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Monday, February 14, 2005

Evangelism Sucks

Let's cut to the chase: most evangelism sucks. Generally, the only people who dislike it more than the unbelievers being evangelized are the Christians doing the evangelizing. Now, that may sound odd, but as one of the dutifully conscience bound saints, I can testify that I hated sharing my faith with unbelievers.

Why such angst? Because nobody really wants to be a jerk, and yet no one really wants to see their friends burn in hell either. I shared my faith because I felt like I had too, and the results were unequivocally dismal. Ask an honest believer and you'll find this is a common sentiment.

Now, Christians typically respond in one of three ways:
  • a) we try and pretend that evangelism doesn't matter
  • b) we know that it does, but we just shut our mouths anyway and don't say anything (feeling guilty all the while), -OR-
  • c) we start looking for a secret formula, the right ingredient which is "guaranteed to produce results" (just like all those emails that promise to add 3 inches of you-know-what to you-know-where). We think evangelism can be reduced to a technique.
Listen, I am convinced that in our increasingly post-modern society, hard-sell, cold-call, door-to-door, "God has a wonderful plan for your life" evangelism is the socio-cultural equivalent of electronic spam. Send enough of it and you may see results. But you'll tick an awful lot of people off in the process.

At the same time, I am equally convinced that evangelism is exactly what God intends for the church to be doing. Its not an optional thing. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if we want to take the Bible seriously, we need to see evangelism as part and parcel of the ordinary Christian experience. To be a Christian is to be evangelistic. To share our faith.

Eph 4:15 tells us to "speak the truth in love." Paul doesn't just just have other Christians in view here - we need to be truthful and honest with non-believers as well. And that's precisely what so many people don't like about Scripture - it has some really hard things to say about our eternal destiny and stuff like that if we won't tow the line and play according to Jesus' rules. Jesus himself said some pretty harsh things, like "no one comes to the father but through me." Ouch. Not exactly words of tolerance.

So where does this leave us? Actually, forget about you - where does that leave me? You see, I want to plant churches, churches that reach unbelievers even, and that generally involves, well, uh...evangelism! Holy converts, Batman!

First, we need to get something straight: if you think that God loves you more because you share your faith (or less because you don't), you don't understand the gospel. God does not love you more or less because of what you do - he loves you solely because of what Christ has already done, and the way you gain his favor is by putting your faith in Christ's work, not your own.

I'm not pointing the finger at you here - I'm pointing it at me, because for years I didn't get this fundamental fact. Yet its this fundamental fact that makes the good news, "good news".

Whether we like it or not, Jesus believed in Hell (and frankly, I think he probably knows more than any of us ever will). But he also believed in Heaven. And he said that all I have to do to get there is realize that I can't get there on my own - that I need his righteousness because mine is like filthy rags (think dirty diapers, folks). And the way I get that righteousness is simply by believing his promise - both to give and to guarantee it on my behalf.

Now listen, what I am saying here is for all of us Christians. We don't need to worry about what God thinks about us when we share our faith (or when we don't). And that promise is tremendously liberating. It means I can relax a bit, have a beer, and just be myself. Around myself. And around non-Christians (trust me on this - most non-Christians will appreciate it if you just relax and have a beer).

What I'm talking about here is preaching the gospel to yourself. Now here's the cool part. Whatever gospel I preach to myself, whatever thing I think commends me to God - that is what I will offer to others. We cannot help but do otherwise. And as we start to undestand the gospel in terms of believing God's promises about what he has done for us, that realization will change the way we share our faith with others.

The concept that I'm talking about is called "Lifestyle Evangelism," and I'll write more about that in the next day or two.

(to be continued...)


At 11:37 PM, February 14, 2005, Blogger rs said...

likewise this quote from "God-centered Evangelism" by Kuiper, "God chose certain persons, not only that they might go to heaven when they die, but also that they might be His witnesses while here on earth. Once more let it be said, election demands evangelism."

At 3:09 AM, February 15, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

You hate sharing your faith with non-believers? You could have fooled me. Yes, we do like to just relax and have a beer, and don’t forget Cigars and Coffee.

Oh, and putting a spam reference about “size” into a post about spreading the Gospel… Classic!

At 5:25 AM, February 15, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Ryan, I'm looking forward to reading the Kuyiper book (What does a dutch calvinist from the '60s think about evangelism, anyways? Inquiring minds want to know!!!)

Charles, yeah, I admit it. I really do hate "evangelism" (ie. as a program). But I love hanging out and talking about Jesus over coffee, cigars, and Marilyn's pizza. In a way though, I don't really think of that as "evangelism" - that's just me being me. (I'll flesh this out more in the second article).

At 7:45 AM, February 15, 2005, Anonymous bojo6824 said...

Reading the writings on evangelism was interesting and even without scrolling down I knew who wrote this because I recognized the philosophy. Interestingly I am discovering that I can offer what I have and today and recently that is an incredible interest in contemplative knitting and offering the products to those who are in need whether celebratory or for bereavement. And for the first time even though we are not pounding on doors it feels right. Thanks for putting it into words Christian.


