What Bruce Lee Taught Me About Evangelism

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I grew up in the 90's when action stars like Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal where every boys heroes (at least every dorky boys hero's). We used to sit down and talk for hours about their fighting skills and every time, without a doubt, a debate would break out on which of them would win in a real fight. Could Samo Hung take out Jean Claude Van Damme? How about Jackie Chan taking on Bolo? And on and on we went. And yet, almost without fail one of us would stand up and whisper a name. A name so revered that the moment it was mentioned, the conversation was over. The debate had ended. There was just no comparison. That name was "Bruce Lee."

In all my years, I have never heard anyone say "this guy can beat Bruce Lee". In our minds, he was on a whole other level. There were great fighters and then there was Bruce Lee. He was undefeatable. 

Whether our quasi-worship of Bruce Lee was merited or not I suppose is a conversation for another place and another time. But regardless of how accurate our assessment of his fighting ability was one thing was true - Bruce Lee is the most significant martial arts icon to have ever lived. Not only was he a great fighter, he was also a great philosopher and he singlehandedly turned the world of combat sports upside down.

Bruce Lee had a belief and it went something like this. Kung Fu, the martial art that every one seemed to fear, was not that scary at all. The reason was because Kung Fu only worked if the person you were fighting was fighting according to the same rules you were fighting by. But the moment you fought someone who operated on a different set of rules and was good at it, your Kung Fu was at risk of becoming meaningless. For example, Kung Fu is primarily a striking sport. You stand up and throw punches and kicks. Jiu-Jitsu is primarily a grappling sport. You take someone to the ground and wrap them up in submissions. If a Jiu Jitsu fighter took a Kung Fu fighter to the ground, the Kung Fu guy would be completely helpless. All of his years of training prepared him to compete against an opponent who agreed to his rules, and nothing else. The moment those rules were effectively bypassed, his black-belt was meaningless.

But Bruce Lee didn't single out Kung Fu in this. Instead, he criticized every martial arts discipline as being useful only when the opponent was either totally unskilled or was fighting according to the same rules. The moment you faced a skilled opponent fighting with a different set of rules, your chances of dominating the fight dwindled. As a result, Bruce Lee advocated for what has become known as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). His point was that a fighter should aim to master diverse fighting styles and combine those into one. In doing so, the fighter would be capable of fighting well even when the opponent changed the rules.

As an Adventist passionate about evangelism, I found myself challenged by Bruce Lee. You see, our way of doing evangelism is just like Kung Fu. It only works if the people we are evangelizing are either completely unskilled in their own belief system or if they are playing according to our set of rules. But the moment we encounter someone who is good at playing by a different set of rules, our evangelistic tactics become meaningless.

For example, if you were preaching an evangelistic series and came to the topic of the Sabbath one of two things can happen. If your audience is primarily classic protestants then your sermon on how the Sabbath was changed to Sunday could be convincing. After all, they already believe in the Sabbath. The only thing you have to show is that its not on the first day but on the seventh. However, if your audience was post-modern the entire sermon would appear unneccesary at best and narcissistic/ narrow at worst. All your arguments would prove meaningless.

So here is what I learned from Bruce Lee. Our greatest weakness in evangelism is that we assume everyone around is pursuing truth according to our rules. And our failure to play by their rules is the main reason why our proclamation lacks power and relevance. Therefore, rather than having a cookie cutter approach to evangelism and truth we need to study the cultures around us and develop mixed approaches. We need to nurture the ability to communicate truth to diverse worldviews which means we have to learn and enter into the worldviews that surround us. As we do, we can more intelligently adapt, innovate and contextualize our message and our method to be effective even when our audiences play by a different set of rules.

Our greatest weakness in evangelism is that we assume everyone around is pursuing truth according to our rules. And our failure to play by their rules is the main reason why our proclamation lacks power and relevance.

However, as cool as this is, Bruce Lee is not the originator of this "mixed" approach. Jesus is. All throughout scripture we see him presenting the gospel of the kingdom in diverse ways. To Nicodemus he says "you must be born again" - a metaphor linked to Nicodemus' theology as a descendant of Abraham. To the woman at the well he said, "I am the living water..." - a metaphor linked to the woman's spiritual thirst. To the rich young ruler he said, "sell all that you have...", to Mary "I am the resurrection..." and to the crowds "a farmer went out to sow..."

The diversity of metaphors and illustrations Jesus uses to introduce people to his kingdom are amazing. He is the originator of "mixed evangelism". And the pattern continues in the life of Paul. When he spoke to the Hebrews he used the old Testament. When he spoke to the Greeks in Mars Hill he used their own poets (Acts 17). But perhaps the strongest evidence of "mixed evangelism" is in Acts 15 and 16. In chapter 15, the Jerusalem council affirms that under the New Covenant circumcision is no longer necessary and is in fact "anti-gospel". Yet, despite this, in chapter 16, Paul circumcises Timothy as they prepare to evangelize the Jews. Neither Paul nor Jesus assumed that their audience was playing by their rules. Rather, they adapted their evangelism to the rules of their audience.

We as a church, if we want to remain relevant, must do the same. Let's stop assuming everyone is playing by our rules. Let's learn their rules, enter into their mindsets and value structures, and meet them where they are.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
— Paul, the Apostle (1Corinthians 9:19-23)


Comment Questions

  1. Have you ever had an experience where you tried to share your faith and none of your arguments worked?
  2. If there was a resource that could help you develop a "mixed" approach to evangelism, what would it look like? (ie. book, course, videos, online class etc.)
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Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

How to Heal a Fanatical Church

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Have you ever been to a fanatical church?

