Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“I’m Thinking ‘I’d Rather not Talk to You.’”

Andrew Makes a Good Point Regarding Evangelism.

In American culture today many see Christians as bad. To them, they are hypocrites. They are self-righteous. They are prejudiced. They are closed-minded. They are naive. They are out of touch. They are mean. The list goes on.

True followers of Jesus are none of those things. Even so, American cultural Christianity has produced a number of people that fit that description. Unfortunately, this has become the cultural stereotype of the Christian. Many people today just don’t like self-proclaimed Christians.

To that end, proclaiming oneself a Christian on the outset of a conversation can quickly end the possibility of meaningful dialog. It is like announcing you are a Republican or Democrat to someone who holds some degree of disdain for your political persuasion. They’ve got you labeled and assume that you’ve got them labeled from the get-go. Both sides will either dig in their feet to defend their position or just avoid meaningful conversation.

I think this is what Andrew was touching on in his comments on my earlier post “That awkward discomfort of sharing faith.” I wrote in my suggestions for making evangelism a daily habit, that people ought to mention something they got out of their daily devotional to five people each day. Andrew advised that this idea needed some rethinking to apply in the US context.

He said that this approach would more than likely come across as arrogant, and would not appeal to people in this day and age.

Trying to come at people here with "well, the Bible says" is a sure way to have them stop listening, no matter what the context is. If you can't demonstrate actual changes in your life, tangible effects, people in the US just don't care.

Andy is right.*

Religion is usually bound up with cultural identity.

The gospel often expands within a community but does not normally “jump” across cultural boundaries between peoples, especially if boundaries are created by hate or prejudice (from either side). In other words, religious beliefs do not easily transfer from one group to another. So, a Christian declaring a truth held dearly by his own culture does not make it heard-as-true by members of another.

Traditional western Christian culture has identifiable and predictable boundaries and behaviors. It tends to be a somewhat insulated culture. What I mean by that is that the great majority of those who are a part of it do not have many, if any, meaningful relationships outside of it. More so, they can’t visualize how one can even be a disciple of Jesus outside of this culture.

This cultural baggage that is placed on the gospel, while useful to those within the culture, is a hindrance to those who aren’t. It is a barrier to faith. The gospel preached isn’t, “Jesus is the way.” Rather it is “Jesus, and the way we do things here, are the way.” 

People should not have to adopt your culture to believe.

The Bible records the dispute between Paul and Peter on this very issue. Jewish believers were insisting that non-Jewish believers adopt Jewish culture and custom. Paul called it “another gospel.” See Galatians 2.

Here is where I really differ in approach from traditional pastors. For me, disciple making should not be irrevocably tied to joining a new culture. This is what can happen when discipleship is bound to the platform ministries of the local church.

Often a church will reach others from within their community with the gospel and these people will fit into the church quite easily. Sometimes, however, there is enough of a cultural barrier, that neither side knows how to proceed. The new believer (or seeker) just doesn’t “fit” the church. The solution is to release discipleship from the established structure and start a new work more appropriate to the situation of the new believer.

As Vincent Donovan put it:

Evangelization is a process of bringing the gospel to people where they are, not where you would like them to be… When the gospel reaches a people where they are, their response to the gospel is the church in a new place.

This is getting away from the topic at hand, and I will write about establishing the church in a new place in future posts. For now, let’s get back to the initial evangelism suggestion.

Searching for an opening.

I did not communicate the point of sharing with five people a day very well. The key is not to just indiscriminately proclaim a Bible promise to five people a day. Spamming the gospel can do more harm than good. The key is to watch for openness.

Saying “I learned something interesting about God today,” is just one approach. The point is to take something of your spiritual walk verbalize it in a way that gives people a way to ask for more. Discernment and practice will guide the your method and technique. What you’re doing is watching for interest, not lecturing. Watch for permission to share. When it is there. Share.

I suggested this putting out of a trial balloon five times a day, because I believe Christians need to be methodical in sharing Jesus. This doesn’t require haphazard, indiscriminate preaching, but certainly requires consistent proclamation. There occasional situations where sharing Jesus is a perfect fit, but Christians should not be limited to sharing only during those times. We must also find ways to create those appropriate opportunities.

Churches in America are only baptizing an average of two people a year, with the exception of the occasional highly evangelistic church. If everyday Christians do not become intentional and methodical about sharing their faith, there will be no revival.

Notes

*Full disclosure:  Andrew is a friend of mine from my college days. That’s why the nickname “Andy” popped out in this post. It’s worth noting that that time, he was working hard to reach youth in a church that was not. He has seen, first hand, the damage done when people wear the Christian label, but act  like the stereotype in my opening paragraph.

    1 comments:

    Andrew Leon said...

    Unfortunately, every church I've been involved with has had this attitiude of only letting people in that are just like the people that are there already. Every church in Louisiana. Every church in Texas. Every church in California. And it's causing the US to have the most hostile environment to evangelism since the days of Rome.

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