Making the First Move

5 Evangelism Principles from Christ After the Resurrection Part 1

Often we attend church growth seminars looking for an evangelistic program that can be replicated in our church. A program that is easy to follow, all-inclusive, we can plug in and go. However, the problem with a program-driven approach to evangelism is that every church culture is different. A certain program may not be relevant to a particular church.  Programs can and do have an expiration date! This is why you can have a church that has tons of programs but not tons of people.

Instead of trying to find a program that will work, let us focus on the principles that will make a program work. Because unless you have the principles, you can have the best programs in the world and they still won’t produce. However, if you get the principles down the program part is easy.

This is part 1 of a series of posts exploring the evangelism Principles displayed by Christ after the Resurrection. Principle 1. We have to make the first move! One of the things you quickly notice about Jesus after the resurrection is that He initiates all the encounters! Let’s explore Jesus’s encounter with Mary outside an empty tomb. “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” (John 20:14). Notice Jesus did not wait for Mary to come to him. He went to Mary. If the gospel commission is a command to “Go” why is most of our evangelism strategy for people to “come?”

Notice this quote by Mission strategist: Alan Hirsch: “If we fail to ‘go’ to the people, then to encounter the gospel meaningfully they must ‘come.’ This is the inbuilt assumption of the attractional church; it requires that the nonbeliever do all the cross-cultural work to find Jesus, not us! Make no mistake: For many people, coming to church involves some serious cross-cultural work for them. They have to be the missionaries!” They have to make the first move!

They have to learn our customs. When to stand, when to sit, when to clap, when not to clap, when to say amen or just sit there and not say anything. They have to learn the new dress code, the new language. They have to learn all of our cultural norms and we expect them to adhere to them before we accept them into our community. If we want to grow God’s Kingdom we have to start making the first move. How do we start making the first move?

First, by listening. Notice how Jesus makes the first move. He asks questions: “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” (John 20:13, 15) He approaches her like a friend seeking insight and understanding instead of as a sergeant seeking submission. He doesn’t reprimand her, he listens to her. Our first move should be listening. We need to become better listeners. We need to get to know the people we are trying to reach. Not just as a church growth strategy but as human decency. Sometimes we act like God didn’t show up until we did. God was working in that person’s life long before we arrived and He will work in their life after we leave. They are not the only ones with something to learn. And we are not the only ones with something to teach. They may not know the Sabbath like you do, but you may not know the Lord of the Sabbath like they do. Practice some humility and listen more.

Too often we’re giving answers to questions people aren’t asking, because we’re not listening. Jesus was so effective because he truly listened. He knew Mary personally. This is why it is only after Jesus calls Mary by name that she recognizes it is Jesus. Dale Carnegie says in his infamous book How to Win Friends and Influence People:“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” This is why Mary only calls Jesus “teacher” after he calls her by her name. “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” In the beginning, Mary can’t see Jesus through her tears. Sadly many people have given up on the church because they could not see the Christ in Christianity. They left our presence, or church, feeling worse than when they arrived. They left with a more obscure vision of who Jesus is instead of seeing clearer. “Going to the world” means wiping away their tears so they can see Jesus better.

This leads to the second way we make the first move, through communication. Hopefully, if we’ve been listening we know their hopes, dreams, and fears and we can communicate the gospel in a way that connects. Rollo May said, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” Tony Robbins said, “to effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Finally, Sydney J. Harris explains that “the two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”

Once we understand the power and communication we can implement the third aspect of making the first move which is contextualization. Contextualization refers to the process of interpreting, and communicating, the Bible within a particular cultural context. Good contextualization is faithful to scripture but also meaningful to a given culture. We need to communicate the gospel in a way that connects by removing language and cultural barriers that come between people and the gospel. Ellen White, in the Review and Herald, April 6, 1911 said. “When the practices of the people do not come in conflict with the law of God, you may conform to them. If the workers fail to do this, they will not only hinder their own work, but they will place stumbling blocks in the way of those for whom they labor, and hinder them from accepting the truth.” Instead of making people bend over backward for us, we need to start bending over backward for them.

This leads us to the fourth way that we can make the first move, going to the people instead of making them come to us, by adapting. We have to adopt new technologies to reach new people. We need to create quality online engagement. First impressions aren’t made at the church door anymore (although that is still an important first impression) but on YouTube channels, Facebook walls, Instagram posts, and Google searches. I cannot count how many times someone came up to me and told me they had been watching our services for months before they came in person. We need to value our online audience as much as our physical one. No, there’s no substitute for physical engagement but online engagement is where it has to start.

We need to make the first move. This is why Jesus tells Mary “don’t hold onto me.“ At first this seems pretty harsh until you realize what Jesus is saying. Jesus wants the world to experience what Mary is experiencing: a personal, intimate relationship with Him. But in order for that to happen, she must let Him go. We have to start letting go of Christ so he can touch others. Everything we do as a Church should be mission-focused. Mission has to be more important than tradition or our institution. 1 John 4:19 says “we love,” Why? “because he first loved us.” Effective evangelism understands that in order for people to fall in love with Jesus, Jesus through us must love people first. And when we do that, like Mary in John 20:18, people will say “I have seen the Lord.” In order to effectively reach the world with the gospel let’s do what Jesus did after the resurrection, let’s go to them instead of making them come to us, let’s make the first move.

You can also find this presentation, and series, on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below.

3 thoughts on “Making the First Move

  1. Thanks for sending this my way. It’s super-powerful! We have got a lot of work to do if we are to be the “salt of the earth”. Getting out into the community, meeting people, and getting involved in community happenings- even if they are on the Sabbath. Evangelism, like worship, should be day by day, and minute by minute. I’m preaching to the choir!
    Thank you for making yourself available to God and bringing these timely messages!

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