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Marketing Jesus?

September 11, 2013

I am a member of an Evangelical Free Church so, as you might imagine, evangelism is a big deal for us; I mean, after all it is right there in our name.  I am pretty sure if you ask anyone in our congregation, or for that matter in any E Free church, whether evangelism is a good idea you would get a yes answer.  In fact, this weekend my church is taking part in a joint open air service at a nearby public park with another church and we are hoping that this will be an outreach.

Oddly enough, I’ve had two interesting conversations with non-Christians in the past few days and they both had nothing good to say about evangelism.  One even called it a crass marketing effort to get others to buy our product (Jesus) that they don’t really want.  Each one was able to cite personal experiences of being a target of evangelism that they found to be rude, annoying or even painful.  One was approached at his father’s funeral and given a pitch, complete with tract, that only Jesus can keep you out of hell when you die.  Ouch!

These stories are not unique and I have long felt that a huge percentage of the activities and encounters that we call evangelistic do more harm than good for the cause of Christ.  There are times when I feel that many of us think that, since Bible calls the Gospel “an offense,” it is our sworn duty to make sure we deliver it in as offensive a way as we possibly can.  At the very least we are repeatedly told that, if people get offended by our approach, we can just chalk it up to the Gospel being an offense and not worry about whether we were rude.

So, if we evangelicals believe that what you do with Jesus is the single most important decision you can make; and if we believe that we are under orders to tell others about Him, what do we do?  Is there anything between silence and what a friend of mine calls “holy headlock evangelism” that makes sense?  Here are some principles that help me:

–          God has wired me in a way that probably 80% of all evangelism methods and training does not match up with how God made me.  Most evangelism teaching assumes that you are either a flaming extrovert or willing to act like one.  As we examine our gifts we can find ways that we’ve already been equipped to serve God and we shouldn’t be bullied into a method that is totally contrary to who we are.

–          I have no call to help make sure the Gospel is offensive and, indeed, want to always be sure that in discussing it I do so “with gentleness and respect.”  For me, this precludes a lot of what is called “confrontational” evangelism.

–          I love I Peter 3:15.  I am going to trust that people actually will ask me about the hope that is within me.  Yet the core assumption in that verse always troubles me.  Frankly, I don’t see a whole lot of non-Christians lining up to ask us about our faith.  Is it possible that we, who we are and how we live, are part of the problem?  Worse yet, do some of our evangelistic efforts make this asking less likely rather than more likely?

–          Ask permission.  When I am in a discussion where it seems as if the time is ripe for the Gospel I ask if I can share it.  I am not talking about the type of ask that is common to a phone call salesman where I initiate the request as a cold call, but the asking that flows from an actual conversation.  If nothing else they can hardly be offended when I had their permission to say what I did.

–          I’m not big on relationships, let alone one-time contacts, being exclusively for evangelism.  Many of the negative evangelism stories I’ve heard tell how quickly they were dropped when they said no thanks.

–          I don’t do bait and switch.  If I’m going to cut your grass it will be because I want to help you cut your grass, not because I want to do it so I can witness to you.  If my cutting the grass triggers the I Peter 3:15 response fine, but, if not, that is OK too.

–          If a contact comes and goes without my giving someone the Gospel I am OK with it.  I am not the Holy Spirit and I don’t need to do his (her?) job.

At the end of the day, if we do any witnessing at all, we will sooner or later have a hostile response.  If that time comes all we can do is apologize and learn from it as we commit the encounter to God.  The good news is that some of the dopiest, ham-handed outreaches are sometimes used by God.  For ham-handed dopes like me this gives me hope.

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From → Christianity

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