I’m reading Tony Jones’ book Postmodern Youth Ministry (only about four years late). Much of what he says in it resounds with where emergent discussions have led since it was published. [Side note: he’ll be in the Columbus area in two weeks speaking at a youth ministry conference at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University]
As I read the chapter on evangelism I considered how little I know about evangelism. As for the three churches I have been involved with in my life none of them were really concerned about evangelism (though they’d say otherwise). I don’t think I could say I know any one person who is really concerned with “evangelism.” So I’m left critiquing what I don’t think is right, but not having much of an alternative to offer.
I agree with Jones that most of our attempts at evangelism through recent years have been dishonest – especially in youth ministry. I abhor the idea of bait and switch, and yet that seems to be the only way we know how to “evangelize.” Let’s offer something really cool at our church (VBS, boyscouts, youth ministries – ouch, whatever) and get people to come for that, and while they are there we’ll switch on them and tell them they better repent or they’ll be cast off to hell.
That doesn’t jive with the model that Christ had . . . and it’s time more of us Christians move toward a more Christ-modeled approach. Here’s the best I can think what it looks like, though I’m far from a good example of it.
The fundamental flaw in thinking about evanelism in both churches and individual Christians is that we do all we can to get people to come to us. “Let’s offer boyscouts at our church so people will get exposed to the church.” “Let’s open our building to a voting precint so people will get exposed to our church” (all the while David Lipscomb rolls over in his grave.) “Let’s have small group Bible studies in our homes so people will feel comfortable coming to our homes in the midst of Bible studies.” Let’s do all that stuff so people will come to us . . . FLAW!
The first verb in Jesus’ Great Commission is GO! Go to them, and I scarcely see any of us Christians going to the non-Christians. We’re too busy coming up with new programs and ministires for us to “bring people in.”
Jesus didn’t seem worried about “bringing people in.” His concern was going to the people. Is there anything inherently wrong with getting people to our building? No way! I think it’s a great plan – but these plans should be tertiary points to the main emphasis in evangelism – GOING! Why do we always expect people to hear about Christ and be exposed to Christ on our terms?
This is a disease that pervades the American church. It is the disease that pervaded Israel in the Old Testament. They were to be a light to the nations, but they settled for being an escape from the nations. I hate to get all preachy, but wasn’t it Jesus who said that the sick need doctors, not the healthy. We spend most of our time preaching to the choir and feeding the fold – both have their place, but it is not primary.
My solution. This is my solution for the place where I find myself. You’re solution needs to fit where you are in your culture, in your job, in your family.
* Substitute teach in the school district our church is in. It is time the schools near our church see our church for what it is: people that love God, not a sanctuary where people visit. Do I want them to come to my church? Sure, that’d be great, but I can’t be dishonest with them and ruin the relationships I make becuase they didn’t “convert.” Perhaps they need to see Christ on their terms, where they are, and go about however they need to.
* Football officiating. It has been a slow and difficult task – I’m too busy with church stuff to really get involved, but this is becoming one of my leisure activities (I know, I’m sick). This is a great opportunity to meet non-Christian folks around Columbus and have a Christ-like influence in a place that often gets overlooked. Am I on a mission to convert the people I ref with? Not really . . . I simply live and embody the Gospel story as well as I can . . . and if I believe Christ . . . people will notice.
*Embrace diversity. Mary Beth is in a Jewish wedding Sunday. We have become good friends with a Jewish couple and rather that seeking to “convert” them, we pursue growing in faith together and exposing them to the missing link in their faith. There are Indians of different faiths around our church building. I seek to know them and appreciate thier faith and expose them to mine.
There are many other areas where this needs to work out in my life. I hope more Christians will consider where they can be influential for the Gospel of Christ outside of the church instead of waiting for folks to come through our doors. We need to infiltrate the bars, the clubs, and even the strip clubs (hmm . . . we’ll have to go a long way to figure that one out).
The day of Gospel meetings is over . . . now is the time for living out the Gospel.