At 9:27 AM, February 15, 2005, Blogger Justin Dombrowski said...

Thanks for the entry, Christian. I know studying at JTS that "lifestyle evangelism" is about the only thing one can do. The old campus crusade tactics really don't work here.

At 9:29 AM, February 15, 2005, Blogger Justin Dombrowski said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:45 PM, February 15, 2005, Anonymous akbug said...

Lifestyle evangelism? OK. The gospel does bring relief instead of a frenzy, but I am glad that none said relax with "Starbucks" coffee. Otherwise, I might ask whether 'lifestyle evangelism' is not simply a culturally preferred brand over, say 'fanatic martyrdom evangelism'(which is not really a method). Actually, that is my question. Does your preference of one method over another really have to do with Gospel? Theology?What about comfort zones? I can understand the vicious guilt trips imposed/perceived and we would never say that "effective evangelism must be uncomfortable/forced/programmatic or that Campus Crusade way", but I hope we are not saying that "effective evangelism must be comfortable" either.

At 3:46 PM, February 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

while I agree that "lifestyle" evangelism is preferred -as we are relational beings and change often comes through significant relationships- I would not sway to either side in saying that any type is better. I am continually amazed at how many people come to Christ as a result of obedience by sharing the Good News whith anyone, anywhere- however the Spirit leads. The Word itself is powerful enough to change lives. I would submit that the attitude of "door to door" evangelism and ticking people off has more to do with how one speaks to a stranger "cramming it down their throat"- than the basic strategy.
It Middle Eastern countries I am surprised at how many are coming to faith in Christ through anonymous mailings, and EMAILS!
Anyway- I know a number of believers who come to know Christ as a result of "God has a wonderful plan for your life"-

At 7:55 PM, February 15, 2005, Blogger rs said...

Just responding to akbug...

I guess I don't agree with your "I hope we are not saying that 'effective evangelism must be comfortable' either" statement. I would question how effective any evangelism is that isn't "comfortable." The reason evangelism has become uncomfortable for believers is that we have lost touch with how much we need the gospel believers. When we are in tune with how dependent we are on it for our sanctification each day, we are able to proclaim that same gospel-comfortably-to unbelievers. Take my friend charlesdog12 above. He openly admits that he does not believe the bible's message but I talk with him all the time about Christian faith and I love talking to him. Even when we aren't talking about Christian faith, he is awesome. Is this evangelism? I think it is, but converting Charles is not my goal--loving him and being a good friend to him is--this is why I'm comfortable. I guess you need to define what you mean by "effective" and "comfortable."

I'd really like to hear your response and maybe get some more clarification. Thanks.

At 9:45 PM, February 15, 2005, Blogger Molly said...

While I was talking to Christian this morning, I think we made the helpful distinction between the "Lifestyle Evangelism" that most people claim as a cop-out to actively engaging people with verbal expressions of their faith and "A Lifestyle of Evangelism" in which the redemption bought for us by Christ infiltrates every aspect of our lives. The result of having a lifestyle of evangelism is that Christ becomes a natural outflow of all of our relationships - in how we pursue people, in how we talk to people, in what we say to people, our perspective on suffering and joy ... you get the picture.

I've found Jack Miller's book "A Faith Worth Sharing" to be a compelling, anecdotal description of what Christian might be describing.

At 12:28 AM, February 16, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

A Random Mind: Thanks for your comment. Right back at you. And to respond to what you said on the TC thread, yeah, I have been hanging around CHristian a little too much.

At 7:57 AM, February 16, 2005, Blogger Molly said...

I didn't say "too much" :) I think we could all benefit by having a bit more of Christian's passion for the Gospel rub off on us (as long as we could still get a full night's sleep!).

At 9:18 AM, February 17, 2005, Anonymous Karyn said...

You might be interested to read what the Internet Monk recently wrote on this topic. He calls it the Wretched Urgency.

At 12:57 PM, February 17, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Karyn: Nice link, thanks! I hear a definite ressonance in many of the things he is saying...

At 4:09 PM, February 17, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

This is Mark (Karyn's husband). I wrote a very similar post on my blog after reading the iMonk piece Karyn referenced. See it at

You have some intriguing discussions here; I'm going to add your blog to my regular feeds.

At 10:16 PM, February 17, 2005, Anonymous drsimrak said...

It's a bit after the fact that I respond because my wife recently introduced me to this blog.

Anywhoo, The best example we have of the task at hand is actually Jesus and the disciples. Jesus (God in the flesh) spent three solid years with 12 guys and at the end of that time 1 denied him three times 1 ran away in the garden and 1 sold him out.

We were told that we would be persecuted, but how many of us took that warning seriously? I know that for me it's still somewhat foreign to think about.

A couple years ago I was faced with the question of how would people know that I am a Christian, what is the true mark? Now the cathechismal answer would be that we believe in Christ, but the scriptures say that men will know by our love.

