Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Evangelism Is Evil

Well, not evil. But there is something messed up about what is usually referred to as evangelism. Too often it feels like selling Amway.

The early Church did not have an evangelism program. It seems unlikely that early Christians were trained how to "share their faith." Yet "the Lord added to their number" regularly.

Most modern evangelism emphases tend to use guilt to motivate believers to memorize a presentation of "the gospel" and to confront friends, family and even strangers with a call to decision. The primary value is pragmatism. If it works (produces "converts"), then we use it. Marketing techniques are used to sell the gospel.

But why would we need to sell good news?

  • If the news is truly good, won't people want to hear it?
  • If the news is truly good, why would anyone need to be bullied to proclaim it?
  • If the news is truly good, why does it feel like we are putting one over on our friends and family?

It seems obvious that most Christians don't really believe that the gospel is good news.

Of course, they think it is a "good deal."

They exchange most of the things that people think of as fun for a ticket to paradise when they die.

They go to church, try to be honest and give God some of their money, not because they really want to. They do it to get the big payoff.

And this is what most Christians are selling when they "do evangelism."

One of our problems is that we haven't found the gospel to be good news. And this needs to be addressed. But for now, I would like to focus on a different problem, the way we "do evangelism."

David Fitch has suggested that we give up on evangelism and focus on witness instead.

Here is a chart showing the distinction he makes between these two concepts.

Evangelism

Witness

Done by Individuals

Done by a Community

Hard work

Natural

Coercive

Patient

Strategic

Responsive

Argument

Ministry

Presented as a Message

Presented as a Community


He says, "Evangelism can be done without witness. Witness cannot be done without evangelism."

Yes we must proclaim the good news, but the most important part of that proclamation can only be done by a community that is living the gospel and embodying God's grace. And in this community the gospel must be experienced as truly good news.

Does this make sense? Do you find his concept of witness helpful?

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

11 comments:

Tia Lynn said...

Great post. The church has reduced evangelism to the tactics of a second-hand car salesman....

Not Prince Hamlet said...

The question is whether the gospel is something to be "sold" at all. David Lowes Watson's insight about the gospel as news has fundamentally changed my understanding of evangelism. You don't sell news, you report it. Rather than the church as salesman, it's the church as journalist.

When you try to sell the news, you end up with sensationalist garbage.

Maria said...

I agree. It struck me as I was reading a paraphrase of Acts 2 to my kids tonight from one of their children's Bibles. The last part was something like. "The people who believed were called Christians. More people believed in Jesus."

The whole thing grated on me because a) followers of Jesus were not called Christians at Pentecost, and only once in the rest of Acts, as a derogatory term. And b) the individualism of "people believed..." vs. the Lord added to their number. Not to mention that believing is a pretty abstract term for preschoolers. It irked me that it wasn't much of an attempt to represent what Scripture actually says, just the way we typically read it.

But getting the story straight is important: if the Gospel means that individuals come to intellectual assent to some bunch of facts about Jesus, then we have to sell it. If people who have had an encounter with God are transformed and live out that experience in ways that impact the people around them, no one needs to sell it.

Joe said...

Woohoo. Right on the button.

The problem is that we've failed to recognise that we live in a mostly unchurched society (well in Europe we do anyway). Hence, fairly naturally, if we use church jargon, people don't get it.

If we want to reach people outside of our group and people close to our group, we need to recognise that the process is long, hard and gentle.

In fact, we first need to work on getting the church to have a good name in our communities. We want people to think something positive when the word 'church' is used - like 'church is the place where they look after my kids' or 'church helped me when I had debt problems'.

We must therefore become mission minded. We must learn to love and serve people where they are and in ways that are meaningful to them, rather than just putting on ever more elaborate church services.

Don said...

About a year ago you referenced Dallas Willard and his call for discipleship to Jesus as the core of Christianity. Please revisit your post and give additional consideration to Willard's main point. Because I believe you'll find that discipleship will render questions about "evangelism" or "witness" largely moot. The light that will shine from the disciple will draw people to find out what fuels the joy. No selling is needed.

Pastor Rod said...

NPH,

You're absolutely right about the nature of the Gospel. It is to be announced, not sold.

Rod

Pastor Rod said...

Tia,

Thanks for your comments.

Rod

Pastor Rod said...

Joe,

Yep. I think you've got it right.

Rod

Pastor Rod said...

Don,

I think I pretty much agree with the point you are making. David Fitch is using the term "evangelism" to refer to the sales tactics used by Christians to market the Gospel. I think his distinction is a valid one.

I agree with you, however, that if people really understood what evangelism is they would be engaging in what he calls "witness."

Thanks for your comments,

Rod

Pastor Rod said...

Maria,

It's amazing how many things we think of as "what the Bible says" are really assumptions that we read into the text. Your story about the paraphrase of Acts 2 is a good example.

Rod

Anonymous said...

OR....

You crazy Kids could leave people to leave the happy life they are trying to by default.
Without further trying to intruding on their lifes.
Good idea ..?
YES