Are you in a fanatical church now?

Fanaticism is defined as that state of being "filled with excessive and single-minded zeal" or "obsessively concerned with something".

In the church context, fanaticism often presents itself as an excessive or obsessive focus on a particular doctrinal point, cultural expression or logistical function. To put it in plan English, fanaticism in the local church often looks like "believe exactly as I do or you are a heretic", "do it the way I like or you are a deceiver" and "I have the power here. Don't threaten it."

If these were isolated and meaningless experiences, then it would be no big deal. But, sadly, many times fanaticism hijacks a church and the results are devastating to its mission. In his article "Handling Extremism and Fanaticism in the Local Church" Pastor John E. Tumpkin captured this truth perfectly when he wrote,

Extremsim [sic] and fanaticism are not uncommon in the local church. Left untreated, they can quickly spread in the body of Christ and destroy that body’s vision, mission, and unity.
— John E. Tumpkin

So what can you do to heal a fanatical church if you are in one or headed towards one? Is there a process or method that can help progressively heal that church? 

I am happy to announce today that the answer is yes. And while not all pastors are cut out for this challenge (different personalities etc.) those who are able to take on the ugliness of a fanatical church will glean lots of hope from this months new Podcast episode, "How to Heal A Fanatical Church".

In this episode I interview Western Australian pastor Robert Stankovic on his experience with fanatical churches and how he overcame those challenges and brought healing. A must hear for both pastors and church members!

So if you have ever been in a fanatical church or are headed towards one, you don't want to miss "How to Heal a Fanatical Church" with pastor Robert Stankovic. Not only does he share some great wisdom for pastors, but also for church members (who have the most power when it comes to eliminating fanaticism in their church). You can listen directly below:

For those who would like to contact pastor Robert, you can email him at robertstankovic@adventist.org.au

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  1. Have you ever been in (or currently attend) a church hijacked by fanaticism? Share your story below!
  2. What advice or wisdom would you offer to pastors and members on how they can heal their church from fanaticism and extremism?

Article Quote: Tumpkin, John E. "Handling Extremism and Fanaticism in the Local Church" [Web: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2003/08/handling-extremism-and-fanaticism-in-the-local-church.html]


Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Is there Hope for the Local Adventist Church?

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In her article, "Welcome to the Church of Failure"  Maritza Brunt shared some heavy words:

Without innovation, we will never grow. And if we don’t grow, we are at risk of becoming a Church that is exactly like a museum—full of inanimate objects that are perfectly preserved, but lacking life.
— Maritza Brunt

Her words are strong, yes, but not critical. Rather, she is pointing out in bold language what a lot of us know to be true. With the heart of a leader she directs us to identify and embrace something about us that is broken and desperately needs healing. 

When it comes to the process of optimizing the local Adventist church there are a few steps that need to precede that process. First, we need to come to terms with our reality. Second, we need to see change not as a rejection of our historical narrative, but as an addition to the legacy already established by the passing generations. But before these are even embraced, we need to ask: Is there hope for the local Adventist church?

The question is invaluable. If you don't think there is hope you will either settle comfortably into your pew, or you will walk away from the church altogether. But if you believe there is hope, then the process of identifying and healing our brokenness comes to life.

Last week, I decided to see what others think about the future of the Adventist local church. Is there hope for it to become a relevant and authentic movement? Or is the optimization of the Adventist local church a pipe dream not worth investing in?

Rather than make my own assumptions, I took to social media and posted a poll on Twitter and Facebook as well as a post on Instagram. I wanted to know, what do others think? Is there a negative vibe out there? Perhaps an indifferent one? Or are people generally optimistic about the future of our church? Here are the results:

Is there Hope for the Local Adventist Church?

Social Media Poll: 58 total Votes. 54 Yes. 4 No.

The sense of optimism that came back was overwhelming. Now of course, this is only a reflection of the people following my social media accounts. But I'm inclined to believe that this is the prevailing sentiment among us. Not one person wrote back with the suggestion that the church was fine and didn't need to be optimized. And of those who said yes, each of them spoke of our brokeness but also of the hope that we have in Jesus to become a relevant, authentic community that impacts the world around it. 

Of the 4 who said no, none offered any explanation.

So I'd like to go back to Maritza's quote. It's a painful reality, yes. And its not comfortable to read. But to me, it demonstrates love. Love for a church that she believes in. A church all of us believe in. A future all of us are hopeful of. That future is not in the hands of presidents and administrators (love you guys!). Rather, it is in the hands of the everyday church member. If we depend on the clergy to bring this future into reality, we may never live to see it. But if we, as local church members, take the challenge on we can bring the future we all hope for into the here and now.

So here is my challenge to all those awesome optimistic Adventists out there. Put your faith to work. Don't just sit back and wait for your hope to miraculously materialise before you. Get your hands dirty. Earn some scars. Join the fight. And as we all work and sweat and bleed together a beautiful tomorrow will arrive to welcome us into an era we have yet to see as a church - one marked by the missional passion of the early church.

So, let's do it.

Article quoted: https://record.adventistchurch.com/2017/05/10/welcome-to-the-church-of-failure/


Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.