August 19, 2019

Evangelism Won’t Cure It

It’s a rant. Adjust your volume and thinking accordingly.

My denomination is about to have a ten year emphasis on evangelism.

I’ve been a Southern Baptist since birth. As far as I know, my denomination has never had any other emphasis than evangelism.

My denomination is more interested in evangelism than any other denomination in existence or Christian history. Its entire apparatus of denominational machinery is devoted to the promotion of evangelism. Its denominational publications and web sites are basically all evangelism, all the time.

Oh there’s the occasional break for the culture war and to promote the new Kirk Cameron movie, but no one is missing the SBC’s concern with evangelism.

I’ve lived through more evangelism training programs than I can name.

I’ve been part of more evangelism emphases than I can list.

I’ve seen every kind of evangelism gimmick that the mind can conceive of brought out with a straight face.

I’ve seen the ethics and manners of normal human interaction go out the window in favor of confrontational tactics on beaches, on sidewalks and in public.

I grew up believing the entire Christian life was about soul winning and that if you couldn’t turn any conversation into an evangelistic conversation with closure, then you were a backslider.

I’ve been through evangelistic invitations at church, at youth group, at revivals, at youth revivals, at stadium events, at concerts, at ball games, at Bible studies, at Vacation Bible school, at movies, at meals and everywhere else.

My denomination is always starting a prayer emphasis in the cause of evangelism. We actually have an office of spiritual awakening, if you can believe it. I’m sure there’s a five year plan to move the hand of God somewhere.

I’ve heard thousands and thousands of evangelistic sermons. I’ve heard invitations that made me want to dig a tunnel to China.

I’m been exposed to guilt, manipulation, entertainment, scare tactics, lies, exaggeration, bribery and threats in the name of evangelism.

I’m part of a denomination that regularly baptizes five, six and seven year olds, then has the nerve to point at infant baptizing Christians and criticize them.

I’m part of a denomination that has rebaptized and rebaptized and rebaptized, again and again. And counted each one somewhere.

A few years ago, the baptism numbers started dropping for Southern Baptists. This year was the lowest in recent history.

The problem we’re told, of course, is that we’re not evangelistic enough.

I want to put forward another theory. Just call it a hunch.

I think our baptism numbers are dropping because ALL WE ARE IS EVANGELISTIC.

We don’t want to talk about anything else because if we do, we’re going have to admit we’re in very, very bad shape.

We need to have healthy churches. (With all 9 Marks.)

We need to have a clear Gospel message. (What’s being preached in SBC pulpits in many places can hardly be categorized using normal English.)

We need meaningful church membership.

We need pastors who can grow disciples.

We need Christians on mission in the world where God’s placed them.

We need to love people.

We need to live authentically human lives.

We need a missional mindset for going into the world.

We need to see our prevailing sins, like materialism, classism, racism and involvement in the prosperity Gospel.

We need to repent of our pragmatism, because it’s not true that if just one walks forward, everything we did was right.

We’re proud and sometimes we’re almost unteachable.

When a younger leader does something right in our denomination, chances are he’s in trouble.

Thousands of our churches are two generations from closing the doors.

Thousands of our churches need to either stop abusing pastors and their families or shut the doors.

We need to realize God isn’t adding many to us because we’ve got problems.

Every time Southern Baptists see some evidence that the ship is lurching, they go and attempt to get more people to join the cruise.

We’re like a hospital with real problems. Doctor problems. Staff problems. Quality problems. Effectiveness problems. People aren’t getting well. Some are getting a lot worse. Some aren’t making it. And we are concerned……about getting more patients.

Millions of Southern Baptists apparently don’t even exist.

Millions of other Southern Baptists would leave their churches for $5 and couldn’t write a three sentence paragraph on why anyone should join their church.

I love what the SBC does right. I really do. My denomination can be awesome at some things, especially in the area of cooperative missions.

I’m not dogging evangelists. I spend a significant amount of my time in evangelistic ministry. It’s one reason I will remain an evangelical.

Our denomination has some wonderful churches and some great people.

But let’s just say it: We’re Johnny One Notes on evangelism because we don’t want to admit how flawed, hurting, confused and increasingly dysfunctional we are.

We need evangelism in its place, and that won’t happen till we stop and look at the whole, not just the parts we want to blame.

