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The hammer test

I remember clearly the hammer test. A couple of rocks lay on the table in front of us at the YWAM global leadership gathering in Delhi. Mark Anderson – who describes himself as ‘skinny’ – invited Frank Naea and another hefty guy to try to break the rocks with screwdrivers and wrenches. After a few frenzied but fruitless minutes, Mark stepped forward with a hammer. With one stroke he pulverized the rock.

“The right tool will get the job done!” declared Mark, and then continued to explain that high impact evangelism is needed to break open hard situations. At this Delhi conference, Mark was introducing his vision for short, high profile evangelistic campaigns to YWAM. Friendship evangelism, coffee bar evangelism and street evangelism all had their place. But there was no substitute for the “hammer approach” to make a high impact, he explained. In the space of a few minutes, his arresting demonstration had convinced us of such an approach.

Last week I saw the hammer at work in the strongly Catholic south of Holland. The province of Limburg protrudes into Belgium and Germany, and has the fewest Protestant churches and evangelical fellowships in the nation. When Mark and his YWAM Campaigns colleagues, Steve and Willy Smith, announced plans for an Impact World Tour in Limburg, many shook their heads in unbelief that anyone would attempt to launch anything in such unresponsive territory.

More heads of church leaders – including a Catholic monsigneur – shook with unbelief over the past three weeks as they watched young people stream forward in response to the evangelistic invitations at the end of performances by Team Extreme, or GXJam or Island Breeze. Such responses had never been seen before in these towns and cities. Such performances had never been seen before in these places.

Mark explains that Impact World Tour is designed with specific target audiences in mind. People today want entertainment, not preaching. So, attract them with what they want – and give them what they need.

Team Extreme appeals to male audiences, with muscled performers ripping telephone books in half, blowing up hot water bottles like balloons until they burst into smithereens, squeezing soda cans one-handed and smashing layers of concrete slabs with bare hands and heads. Corny? For some, maybe. But there’s a raw appeal here to many unreached crowds.

And where’s the message? Answer: woven throughout the evening’s activities. Key theological concepts like sin, guilt, atonement, forgiveness and grace are forcefully presented to a closely-watching audience. The barrier of sin between us and God, portrayed by a wall of 20 concrete slabs, is smashed with one blow to demonstrate the liberating work of the Cross.

Theological lessons
Two teams of volunteers from the audience participate in a tug-of-war. Forming human chains, they tug in opposite directions on a solidly-built Team Extreme member, until invariably one team or the other collapses. A brief allusion to the battle between good and evil raging inside of each of us, as Paul explains in Romans chapter 7, turns a fun event into a theological lesson more memorable than a three-point sermon.

On other evenings, GKJam offers teenagers a spectacular feast of skateboarding, in-line skating and BMX biking feats, interspersed with high-energy dances and short testimonies. Thomas from Denmark, a former world champion BMXer, became a believer a year or so ago, and now shares his faith as he demonstrates his biking skills. In Limburg last week testimonies included surprise live appearances from two Brazilian professional footballers playing for Ajax.

Island Breeze is yet another evening programme popular with families, performed by Pacific Islanders, from Hawaiians to Maoris. Through fire dances, hakas and stick routines, they share about the transformation of their forefathers’ lifestyles after the gospel was brought to the islands, and thank their European audiences for having sent missionaries with the story of Jesus.

An evening of such illustrations and testimonies – “Jason here tried to commit suicide before Jesus turned his life around…” – exposes the audience to down-to-earth spirituality, and prepares them for a direct no-nonsense invitation. My sons went with two cars full with friends from our town of Heerde. Several of them responded to the invitation. On the return trip, one asked what the Bible said about drugs: “I suppose this means I’ll have to give them up?”

Overall the response was around 12 per cent of the audience each night. Over the full three weeks, that was around 800 responses – often in towns and cities with few if any evangelical fellowships.

The hammer had done its job. Now other tools are needed to create new discipling structures.

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

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