Part of this post appeared in a message I gave at my church in 2010.
How do you view evangelism? How does your church view reaching out to the surrounding world to proclaim Jesus’ Lordship?
Ever thought of it as a song?
Ever thought of it as The National Anthem?
Here’s my thought process: Most of us live in a culture (USAmerica) where the gospel of Jesus is simultaneously so familiar that it can be ignored, and so unfamiliar that it can be confused and mocked (which is also probably our fault as the church, but that’s another post altogether).
The situation is not too different from the National Anthem: most of us have been hearing it since we were children, at countless sporting, graduations, and civic events. For the majority of us, it has lost its power. As the saying goes, “familiarity breads contempt.”
It’s not the song’s fault. It’s just that we’ve heard it so many times we’ve become almost immune to it, inoculated by uninspired and off-key versions.
Some of us would say the same thing about the gospel; we’ve heard it in so many uninspiring ways, so many bombastic and overblown ways, that we’ve begun to think, “What’s the point?”
I want to suggest three images—three songs, actually—of evangelism, and suggest that we have the ability to choose how we (and our churches) “sing” the gospel, to ourselves and to our friends.
The Off-Key Gospel
(Note, there were a lot of candidates for this, including an iconic guitarist)
Sometimes we encounter people, churches and organizations that just miss the point entirely. If we look and listen hard enough, we may hear familiar words and notes, but they are so skewed and off that we can’t take the song seriously. Maybe the fruit of their lives—corporately or individually—betrays the message of the song. Maybe their utter lack of preparation says, “We don’t really care about singing to you.” Ultimately, they seem to lack sincerity. They sing because they know they’re supposed to, but their motives are suspect, even mocking what they are purportedly celebrating.
This is not about excellence. It’s about humility. It’s not that Rosanne didn’t have the capacity to sing (maybe she does; maybe she doesn’t; I don’t know); it’s that she didn’t care enough to prepare. The song of God doesn’t have to be sung perfectly, but it should be sung in a way that it’s understandable, and that says something about our willingness to prepare and bring our best.
The Beautiful, Bombastic Gospel
Demi can sing. Obviously. She sings loudly, skillfully, and forcefully. She’s obviously been trained and knows how to knock this out of the park. And let’s face it, she’s cute, a pop icon.
But for me at least, there’s a detachment in this performance. It lacks subtlety and dynamics, and most of all I don’t hear any vulnerability or humanity in it (which is ironic considering Demi’s journey after this).
There are so many churches that “sing this gospel” well—they are adept at phenomenal performances that know how to orchestrate just the right tones. But in the midst of the lights and sound and noise, a little humanity gets lost. The “beautiful gospel” can lose sight of the vulnerability and brokenness—the utter humanity—of Jesus and His work.
Our gospel song should not be addicted to triumphalism; it’s not “Easter All The Time.” The gospel embraces the full range of human emotion: from the struggle at Gethsemane to the mourning at the cross to the joy at the empty tomb.
Now we’re talking.
A few things stand out to me in Marvin Gaye’s version of the National Anthem.
- It is familiar. Though there’s an unexpected drum groove underneath, Marvin keeps the melody the same, and it’s easily to recognize.
- It is decidedly Marvin. He’s decided to approach the song with some originality and creativity. He puts something of himself into the song.
- It’s soulful, but subtle. Marvin was a master, one of the icons of R&B. But he pretty much gets up there and sings the song. No crazy runs. No extended improvisations. His humanity and his feeling comes through.
To me, this is the way the church needs to approach evangelism—and the gospel—in our culture. Infused with humility and restraint, but individual (and organizational) creativity and inventiveness. Unafraid to be ourselves, but faithful to the message and melody of the gospel of Jesus.
What evangelism song are you—or your church—singing to your community?