And 100,000 more baptisms won’t solve those problems.

Comments

  1. Christopher Lake says

    Michael,

    I think I know what you mean. As I wrote above, I do believe in contextualization when presenting the Gospel to different people, cultural groups, etc. I *don’t* believe in just continually hitting someone with the Law, if it is clear that that person and I are speaking different philosophical/cultural languages (starting from different presuppositions).

    In the end though, I may be more of a Van Tillian presuppositionalist than you are, when it comes to evangelism and apologetics. I do believe that posing thoughtful questions to non-Christians is important (as a part of pre-evangelism). I don’t think, though, that we can’t use propositional truth statements with postmoderns, simply because they believe (in the darkness of their unredeemed understanding) that language is just a game or a series of “power plays.” The fact that they *use* language itself to make such absolute-sounding statements is very problematic for their position! Exploring these inconsistencies can be helpful in evangelism (and/or pre-evangelism). To give up absolute truth statements with postmoderns, or other people, and say that we can *only* focus on community, existential meaning, beauty, etc. in evangelism is to concede too much.

  2. Man, Michael . . . you know how to rant . . . and you rant the truth!! Church health (or lack thereof) is the real issue, not a lack of emphasis on Evangelism. Of course with SBCs (and you know I am one) it is not enough to just “do” evangelism, it has to be done in the right formula — the way the “real” evangelists do it. Fear, guilt, manipulation, etc.

    I’ve been reading iMonk for a long time . . . never have you posted a more insightful article, at least IMHO.

  3. Michael,

    It’s not just the SBC. All the guilt tripping and manipulation that goes on with the command to evangelize. I realized several years ago that I just simply wasn’t an evangelist. Simply living my life is a far better witness than trying to turn every conversaion “toward spiritual things.” Unbelievers sense our lack of genuineness when we try to steer conversations. They realize we really don’t care about them; we care about our own religious activity. One church I attended had regular prayer for the lost in prayer meetings. It was simply a recount of every conversation being steered toward spiritual things, and when the unbeliever turned the converstaion back to the topic, it was seen as Satan snatching up the seed that fell by the wayside.

    This is exactly how I feel. You could be reading my mail. I cannot effectively establish real, genuine relationships with people when I’m constantly feeling pressure to look for any opening to insert spiritual nuggets into the conversation or steer it toward some evangelism question like “What does it mean to be saved?” or “If you died today, do you know if you’d go to Heaven?” My parents are neck deep in this sort of programmed evangelism talk and it drives me crazy. How they think it comes off to the average nonbeliever and how it actually seems to them are totally different things, but they don’t get it.

    I just try to be normal. I try to live my life in a way that people can see a difference in how I conduct myself, how I treat people and so on. And when subjects come up that naturally lend themselves toward touching on spiritual matters or a Christian outlook on the subject, I don’t shy away from it. But there’s a fine line between not shying away and forcibly shoehorning a bunch of God Talk into any crevice you think you see.

  4. I know I’m way behind, posting on this. But I’ve gotta ask, did you come visit our church just before you wrote this? We’ve got issues and what did we do? We started another evangelism program and gave it an olympic theme (Go for the Gold!). If you want a gold star by your name, just invite someone to our church. It’s sad.

    I too have to say that I love the SBC’s cooperative program and I love the IMB’s flexability. I have many friends overseas and they have the freedom to discard the 1950’s approach to reaching and teaching people in whatever culture they are in. Maybe the IMB should send missionaries to us, they might teach us a thing or two.

  5. My dear departed husband was SBC and I tried going to church with him. It was sad that I could take only so many sermons (maybe 200 over the years) about coming to Jesus and becoming SBC without any sermons on how to live the Christian life. The Baptist preaching bored me to writing grocery lists inside the hymnbook, which distressed my honey something awful. So I stayed home while he went to church. Now I’m on my own, I’ve reverted to my childhood home, the Episcopal Church. There, I get a weekly message on how to be a good Christian/human being. My mind is showered with thoughts, ideas, & insights, instead of rants about being saved, and no one tells me I’ll go to Hell if I don’t quit drinking, while the SBC smokers gather outside the front door sharing their smoke with all the congregation….

  6. I’m learning, Monk, I’m learning….discipleship!

  7. And thank you!