God’s Amber Alert
In 1996, nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted while riding her bike in Arlington, Texas and discovered dead four days later.
Soon after, her father went to a media symposium and spoke about how the media could help local police find missing children more quickly.
That’s what launched what is now the nationwide Amber alert system. Amber alerts are distributed by radio, internet radio, TV stations, email, electronic traffic condition signs, light up billboards, and text message.
As a parent, if your child goes missing you want to use every means possible to locate them. God is no different.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories to illustrate God’s pursuit of people. The bottom line is God goes to great lengths to pursue His missing. He uses every means possible to bring the lost to Himself.
A helpful way to understand our role in God’s Amber alert system is a framework I learned from the brilliant Keith Davy in Cru’s research and development department.
Keith talks about three types of relationships we see in the scriptures that God uses to spread the gospel. He calls these the Modes of Evangelism. The three modes are:
The Ministry Mode
The Ministry Mode is taking the gospel to those we don’t yet know, usually as part of an intentional outreach.
A biblical example is when Jesus sent out the seventy in Luke 10 or when Philip was sent to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).
The Natural Mode
The Natural Mode is taking the gospel to those we already know, like a friend or family member.
This mode also includes casual acquaintances, such as a grocery store clerk. It involves people you see in the natural course of your life, which is why it’s called the natural mode.
For instance, when Andrew met Jesus he quickly went to tell his brother Simon. Philip did the same with his friend Nathaniel (John 1:40-45).
The Body Mode
Lastly, The Body Mode is the collective witness of believers to people who become exposed to their group.
Too often we use only our preferred way of sharing the gospel. Instead of using all possible means we just use some.
The obvious example here is the church in Acts 2:42-47. God added to their numbers every day as the unity and health of the body of Christ was a beacon to non-believers.
Check out this chart to see how these three modes compare with each other.
|Taking the gospel to those we don’t yet know.||Taking the Gospel to those we already know (family, coworkers, classmates, neighbors…).||The collective witness of believers to people who become exposed to their group.|
|Paul’s missionary journeys
Peter in Acts 2
|Andrew » Peter (brother)
Phillip » Nathaniel (friend)
Matthew » Tax collecters (coworkers)
Samaritan woman » Hometown
|Acts 2:42-47 — the early Church John 17:22-23 — unity of the body|
Relative historic effectiveness
Keys to success
|Key for the outsider to go into new areas
Key for training
Key for expansion into new areas
|Key for the insider
Must be in relationships with lost people
|The body must be “in shape”
We must be loving each other
We must provide occasions for lost people to come with us
Does it require initiative?
Does it employ relationships?
How to use it on campus
It’s important for us to know about the modes because all too often in our own lives and ministries, we tend to take the most comfortable path of sharing the gospel. Instead of using all possible means we just use some possible means. Think through some ways that you can use each mode on campus.
If you think of evangelism as pairing up for an hour occasionally and talking to people you don’t know or talking to your friends, you’re missing out on opportunities the Lord may have for you. You’re not using all possible means to get the gospel out.
All three modes require initiative.
In each of these modes you see that God uses two tactics: relationships and intentionality.
Even as you look at your own journey to Christ you can probably see how God used relationships and the intentional initiative these people took to introduce you to Him.
It is easy to see initiative is necessary for the Ministry mode, but sometimes a little harder to see for the Natural and Body modes.
As much as we’d like to believe there will soon be a day when our friend asks us to explain the secret to our amazing life, the truth is that ten times out of nine (yes, you read that right) we are the ones who need to start the spiritual conversation.
Within this Natural mode relationship we will still need to initiate, in many cases sooner rather than later.
I came to Christ through the Body mode. I’m very grateful for my friend who took the initiative to invite me into her body of believers.
I’m thankful that at one of their events someone took the initiative to walk me through some verses to help clarify the gospel. You might be surprised how many opportunities there are to initiate within the relational context of the body of Christ.
All three modes require relationships.
What about relationships? This time, it’s easy to see the relational component in the Body and Natural modes. By definition those require relationships.
What about the ministry mode? Yes, this is taking the gospel to those we don’t yet know, but if you’ve ever tried it, you know you darn well better be relational or you’re not going to get very far.
In fact, you need to bring even more relational savvy to bear because in a few short minutes you need to establish enough relationship and good will to be able to talk about significant spiritual topics.
Since all three are initiative and all three are relational, it is unfair to refer only to Natural mode as relational evangelism or refer only to Ministry mode as initiative evangelism.
Both cases perpetuate wrong perceptions of the other modes.
All three are necessary.
Though they are all necessary, each has its own strengths and limitations.
For instance, if you shared Christ with 100 people in each of these modes, which mode would you expect to be the most effective in seeing people make decisions for Christ?
Historically, it has been the Body mode of evangelism. In this mode, a non-believer sees lots of different facets of Christ because they have relationships with lots of believers. And it’s likely they are already connected to the group.
The next most effective is the Natural mode and the least (although still effective in terms of decisions for Christ) is the Ministry mode.
What about scope? Which mode do you think can reach the most people?
This is the strength of the Ministry mode. Even as an outsider, you can go anywhere with Ministry mode evangelism—a sorority on campus, another country, you name it!
A lot of people around the world don’t have access to a group of believers or know even one person who follows Christ. So Body or Natural mode is not an option for them to hear the gospel. An outsider will have to bring the gospel to them through the Ministry mode. Ministry mode therefore has the largest scope, followed by the Natural and then the Body modes.
Though each mode has its strengths and limitations, it’s fair to say that they’re all equally important.
You don’t get to just pick the one you like the most or that comes most naturally to you. You need to be willing to engage in all the modes of evangelism so you can be using every means possible to go after the missing.
In the 1990s, the Amber alert changed the way we search for missing children. My hope is that understanding this framework will expand your view of evangelism so you will begin to see more opportunities to share the gospel in your everyday life.
With your radar up for how God might provide opportunities in all three relational modes, together you and God can find the lost using all possible means.
Try to come up with more biblical examples of each of the modes.
Which mode do you tend toward naturally?
In what ways would you like to stretch yourself to expand your involvement in the modes that are not your preferred?
How does your ministry on campus use each mode now? Do they tend to favor just one?
How can you help your ministry use all three?
For a teaching chart on the Modes of Evangelism, click here.