servant evangelism (and service evangelism)

Pastor Steve Sjogren is coming to Austin in late October. The popularity of the Christianese phrase servant evangelism is due in large part to Sjogren, so in honor of him, here’s the current draft definition of that word.

 

servant evangelism More rarely: service evangelism; servanthood evangelism. An evangelism model in which evangelists create opportunities to talk with (and possibly witness to) non-Christians by providing a free service (as washing cars or raking leaves) or gift (as a cold drink, a snack, the newspaper, a dollar bill). Since 1993, this model has been strongly associated with pastor Steve Sjogren and is described in his books Conspiracy of Kindness (1993) and 101 Ways to Reach Your Community (2000).
For some notes on a possible distinction between service evangelism and servant evangelism, please see *service evangelism.
1982 Krass Evangelizing Neopagan North America 111 : Jesus’ evangelism was servant-evangelism. 1984 Armstrong Pastor as Evangelist 163 : Such an evangelism calls for a particular style that is quite different from the sometimes overly aggressive approaches employed by some well-intentioned churches. I have called it “service evangelism,” which expression is intended to suggest not that service is evangelism but that service and evangelism are concomitant aspects of ministry. I considered calling it “servant evangelism,” but that connoted something slightly different, placing the emphasis more on the service of evangelism. I wanted to convey the idea not of a servant doing evangelism (although that is certainly a valid concept) but of an evangelism that is service-oriented, the purpose of which is not just saving souls but saving lives and helping people. 1993 Sjogren Conspiracy of Kindness 17 : People often ask me to explain servant evangelism in a nutshell…. This is the definition we use in our church: demonstrating the kindness of God by offering to do some act of humble service with no strings attached. 1998 Reid Introduction to Evangelism 209 : Servanthood evangelism is a combination of simple acts of kindness and intentional personal evangelism\zfourdots Servant evangelism often involves a whole group washing cars, offering sodas at a park, etc.

See also *confrontational evangelism; *friendship evangelism; *lifestyle evangelism; *outreach; *street-corner evangelism.
service evangelism
1. Syn *servant evangelism.. Since the publication of Steve Sjogren’s book Conspiracy of Kindness (1993), which popularized the term servant evangelism, the term service evangelism is often used as a synonym for *servant evangelism. Before 1993, the term service evangelism predominated. Given the similarity in sound and meaning of the two terms, some people today use the terms interchangeably.
In Sjogren’s Conspiracy of Kindness, the term servant evangelism occurs 69 times and service evangelism occurs only once—in the one-line introduction to appendix 2 in the back of the book: “Let these statements help you step out with confidence into service evangelism.” The use of service evangelism here was probably an editorial accident, since the book so consistently uses the term servant evangelism everywhere else. Note that in the 1998 citation below, the book reviewer uses the term service evangelism despite the fact that Sjogren so consistently uses the term servant evangelism; the reviewer evidently considers the similar-sounding terms to be interchangeable.
1998 Arnold Small Group Outreach 96 : Service evangelism made a splash with the publication of Steve Sjogren’s book Conspiracy of Kindness.
2. An evangelism model in which Christians seek out opportunities to serve people in the community, particularly non-Christians. See 1983 citation below for more.
1979 Armstrong Service Evangelism 65 : Service evangelism is motivated by a genuine interest in others, not by self-interest. The purpose is to be a friend, not to gain a statistic. It is not, “What can they do for our church?” but “What can our church do for them?” That requires listening more than telling. The approach is incarnational rather than propositional. It is a matter of being there are caring, instead of going there and unloading. 1982 Conn Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace 54 : Members are encouraged to move into the neighborhood where the church centers its ministry and exercise their gifts for service-evangelism. 1983 Johnson Evangelism Primer 50 : Service evangelism provides a positive approach. The training in a P.R.O.O.F. Seminar (Probing Responsibly One’s Own Faith) equips lay people to knock on the doors of strangers and inquire how the church may be of service. After an extended period of listening, these service-oriented visitors share a personal witness of faith, offer a word of prayer, and invite the persons visited to attend the church. 1984 Armstrong Pastor as Evangelist 163 : Such an evangelism calls for a particular style that is quite different from the sometimes overly aggressive approaches employed by some well-intentioned churches. I have called it “service evangelism,” which expression is intended to suggest not that service is evangelism but that service and evangelism are concomitant aspects of ministry. I considered calling it “servant evangelism,” but that connoted something slightly different, placing the emphasis more on the service of evangelism. I wanted to convey the idea not of a servant doing evangelism (although that is certainly a valid concept) but of an evangelism that is service-oriented, the purpose of which is not just saving souls but saving lives and helping people. 1992 Hybels Honest to God? 36 : Dorcas … tremendously impacted her city by doing deeds of kindness. She made garments for the poor and forgotten, and distributed them in the name of Christ. She may never have knocked on a door; it’s unlikely she ever preached a sermon. Yet through her acts of service she pointed people to the God who could transform human hearts and fill them with love (Acts 9). Dorcas was a service evangelist.
3. The inclusion of evangelistic elements in a social ministry.
1959 Mennonite Quarterly Review (vols 32–33) 161 : To many of us who have pastored or labored in Mennonite missions, it has become evident that “preaching evangelism” (revivals, mass crusades, etc.) has lost much of its past effectiveness as a chief method for a local church. Through our deeper encounter with the Biblical, historical, and theological meaning of evangelism, and through our experimentation in cities like Chicago, we have come to see that there are other ways to win people to Christ than by formal preaching, ways which can be studied under the broad heading of visitation evangelism, fellowship evangelism, teaching evangelism, and service evangelism. 2005 Unruh, Sider Saving Souls, Serving Society 36 : Service evangelism entails evangelistic interactions in the context of social ministries. Example: offering a devotional before a soup kitchen meal.

