Thursday, February 15, 2007

Evangelism in the 21st Century

The following is a paraphrase of a conversation I had recently with a fundamentalist church member after a church service. His statements are the ones in quotes.

"If you died today, do you know you would go to heaven?"


"Ok, when you get to heaven, if God asks you why he should let you in, what would you say?"

I would tell him that I surrendered my life to him, accepted him as the lord of my life and as a reflection of that commitment I tried to live my example according to the example set by Jesus."

"Well, I've got good news for you. Nothing you can do can get you into heaven. Salvation is a free gift that you must accept. As a divinity student I would expect you to know that."

Yes, I know that.

"Well you said that you would tell God that you tried to live a good life and that is why you should get into heaven. That's works righteousness and..."

You weren't listening, what about the first part of what I said?

"What first part?"

The Lord of my life part.

"Well, what does that mean?"

Well, it means that I accepted Jesus as my savior and surrendered my life to him.

"Well salvation is a gift that you must explicitly accept, have you ever done that?"


All of this was prompted by the fact that I am leading a small group discussion of Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian on Wednesday nights. This person, who had not read the book, did not think it was an appropriate book for our congregation to study. But that is not the point of this post.

The point is that this kind of ambush evangelism that reduces sharing the gospel to a script and a formula that one must follow; this kind of evangelism that seeks to convert and move on to the next person, this kind of evangelism that seems to emphasize speed and efficiency over relationships is not going to work in the post-modern world. (If it has ever really worked at all.)

In seeking to share the Gospel, we need to remember Jesus' commandment that we love one another. That's what evangelism should be all about, love. Evangelism is not about keeping a record of how many people we have converted in the inside cover of a Bible. Loving means caring about them enough to want to establish a relationship with non-Christians. Without love, there is no relationship. Without a relationship, the new Christian may not have someone to turn to when he experiences doubt.

Disagree with me? Consider what Paul has to say:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

There was no love in my encounter. It is difficult for me to express what I am trying to say because I am so frustrated. I am frustrated that there are so many church leaders (both pastors and lay leadership) who seem to forget that our call as Christians is to love God and love others.


Pastor Chris said...

When I call customer service, I get a recording, or a script that customer service must follow.

In the name of quality, the humanness of the transaction has disappeared, a script must be followed, no room for deviation. If it doesn't fit the script, nothing but frustration is communicated.

Whether he was a fundamentalist or not is not the point. You point is the script -- evangelism by script is not allowing the Spirit to lead.

When i teach evangelism, i teach about letting the Spirit lead. I also teach about listening.

At the same time, I do encourage people to have a "Default setting," at least one gospel presentation tool that they know and can use, not as a script, but as an outline to work with.

Pastor Chris

Gil Gulick said...

I guess my pointing out that they were fundamentalists was not necessary, but, unfortunately, my ministry is currently dominated by the impact they are having on the church I am serving. I have little time for anything else.

I agree with you completely on letting the spirit lead. In the end, it is all about listening: listening to the Spirit, and listening to the person you are witnessing to.

Isaac said...

Right on. The need for Christians to love the person they are enlightening, rather than loving getting to set another person straight to make them feel better about their personal belief is a message that needs to be repeatd over and over again. It's all that works now, and judging by the Paul quote, all that has ever worked.