Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thoughts on Evangelism: Part 1 - What it isn't.

America's evangelical churches almost all want to grow, and they often use the word "evangelism," but they seem to have little idea of what it is.

This week I attended an excellent training series on Christ-centered evangelism, by Ed Lacy. Many of the thoughts I'll share here come from him.

First, What Evangelism Isn't.

If we look at examples of evangelism in the gospels and in the Book of Acts, and then compare them with American evangelical churches, we'll learn some things.

1. Evangelism isn't just reaching out. One local church is hosting a "block party" in our neighborhood's park tomorrow afternoon.

It's an outreach event, but if the event has a spiritual purpose, you wouldn't know it from the ad.

2. Evangelism isn't just fun and games. Here's another local church ad.

What do plastic eggs have to do with the resurrection of Jesus?

3. Evangelism isn't making people feel good about themselves or about God or about the church. Such church slogans as "You'll feel right at home" or "We believe in you" are not part of the gospel. Saying "Every bunny loves you" at Easter won't save people from their sins.

4. Evangelism isn't just getting people to follow my church's formula. It's not a matter of getting them to "say a sinner's prayer" or getting them to walk to the front of a meeting or praying over them or getting them to join the church or giving them a so-called "spiritual birth certificate." None of those things exist in the Bible. None of them are essential to the good news of Jesus.

(To be continued...)


Gary said...

I can't wait for part II. Good stuff.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Everything you've written so far is true, and I've no doubt that everything you will write in the future on this topic will also be true. This doesn't apply only to the evangelical churches, but to all. These points are just the beginning. As you know from my blog, I have been wrestling with these questions a very long time. My conclusions have placed me in the very odd position of being an Orthodox Christian who is willing to lay everything aside but Christ, in order to win souls for Him.

The Greek Orthodox churches in America are extremely low key evangelists. They lure people to the Church via the 5 senses. What is wrong with this? To lure people to the Church is not the same as winning souls for Christ. If the two happen to coincide, that's great, but they don't always.

The Greek Festival in Portland exposes tens of thousands of people to the Greek culture through food, dancing, music, antiquities. A large percentage of the people who come to our once yearly three-day festival also come into the Temple (the church building where we worship) to see it. They are bedazzled by the beauty they see there, and as they leave, many tell me (I am an usher and guide) "You have a beautiful church!" and I respond if I can, "But you've only seen the building. Come and see the real beauty of the Lord during our worship."

A large percentage of those who enter the Temple to view it will also stay for a tour and open floor discussion on Orthodoxy. This draws crowds of curious Christians and non-Christians, but when the clergy give the talks, sometimes they never get beyond explaining the imagery and the history. When I am allowed to give the tour, I explain the externals of my faith always in reference to the scriptures and always with reference to the evangelical appeal, showing forth that "all these things" are but shadows of the Reality, which is Christ. No one ever leaves my tour or discussion without having been given the chance to accept Christ. Why do I do this kind of tour? Because there is no other reason for anyone to come into the Temple, but to find the Lord and worship Him.

I am annoyed, I confess, when I hear people in my church or any saying that they want to “grow the church” or some such thing, and then set about strategizing. Why am I annoyed? Because usually (no, sorry, always) they never get past the strategizing, except to invent still more programs and activities that do nothing to edify the saints (those within who are already saved) or plunder the world for lost souls. Instead, in my church, they come up with what? More classes and seminars, open to the public, “everyone welcome” as the marquee says (yes, even we have one!), taught by know-it-alls who pride themselves on the letters after their names (M. Div., Ph. D., etc.) rather than on faithful erudition in the Word of God. It’s always okay, in my opinion as an Orthodox, to teach history, to quote and explore the fathers of the Church, to gab about ikons and ceremonies, but again, to what end but to puff up and inflate people’s egos, when the object of every class or seminar (if that’s what they want to call them) should be to grow in knowledge of the Lord, to grow in grace, and to mourn for and desire to find the lost.

Sorry for the length of my comment. You may delete it. I really should just blog these thoughts on my own site, but right now is not the time. It’s the week leading up to the commemoration of Christ’s life-giving passion and resurrection. But these thoughts aren’t going away anytime soon. I thank God that my local church is at least beginning to make a comeback after the desert of the last five years when we had a priest who was ill equipped to lead. Now we have two men of God, an elder and a younger, who seem to be getting the community back on track. After the flock itself is healed of its recent depredations, let’s hope we will begin to be a church that seeks the lost, as we once were.