sinner’s prayer

One of the interesting things about researching and documenting language is that it’s easy to think that there won’t be very many surprises. After all, to a great extent, writing a dictionary is simply recording the meanings that we all already associate with words. Sure, the finished product will contain a lot of new information for people who don’t yet speak the language; but for existing speakers the dictionary ought to be chock-full of stuff “they already know.” This is especially true in the case of a dictionary of slang, because the definitions that people already associate with these words are the very definitions I’m trying to document. Whatever you think a word means, that’s the meaning I want to capture.

But in spite of this expectation of dullness, I still managed to be surprised by some of the things I find out. Take, for example, the sinner’s prayer. This is a prayer that someone can say when they want to become a Christian. As you’ll see in the definition I’ve reproduced below, the prayer is simple. It’s what some linguists and sociologists call a “speech act,” or something you say sincerely and publicly in order to let others know about a personal decision that has been made. Wedding vows are another example of a speech act: saying “I do” isn’t what makes you a faithful husband or wife, but by saying it publicly, you let everybody know how serious you are.

By the same token, saying a sinner’s prayer disingenuously doesn’t accidentally turn you into a Christian, any more than lying about your age makes you younger or older. And yet the Bible is constantly talking about public declarations of faith, whether it be verbal (as is the case of a sinner’s prayer or wedding vows) or demonstrative (as is the case with water baptism or wearing a WWJD bracelet).

For all the value that a sinner’s prayer may have for both the new Christian and the community around him, some people criticize the use of the prayer because, as they say, the Bible says nothing about it. If you search the Bible for the phrase “sinner’s prayer,” you will come up empty. (Of course, if you search the Bible for the word “Trinity,” you’ll also come up empty, but that’s a blog post for a different blog!) But in the mid-20th century, evangelical commentators clearly identified the sinner’s prayer that was being used in tent revivals and personal evangelism with a prayer found in Scripture: the prayer of the tax collector in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Here’s the passage:

He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-13 (emphasis mine)

You can see in the definition below that books in the ’40s and ’50s directly referred to this prayer as the sinner’s prayer.

