt Shaker conference in that church. In December, the church had the most successful Christmas outreach event ever. 

Think holistically. To become an evangelizing center, evangelism needs to be happening on three levels: individual, small group and large group. You need to work with others in your church to develop a good strategic plan that is holistic—one that ministers to the needs of the community, as well as works through personal relationships. 

Remember that training is helpful no matter what evangelistic venue you choose. Recently, I spoke at several large Christmas outreaches in different cities in the country. One church had recently sent people to a Salt Shaker training conference. By the time I arrived, they’d already lined up leaders to start neighborhood seeker studies throughout the city. 

At the end of my talk, I gave a “double invitation”—to those ready to receive Christ and also to anyone who was interested but needed more information. I invited them to come to a weekly seeker study and learn more about Jesus. 

Some 10% of the audience signed up to be in seeker studies! One believer had all eight of her neighbors sign up. Initially, she was overjoyed, but then she panicked. As a young Christian, she didn’t feel competent to lead a study. 

But because people had already been trained previously, someone was eager to lead it. Not only will this be excellent training in evangelism for the hostess, but also imagine what God is going to do in that neighborhood.

Why did we see such great results? I think the main reason was the tremendous prayer that undergirded this event. But it was also a result of wise planning (a strategic plan that encompassed all three levels of evangelism) and wise preparation (getting the training they needed ahead of time in personal and small group evangelism), so that when the big evangelistic event happened, they were ready.   

by Lindy Warren
Outreach magazine

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