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What if we have it backwards?

September 15, 2015

As I write this my wife and I are in the middle of a short vacation in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.  We’ve noticed that this is even more into the heart of the Bible belt than our central North Carolina home; signs of the centrality of evangelical Christianity to the culture are everywhere.

We’ve visited a couple of Christian bookstores and they are full of what some call “Jesus junk”; that assortment of low-cost house decorations, key chains, pithy wall plaques, tee shirts, bumper stickers and other assorted merchandise with Christian themes.  I spent some time reading the sayings on tee shirts, those things that turn you into a walking evangelistic billboard, because as we all know evangelism is the center of everything.  But I was surprised when I found one that said this:

Join the Revolution!  “We must obey God rather than men.”  Acts 5:29

Seriously?  How exactly do you think people will respond to a message that essentially says “You can stick your laws in your ear, we are going to do what we want!”  There is nothing quite like taking a verse entirely out of context.  But I suppose that kind of thing sums of much of evangelicalism today.  We are all about evangelism but we constantly send messages that we are more holy, more righteous and all around better than those we are trying to reach.  Then we wonder why we can’t find anyone who “asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

All this has me thinking that maybe we have evangelism backwards.  We do all sort of things to evangelize.  We hold neighborhood outreaches so that some may be saved; serve the poor so that some may be saved; do youth ministry so that some may be saved; visit the sick and shut-in so that some may be saved…  The number of great things we can do so that some may be saved just grows and grows.

Don’t get me wrong, all these things are good.  But when evangelism is always the goal, these things become just means to an end.  But what if we tried it the other way around?  What if the goal was loving our neighbors, serving the poor, ministering to youth, visiting the sick, etc.?  If we saw these things as the goal, the good news might need to look entirely different.

No matter what we put on our tee shirts, no matter what clever and kind things we do, the reality is that the culture is on to us. They know those nice things are, for us, just means to an end.  When they combine this knowledge with the frequency of messages, like the tee shirt above, that are telling the world we are better than them is it any wonder they don’t respond?

I’m not 100% sure what evangelism as a means to service, rather than service as a means to evangelize, would actually look like.  But I Peter 3:15, the verse partly quoted above, hints that there may be some really good things coming if we try it.


From → Christianity

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