Now naturally, if a new Christian wants to expand on his or her prayer, chucking in additional declarations of repentance or affirming the promises of God, who’s to stop them? So we hear some pretty creative sinner’s prayers. But the idea of an oral confession to mark an inward decision to follow Jesus is way Biblical.

Here’s my working definition of a sinner’s prayer. What do you think? Have I left something out or added too much? Drop me (and the universe) a note in the comments.

sinner’s prayer n.
See also *accept Christ; *decision for Christ; *free gift; *Lord and Savior.
1. Often the sinner’s prayer. The traditional Christian prayer “Lord be merciful to me a sinner,” taken from Luke 18:13.
1940 The Lutheran Witness LIX. 425 : The sinner’s prayer is: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” 1957 Harper I Walk the Glory Road 155 : I prayed the sinner’s prayer I had prayed before but this time I prayed it from my heart. “Oh, God! Be merciful to me a lost sinner and save my soul.” 1958 Sparks Things Which Don’t Happen Every Day 174 : The sinner’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” will give you the correct answer. 1984 Bertolucci, Lilly On Fire with the Spirit 63 : So he turned to the last page [of the Bible], which contained a prayer of surrender to Jesus. The Gideons call it ’The Sinner’s Prayer,’ and it is aptly named because all of us are sinners in need of redemption.
2. As in say the sinner’s prayer; lead someone in the sinner’s prayer. Any of various brief prayers of repentance and faith in Christ made by someone who desires to be a Christian. Often the new convert is led in saying (or echoing) this prayer by an evangelist.
There isn’t a standard form of the prayer, but the basic formula includes an admission of guilt and a pledge to follow Jesus (see 1982 citation). Such prayers are often modeled on Luke 18:13 (see citations for 1962 and 1971), though they may take a variety of forms.
Some commentators complain that there isn’t any Biblical example the widely used sinner’s prayer. However, evidence supports the idea that as far back as the mid-20th century it was generally understood that the sinner’s prayer was the prayer said by the tax collector in Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (see Luke 18:13):
A sinner’s prayer can be simple or elaborate. Here is an example from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678): “God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that thou art a merciful God, and hast ordained that thy Son Jesus Christ should be the Saviour of the world; and moreover, that thou art willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am-and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify thy grace in the salvation of my soul, through thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen” (ch. 18).
A sinner’s prayer can also be called a “prayer of commitment” (as in “committing oneself to the Christian faith”).
1962 Hyles Let’s Build an Evangelistic Church 85 : Ask them to repeat a prayer after you. Once again you may use the sinner’s prayer, ’God be merciful to me a sinner and save my soul \zthreedots I do now receive Jesus as my Saviour and trust Him to take me to Heaven when I die. 1962 Atter The Third Force: A Pentecostal Answer 000 : Every night as the Gospel was preached, there were definite decisions made to accept the Lord Jesus as Saviour. Some wept as they prayed the sinner’s prayer. 1971 King The Jesus People Are Coming 134 : A sinner’s prayer: Father in haven, be merciful to me a sinner as I confess to you all my sins and shortcomings. I receive you Lord Jesus into my heart. I believe that you are the Son of God and that you will change my life, forgive all my sins, and give me peace. Amen. 1976 Unger, Howar Principles of Spiritual Science 181 : I quickly reviewed the Gospel message with her and led her in the sinner’s prayer. 1978 Martin “The Power and the Glory of Billy Graham” Texas Monthly (Mar.) 98 : When power was restored he led them in a brief “sinner’s prayer,” then left the stadium as a local clergyman pronounced the benediction. 1982 Tipton Getting Saved From the Sixties: Moral Meaning in Conversion and Cultural Change 33 : Reciting a short “Sinner’s Prayer,” the convert acknowledges his old identity as a sinner and then sheds it by taking Jesus as his personal savior. This is known as “getting saved.”