If you are interested in reaching out to others with the good news about Jesus, you have probably been in classes or discussions about how we might do so. In those settings people usually share various approaches to outreach or methods of actually teaching people that they have used or heard about. It is not unusual in these discussions for someone to raise the question of results.
For example, let’s say someone is advocating that we reach out by friendship evangelism or service outreach or asking people if they think they would go to heaven if they died today. Whatever the approach is, someone is likely to ask, “What results are you getting with this approach?” Perhaps you yourself have wondered about that when you have heard someone advocating a way of reaching out. And maybe you’ve even been the one to ask the question, as I have.
Conversely, I have also heard the person who was advocating a particular approach raise the issue themselves. They don’t wait for someone to ask about results. Rather, they volunteer what results their approach has gotten. In a case like this, the underlying assumption seems to be that the positive results from using their method make it worthwhile and something we should consider using. After all, the reasoning seems to be, who wouldn’t be interested in a method of outreach that has a 75% success rate?
Questions and discussions about results seems natural to us, but some years ago I realized I had never really thought through the whole matter. Why do we ask about results? What does the answer tell us? What do the results really reveal about the approach or method in question? Should we conclude that negligible results indicate a method is poor and should not be used but favorable results show that the method is good and should be used? Is it true that the better the results, the better the method?
As I have thought through this matter, I am now inclined to think our tendency to ask about results may be more due to the fact that we are Americans than that we are disciples of Christ. We are so strongly influenced by our success-oriented secular culture that questions about results seem natural to us. But are they? Can you picture the early disciples asking each other about what results they are getting to the way they are sharing the good news? Can you imagine them comparing, discussing, and debating which approach is best? I guess we don’t really know, but it is difficult for me to imagine this.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying it’s completely wrong to ask questions about results. If nothing else, anyone who advocates an approach to reaching out or to actually teaching the good news needs to have used that approach themselves. If their approach is pure theory and they have never used it, they have no business recommending it to others. Any approach we might consider needs to be doable. Questions about results could be a way to discover if an approach has been tested in real life, and so there is a place for them. Still, I believe we need to spend more time thinking about what the results actually tell us—at least more time than I thought about it for many years. That’s what we will explore in this series of posts.
Here is a sneak preview that we can chew on this week: What results did the sower get in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23)? And what do those results indicate about the method he used? Related to this, what results did Jesus himself get to the seeds of the kingdom he sowed? And what does that tell us about his method?
What about the matter of results? Let’s think it through over the next few weeks.
For more on how Empowering Subjects is training people to share the good news, see here.