Posted by Patrick Corkum on June 7, 2010
There is a word that stirs emotion and can make your blood boil, annoy the heck out of you, or make you excited. That word is evangelism. I must admit that my instinctual response to the word is not a good one. This is one of those things where you have to suppress your instinctual nature in light of what you know. The problem with the word that triggers the instinctual response in me is all of the things that are done in Christian evangelism. People have good intentions, at least I think they do. However, people have changed evangelism into sales and marketing of Christianity. I am going to present my issues first, so don’t stop and get all inflamed at my issues before reading the entire post.
Top Ten Issues with Christian Evangelism Practices
- People try to instill fear in order to convert (i.e. fire and brimstone)
- People make it completely emotional (i.e. Jesus will be your BFF)
- People make it all about “being saved” (i.e. Say a prayer and you’ll go to heaven)
- People use language that makes no sense to non-Christians (i.e. sanctification, salvation, justification, glory, trinity, grace, mercy, etc…)
- People selling places in heaven (i.e. pamphlets asking if you’re going to heaven)
- People who preach about nothing but what God hates
- People tout the powers of the Bible but don’t know what it really says
- People ask “Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?”
- Altar Calls
Okay, now calm down… take a deep breath and read my explanations. My reasons for those things being issues are primarily based upon using Jesus’ ministry as a model. However, first and foremost, it must be understood what evangelism is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be about preaching the good news. It is not about conversion or assimilation or making Christians. That stuff you just need to leave up to God. Our role is to preach the good news (and I don’t mean from a pulpit or soap box) with our words and actions, and make disciples of all nations. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
- Fear? Seriously, fear? This has many problems. First, it’s like trying to sell a boat to someone in the middle of the desert because a fairy tale said it would rain so bad that the desert would become a sea (Look at it from their perspective). Secondly, it is not the message that the Christ preached. He preached a message about love and forgiveness. If you really think about it, the thought of becoming a Christian should instill fear for multiple reasons. #1 – You will be persecuted. #2 – It means giving up control.
- The emotional factor just drives me nuts. I know what you’re going to say: “it reaches people”. I have nothing against the emotional factor, except when everything else is excluded. You cannot sell Jesus. He is not for sale. Yes, we need to be eternally grateful for what He has done for us. However, we still need to fear Him. He is still our judge, holy and completely righteous. What He requires of us is not simply thanksgiving, but a life changing faith in Him. So life changing is this faith that He describes it as being born again.
- Can we get past this concept of “being saved”? Let’s call it something like “becoming a disciple”. After all, this is what God has told us that he wants. People think that you hit this point somewhere and BAM, you’re in. I am not going to say that there is zero merit to this, but Paul talks about running the good race. Races are not points in time. However, modern evangelism focuses itself completely on putting your running shoes on. I know, you’re probably thinking “that is horrible”. It is about the long haul. We need to get the concept of “point of conversion” out of our heads because we are limiting God based upon our understanding of space and time.
- I understand this one all too well being a “computer guy”. Doctors and nurses probably also understand this. If you aren’t in the group that speaks the language, you are going to shut off whenever someone uses it. In the computer or medical world, people are just going to ask you to speak in plain English. However, in the religion world, people are going to simply tune out. This is a really hard one to do, but it must be done.
- Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven. He spoke about what it is like. He stirred curiosity. However, heaven is sold as some kind of mystical place that your spirit goes when you die to in order to be in complete bliss surrounded by white fluffy clouds. Somewhere the concept of new creation and resurrection has disappeared. I am not going to claim to understand it all, because I most definitely do not. What I do know, however, is that the gospel can not be simplified into the word “heaven”.
- Pamphlets are a great way to be impersonal. I wonder if Jesus passed out pamphlets with lunch when he fed the multitudes?
- Yes, God hates things. He hates sin. That being said, he is also for many things. Christians are know for what we are against instead of what we are for. It is horrible. We need to stop pointing out the needle in other people’s eyes and start looking at the spear in our own. It’s like trying to tell people about a car by telling people: “It doesn’t fly”, “it doesn’t like going off road”, “it really doesn’t like it if you brake hard”, etc… Would you be interested in a car if that was the message? What about “It goes 0 to 60 in 3 seconds flat”, “it is completely maintenance free”, “it is stylish and comfortable”?
- This is a big one for me. There are people that can quote to you more Bible verses than you can shake a stick at. They have a verse for every possible thing that you can throw at them. The problem is that they are completely out of context. Try taking a newspaper and reading one out of every ten sentences. You’re probably going to get a story that is just a little bit inaccurate. Secondly, it is not the words that are important, in and of themselves, but the whole story that they tell and all the parts in between.
- If I am not a Christian, asking me if I know Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior is going to tick me off. Has anyone encountered someone who says “No, I don’t, thank you for asking, I think I will do that.” Nowadays, people generally have heard about Christianity. They know it exists. If you’re not one, you probably think Christians are nutcases and that Jesus is a fictional crutch. Asking that question simply adds fuel to their fire.
- Altar calls are touchy. I know many people who think that they are the bees knees. However, I think that they are disturbing. #1 – They play to people’s emotions. #2 – They feed off of people’s desires to get attention. #3 – They are based upon that “point of conversion” and not about the race. #4 – It has nothing to do with long-term discipleship. #5 – It uses peer pressure. I could go on and on as to why I think most altar calls are a disgrace. Unfortunately, they have become such a huge staple of evangelism that people will only see what they think is good and nothing else. What’s my suggestion? I really like when people offer to give the people the opportunity to make a decision to take a step and they offer someone to help them. I don’t think they should raise their hand, come on stage or “commit their lives to Christ” right then and there. There is a way to do it right, but mostly it is not done that way.
In summary, let’s preach the good news…. all of it…. and make disciples of all nations, and let God take care of the rest.