I think we Christians are struggling mightily with evangelism these days. I'm thankful that, to increasing levels, Christ-followers are deepening their efforts to reach those on the margins–the poor, the oppressed, and the people whose lives are lived with a radical rebelliousness against God. It also seems to me that the church is increasing it's tolerance of those that we church folks might consider "weird," even as we ignore our own weird factor.
However, I must wonder about most of the people out there
who are outside of Christ. They are neither homeless, nor drug addicted. They
live generally ethical lives, and parent their children well. They honor their
parents and love their spouses. But, they don’t have Christ. They don't follow Jesus.
They are like Peter. They are like Nathaniel. They cannot be
found in gutter or in suicide ward. They are simply going about their daily
work or relaxing under the fig tree. And, they are open to Christianity if we
are open to introducing the whole idea to them.
This is true: the church has an easier time knowing what to
say to those who are in the gutter than those in the corner office or even
relatively well adjusted. Perhaps this is because we believe that in order for someone
to make a life change of serious proportions, they must be thoroughly convinced
that their life now is miserable. Or, that all lives lived outside of Christ
are thoroughly evil. Those who have non-Christian friends know
better. Sometimes, their lives are more ethical than ours.
A great little book that I think is out of print is William Willimon's, The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything. It's one of his lesser known books, but one that changed the way I thought about evangelism. In it, he urges the church to think more about the long-term effects of preaching a message that says, "I was miserable…until I found Jesus."
Willimon cites four theological problems that he has with this traditional message: (1) His own personal experience, and that of
many others, does not fit the presuppositions of that message (they were not
miserable before they met Christ). (2) It promotes religious
self-righteousness. Christians compete to see who can tell the best story about
what a radical conversion occurred in their lives. “Look how terrible I was
before. Look how smart I am now.” (3) It makes Christianity a payoff, a
reward for my faithfulness. (4) It emphasizes the bad life you are leaving
rather than the good life you have found.
Do you think he's right?
I would add that most of the people I and many others know who are far from God are going to have a hard time believing that their lives are "empty" without God. They aren't. They are less abundant. They are not all they could be. Their eternity is in the balance. But, to say they are empty is probably overstatement. So, here's the question: How do we reach these people?
If you have time, you can click here to listen to yesterday's sermon at North County, where I offer some thoughts. I'd love to hear yours. Evangelism is one of the core things we Christ-followers are to be about. How can we do it more effectively?
Here are a just a couple of thoughts:
1. We need to get out more and become better cultural participants so that we can better understand and relate to those who are lying under the fig trees of our day.
2. We need to put ourselves in a position to build strong relationships who aren't Christians.
3. We need to understand global missions as an extension of local ministry, not as an out-sourcing of evangelism.
4. We have to learn to love people for who they are…without making "projects" of them.