Some friends and I were sitting around talking about life with God and the church last night…
Well actually, we were talking about evangelism.
The “E” word.
Seems like many of us had stories of ridiculous evangelism efforts: Halloween-like tracts filled with scenes from hell; strangers (and occasionally friends and family) that were determined to “get us saved” in order to meet some kind of heavenly quota; threats of hellfire and brimstone; awkward preachers and occasionally bad music.
What was interesting, however, was the fact that many of us (and we are a diverse group: college students, graduate students, parents, career people, etc.) had stories of these “ridiculous” efforts actually working. Most of us just shook our heads at these “success” stories, but we couldn’t deny them.
It seems like most of it boiled down simply to the idea that God is mysterious and supernatural, and can work any way He’d like to, thank you very much.
My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
More than that, however, we also talked about how there’s such a tendency for the church—or rather different expressions of the church—to “bash” any method of evangelism that doesn’t mesh with a particular perspective or paradigm. The hip “younger” evangelicals bash the folks that stand on corners and preach, or hand out tracts; more conservative folks bash the “soft sell” of relational evangelism; new churches trash talk the bad coffee and awkwardly warm fellowship of the mainline church down the street.
But I think God uses it all.
What’s more, I think when we focus on what’s wrong with all of these other evangelism efforts, we really do two things: First, we simply reinforce the stereotype that Christians are more concerned with what we’re against than what we actually stand for. It’s always easier to point out what’s wrong with someone else than it is to amplify your own beliefs.
Secondly (and relatedly), focusing so much discussion and and time on what’s wrong with other evangelism paradigms (or worship paradigms, or leadership paradigms, or communion paradigms, or etc. etc. etc.) really just diverts much needed energy from our efforts.
I know this whole discussion may seem abstract and “church-centered”, but it’s really not. I meet people all the time who look back at their past—especially if they grew up in a strand of church that’s different from what they attend now—and just tear it to shreds. Ex-Catholics disdainfully talk about the hierarchy and the dryness of their life of faith. Folks who come out of mainline denominations talk about how there’s no Jesus in their “religion”. Pentecostals talk about manipulation and using “God-talk” to exert control and authority.
I’m not denying those things happened, or that there’s some truth to them. But some of the most spiritual and supernatural (should I say, “Holy”?) people I’ve ever known were Catholic. Some of the most faithful and devout individuals I’ve ever met have been United Methodists. I’ve known Baptists who have wept over the brokenness of the world. I’ve known Pentecostals who are humbly serving in obscure roles around the world.
It’s difficult to state unequivocally that a church “is” a certain way (though I’m sure there are examples somewhere), but really the point is that we need to not waste time focusing on our negative experiences and instead embrace with gratitude what God is doing now in our faith and church. To the degree we retain resentment at our spiritual past, we won’t be able to see what God might want to do now with us.
So… If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?
Old school this time: great song from the Eagles.