Thursday, October 2, 2014
How far off, how near?
Laurence Singlehurst’s simplication of the Engel Scale, which in its original, more detailed form detailed the steps a person must take from almost no knowledge of God (here represented as 1) to receiving Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord (10).
But while he was still a long way ofF, his Father saw him and was filled with compassion for him…
Evangelism is a process and conversion (and integration into a church fellowship) is the goal of that process.
Many of the missions we organise are essentially sowing missions. They put us in contact with people at the left hand end of the scale, people whose perception of Christianity is negative. What do they need to know? We presume that they need the content of the Gospel, to know that they are sinners, that God loves them, what Jesus has done for them etc. But actually their questions might be different.
Let’s refer to the simplified Engel Scale (above) taken from Laurence Singlehurst’s book. James Engel, a missiologist, wrote What’s Gone Wrong With The Harvest? in 1975. It profoundly changed many people’s idea of evangelism and introduced the tool, now widely used, called the Engel Scale.
In the past, people had seen evangelism only in terms of people being converted. Understood this way, most of our evangelism must be counted as failure. The Engel Scale changes this picture. If you understand something of the journey, the many steps a person must take in order to discover God, then you know that helping someone take one more step towards God is successful evangelism, just as much as helping them over the final line. The Engel Scale provides a way to enable people to understand this journey.
Evangelists have long known the truth of this, but it has not often been taught and understood. Almost everyone who makes a commitment to Jesus has a story to tell of people and events in their lives bringing them closer to the point of total surrender. Some figures suggest that the length of the journey, from the time people start looking for God to the time they find Him, averages four years. However reliable that figure, and whatever it means, it is clear that for most people the journey to God is quite an involved one.
First they need steps 1-3, to find out that God is good and kindly-disposed, not harsh or stern, and that He is alive and involved with His creation. And they need to know that Christians are OK people, too. In Laurence’s Singlehurst’s terminology this is ‘Sowing 1’.
Now the journey enters steps 4-6. This level of awareness is where basics of the gospel message start to ring true with them — that humans have a problem and that problem is selfishness which separates us from God.
Then they are good to go into the third phase, where the journey presents the challenge of commitment, a phase we can call ‘reaping’. At steps 7 and 8 the discussions about the implications of the Gospel – it costs us something. Steps 9-10 are about how to receive Jesus Christ and live for Him as Lord and King.
The scale sets out the process and points to the strategy we need. But there’s one further consideration that arises from surveys done among those who have come to know Christ – at least 70 per cent will answer that friendship with an existing Christian was crucial.
The remaining 30 per cent have come to know the Lord in various ways – from what they have read, from having had dreams and visions (reported to be the experience of many Muslims), through coming under conviction to read the Bible for themselves, or through hearing the Gospel preached in church – dozens of ways. We have traditionally put most effort into this 30 per cent, while largely ignoring the most effective way, statistically, which is the plain but dynamic one of friendship!