Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Status Quo?

I still have more to say about evangelism, but before I continue with any additional posts, I think I need to back up a little and hopefully clarify my perspective by addressing a few of the comments I have received.

I have no idea when the concept or belief that we are all evangelists started, because it is not a part of the epistles, but it is a belief that dominates practically every Church I have ever observed. For years followers have been taught, and most Christians believe, something similar to what Teresa believes when she wrote, “I am NOT and evangelist, but because of my relationship with Christ, I am compelled (by my heart)to share the gospel whenever the opportunity arises. I am not "gifted at house-cleaning, but I have a responsibility to do it.” Jennifer, who believes something slightly different wrote, “I think we have ALL been given the gift, and the mandate, of evangelism via the Great Commission. If you have accepted Christ as Savior, you have everything you need to be an evangelist.”

When I wrote about the “Bring a Friend to Church” Sundays I realized after I had posted most of what I had to say that I needed to make sure I didn’t give the impression I was against inviting friends to Church. Now, I need to also make sure I don’t give the impression that I am against friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor, and door to door evangelism because I am definetely for evangelims in all of its forms. However, I think there is a better way to conduct evangelism that is more Biblical and will also be more effective.

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to make the things that are important to me better. Sometimes, when I try to make things better, I make them worse for a while, but eventually I get it right. I have never made anything better by continuing to do anything the way I have always done it. I have always needed to make a change in order to make an improvement.

There was a time in America when most Americans did all of their home maitenance. As our society evolved, most people found that they could better use their time by hiring a specialist to work on their home maintenance while they concentrated on their own specialty. I like doing my own home repairs, but I am not under any illusion that I can do any of it as well as a professional.

As a believer, I want Christians to set the standards, not follow the standards set by society as a whole. I am not satisfied with the results of modern evangelism. I think we can do better. I think the way to do better is for the members of our Churches to start specializing in what they love doing and what they have been gifted to do.

More on Evangelism to come…

6 comments:

Buz said...

Dave, you seem to keep going back to this idea that there is some mystical calling of "evangelist" and that the bulk of the responsibility for converts rests with that person.

In your post you say that you are "not against friend to friend ... evangelism", but then you seem to dismiss that as trivial. I believe that the truth of the matter is that is the bulk of the ice berg. The 10% that you see with the guys on TV or the people who travel from town to town with tents, is over all quite ineffective. They may get the numbers ... at least up front, but the bulk of Christians today are Christians because someone they knew and trusted led them to Christ, either at church or in their home.

Another of the gifts mentioned is the gift of generosity. And there are some with that gift, but 90% of the support of the Church around the world comes from those without that gift.

You mention specialists on the subject of home repair. I have a friend who hired a "professional" painter. The painter did not do even as good a job as I could have done (and I am by no means all that terrific). This to say that just because someone has trained, or gets paid for that work, it is better than, or even as good as what we "amateurs" might do.

Also, I have some friends who have Molly Maid come in to clean. Not because they are incapable or inept at cleaning, but because it is a bother and they have better things to do with their time than sweep and mop.

Is that where we are going with our belief on evangelism? We "cannot" do it because there are strangers who can reach our own neighbors and friends better than we. Or perhaps we have "more important" things to do beyond snatching our friends an family out of the gates of hell ...

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

We need to DO evangelism in the way that is most effective and with the least side effects. Later, I will be discussing the side effects. Did you miss the first post in this series?

You seem to think we are doing it right, just not well enough. I don't think we are doing it right or well enough. The goal is saving souls, the methods are evangelism. The goal is not the method. I think we can do evangelism better if we quit trying to make everyone an evangelist. I don’t care if I’m the one who leads my brother to Christ, I only care that he knows Christ.

Buz said...

Dave,

I guess I am confused about what you think evangelism is.

My definition is the simple telling others the Good News of salvation through Jesus.

I think there are a myriad of methods to use to that end. Everything from helping your neighbor shovel the snow from his drive to running ads on TV.

I think that we have narrowed our view to thinking that evangelism is X (whether that is public speaking or handing out tracts door-to-door). Then we hedge it in with "I can't do X", and finally to "we need to hire someone to do it".

Because of that, there is not enough evangelism going on. There are too many people who think that they cannot do X for one reason or another.

I strongly believe that if everyone who was truly thankful to God for his own salvation, honestly told five non-christians what it meant to him, withing one year, at least one of those five would make the decision that they wanted that same thing in their life. Think of that, the number of Christians in the world could double in one year.

If Christians are 0.05% of the population of the world, and we did that one simple thing ... each year, tell five people about what Jesus really means to us, in five years we would be 1.6% of the population, in nine years 25%. If the greatest televangelist in the world had four crusades every year, and in each crusade he had 1,000,000 people convert, it would take him almost 500 years to reach that same goal.

And that is why I believe that, in the long run, evangelists are ineffective.

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Buz,

You are describing evangelism as it has been described for my whole life. It is a method that has been advocated by Evangelicals for at least 50 years. It's a 50 year experiment that has produced marginal results. We need to do better. We can do better. Stay tuned...

Buz said...

WHY is it failing?

If people cannot read because the book is in French and they read English, then by all means, reprint the book in English. If the people cannot read because they are illiterate, then it will not matter what language you print the book in, they will not read it. Teach the people to read.

If evangelism is failing because the method is ineffective in today's society, then yes, we need to re-evaluate the method and update. BUT, if it failing because people are not doing it, then the problem does not lie with the method, but with disobedient people. If that is the case, no method will be very effective.

My personal experience has been that Christians do not tell others about the Gospel because:

(1) God is not that important to them personally
(2) They don't think it is that important
(3) They are afraid of peer pressure
(4) They are afraid of losing friends

We have become too comfortable in the world. I have heard alot of teens who do not want to tell their friends about God because they don't want to be ostricized from the "in" crowd. I have heard alot of adults who don't want to tell their friends about God for essentially the same reason.

There is a line from an old song "freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose". While I think that is a sad philosophy, in some ways, as it regards Christians, the opposite is all too true. Have "alot to lose" takes away our freedom. There is a reason that Christianity flourishes under persecution ... the Christians no longer have to fear losing their prestiege or their possessions ... they have already lost them. When saying "I follow Jesus" might get you shot, it is not something which will get you laughed at.

In the parable of the sower, there were four types of soils. While three of the four had plants growing in them, only one of the four produced a crop. If 80% of the church crowds are of the two unproductive soils, then it will at least look like evangelism is an unfruitful endevor.

Having said all that ... I am still interested in hearing what we can do better ...

Buz

Hammertime said...

David,
Great blog. I have to agree with Buz. I am not altogether certain that you can correlate societal changes with necessary changes in the Church - at least not in this regard.

Person-to-person evangelism is not as effective as we may want because people aren't doing it, or aren't doing it right. I don't discourage bringing others to church, but the Bible never has a case where someone comes to church and gets saved. What it has are instances of public preaching and private evangelism.

Now, as the Bible also doesn't condmen bringing unbelievers to church (in fact, it recognizes that they will be there when discussing the gift of tongues in 1 Cor 14), it isn't at all improper. I just have difficulty believing that we wouldn't have been presented with the proper example in the Word.

Finally, all that said, I, like Buz, am looking forward to your proposal.