So here we have it set clearly before us that it is the way we live that we will witness and be effective. Yet Paul said to always be prepared to give an account for what we believe and in the new testament we see many references to reasoning with non-believers.

So which is it? Both. If we are living our lives in the way which we ought, we will be on fire for Christ. We will be consumed with love for Him. The Bible says that we as the church are the bride of Christ. When I think about that I really consider the relationship of a bride and a groom. I'm a newly wed and I know what it is like to be consumed with passion and love for my bride. Am I that passionate about my Lord. Everyone knows when someone is in love and they talk about it. Does everyone know that I am in love with Christ? Do they talk about it? Do I tell them? If not then I am not living as I should.

At 10:24 PM, March 06, 2005, Anonymous akbug said...

for rs:

sorry for the way late response . . .

effective: evangelism that is obedient to God; Conn's little book Evangelism: Doing Justice Preaching Grace is helpful; also the basic meaning of effective implies 'results' which I would say in the area of evangelism means conversions by the wonderful good news of Jesus Christ

comfortable: as in prosperity gospel even materialism; NOT: 'hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned . . . (2. Cor 4.8f)

The Spirit leads us to share the good news whether in comfort or discomfort, on the street corner or in my home, etc. We are always going for what feels 'natural' but I personally need something more - perhaps 'supernatural'. Does that mean that I am not comfortable with my identity in Jesus Christ or does it mean that Jesus continues to work on my (sanctification) unbelief, reluctance, resistance, sinful nature, etc. Jesus loves me but because I know this I need to "work" and work hard on this relationship. My relationship with Jesus is not like a continuous gushing forth of overflowing love from above that spills over to my neighbor. God challenges me when I am 'dry'; he puts me into the fellowship of believers and gives me work to do: prayer, Bible study, even evangelism. Also, people say that if we 'really' knew Jesus in light of our own sinfulness, we would be on fire for the gospel. I experience that fire, but truthfully, the intensity comes and goes. It is not always something that I can point a finger on and I believe that God uses different ways to flame the fire - e.g. I am inspired by different parts of the Bible at different times. Ultimately, we are able to say that whatever it is, we feel comfortable because of Christ's presence in our life. But take Paul's example - he is full of joy (which is not exactly comfort) but wouldn't you say that his experiences were NOT comfortable?

An overemphasis on the doctrine of justification often cuts short our covenant participation (obligations) to which Christ calls us to. I think the great heretics Pelagius and Arminius started out in reaction to a faith too "comfortable". We can crusade against such evil doers, but perhaps we can also be challenged to reform by the Lord.

At 10:10 PM, March 28, 2005, Blogger chris said...

Our church is wrestling through a book called "The Externally Focused Church" right now. I think you'd enjoy it. It addresses this very issue with the same sensibilities you have.

At 12:18 PM, November 05, 2005, Blogger kingston said...

Hmmm. I agree that cold-sell evangelism is not probably the ticket. I don't think "lifestyle evangelism" without the actual kerygma does anyone much good, either.

I've had pretty good results with praying that God will give me opportunities to evangelize, and then waiting on Him to open the door among people I know. He seems to prepare their hearts in advance.

Sit back and have a beer? Yeah, that's a good witness...

At 12:59 PM, November 05, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

whatgloryapen: I really need to get around to writing the second part of this post. I think that might help clear up some of the confusion/discomfort which I sense in some folk's comments.

What I'm not talking about here is some kind of "lifestyle evangelism" that is devoid of "kerygma (proclamation)". What I AM calling for is a lifestyle in which gospel proclamation pervades every inch of the way I live, every moment of my life.

Yes, even over a beer. In fact, especially over beer, around the dinner table, hanging our with friends, etc. I'm looking for a proclamation that is as natural as is breathing.

I know that personally, I have had far more opportunities to "share the gospel" over coffee, meals, and beer than I've had in a setting (street corner, door to door, whatever) where I am explicitly "doing evangelism".

I think that's really what I'm uncomfortable with - the idea of "evangelism" as something you "do" at specific (often "special") times (and "don't do" in all the "ordinary" times).

I don't want to "do evangelism". I want the gospel to be the character and content of my ordinary life, I want to "be an evangel".

Of course the best way to illustrate what I'm talking about is to have you over for dinner with a bunch of non-xian friends. :-)

At 4:27 PM, July 09, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most christian's say, "Evangelists and homosexuals...the commplaint department is across the street.

In NO book...
And no one person...


we must never lose matter what your believe... and there can not be life,thought,or death without.

EARTH/ my body Water/ my blood Air/ my breath FIRE/ my spirit

At 4:38 PM, July 09, 2007, Blogger Christian said...

Um, not to be cynical or anything, but when you say "Real truth... in no book... in no one person." that sounds kind of dogmatic, like you think, well... like you think you're right. And that what you say is, well, true.


Could you maybe flesh out a little bit more what you mean? It sounds kind of like you're saying, "Jesus is full of crap but I've got it figured out..."

Is that your gist? Or am I misunderstanding you here?


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