October 31, 2020

iMonk: “Where Is the Urgency?”


From Michael Spencer’s classic post, Wretched Urgency

* * *

How about the epistles in the New Testament? In those places where Christians are addressed as Christians, where is the urgency about church growth or personal evangelism?

Yes, I know that Paul is urgent about his ministry, but I don’t find his instructions for other Christians to be entirely in the same vein. I hear Christians being told to live quiet, peaceful, honest, generous lives adorned with integrity and love. Christians are told to be devoted to their families, to love fellow believers, and to live in such a way that outsiders cannot accuse or criticize. If they suffer for being a Christian, it should not be because they provoked a response through simply living the life Jesus taught.

Again and again, I look in the epistles for the kind of Christian experience that I was taught was normal, and I do not find it. The statements of urgency are not statements telling me to turn my house and life upside down in frenetic efforts to persuade people to join my religion. The urgency in Paul comes from his personal mission and his own vocation as a church planter. I can’t automatically apply it all to everyone else.

Shouldn’t we all be like Paul? No. Not if we aren’t apostles and church planters. Paul ran all over the world telling people to believe the Gospel, love Christ and live like it. We are to go back to our homes, jobs and communities and do exactly that. Preachers and missionaries have the urgency appropriate to their calling, as anyone should have the urgency appropriate in theirs. A parent has some urgency in parenting, but it has to be measured. A businessman or a teacher has some urgency, but again, in an ordered way. Christians look at their callings, their lives, their faith and apply the appropriate amount of urgency. We are not all told to sell all we have, give it to the poor and hit the road. In fact, that could be nuts.

…Here. Quote me. There is no urgent concern for converting people in the New Testament. Did you get that down? There is also no urgent concern for the numerical growth of churches by the efforts of members to convert others. There are no burgeoning church programs. There are no plans to train everyone to door knock and sell Jesus. There is an urgent concern for doctrinal and personal Christ-likeness. There is a concern for leadership, integrity, honesty and obedience to Christ in our personal lives. The idea that we are here to “win souls” and not to know and show God is bogus.


  1. Matthew 28


  2. Matthew 28 says to make disciples yes,but i always took that more than just getting people to say a simple prayer. Taking time to discuss Jesus’teaching and all that. I take it this article. is saying we shouldn’t. compare telling the gospel. to lets say saving a drowning person cause Jesus didn’t. Ask yourself what is a disciple? i think its a life long thing it takes time amd energy and its a slow pace Jesus didn’t tell the parable. of the firefighter. he told the parable. of the sower .

    • Making a disciple is NOT just getting them to say the sinner’s prayer, get on the mailing list, and later wander off once the novelty of the experience has worn off.

      We don’t need more pseudo-Christians whose faith and knowledge is expansive and thick as a CD of CCM!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        At least we don’t make them sign a Dry Pledge these days, but it’s still “Say-the-Magic-Words” Salvation. And like the Inquisitor of Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the end of “Saving Their Soul (TM)” justifies most any means to bring it about.

  3. Bill Metzger says

    Yes, Steve, but notice the HOW of Matthew 28 (I assume you’re thinking of the “Great Commission”): baptizing and teaching. Word and Sacrament ministry. Add the Book of Revelation to the mix and you have LITURGICAL Word and Sacrament ministry. I think I get iMonk’s point!

  4. This is one my favorite phrases of Michael’s. I refer to it quite often when talking to other people.

    I think that the sense of urgency in many churches in America comes from more than a passion to “win souls”, though. I think a lot of it has to do with the American mindset in general. We are a rushed people, and everywhere we turn we are being told we are in crisis – global warming, terrorists, obesity, the education system, pollution, high fructose corn syrup – these are all things we are told we should be very concerned about all the time. And it’s not that they’re not real problems to varying degrees, it’s just that most of them are beyond our control to really change. But yet we spend a lot of emotional energy worrying about them. Then you have churches saying, “don’t worry about those things! Worry about this!” So it’s trading one slave master for another.

    Sometimes I wonder how it is we are able to get such a driven and goal-oriented message from the same Jesus who tells us not to worry and says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

    • Mary Anne Dutton says


    • +1

    • Nailed it. I remember from my time in Calvary Chapel and the Southern Baptists, often the drive towards personal evangelism was so strong it was nearly crushing. As a 9 year old kid living in the country, I wasn’t about to go convert my elderly Catholic neighbors, but I certainly was capable of feeling guilty for not doing it. Then there were told stories about 9 year old kids who did convert elderly Catholic neighbors because they were just bold enough to obey Jesus. To this day I never see my neighbors. If I did, the last thing I’m gonna do is proselytize them. It is just not emotionally healthy to put these kinds of burdens on people. It’s like, if we’re not that annoying neighbor that always asks “Do you know what would happen if you die today,” or “Have you accepted Jesus,” then we’re not doing enough and you don’t care about your neighbor’s eternal destiny. Oddly enough, the same emphasis was never put into praying for unsaved neighbors. I guess that reveals whose work we trust more.

      But Christ’s words are liberating. Oddly enough, the church is the one giving us crushing burdens at times, yet the Christ is still holding out his hands to offer rest to the weary.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      We are a rushed people, and everywhere we turn we are being told we are in crisis – global warming, terrorists, obesity, the education system, pollution, high fructose corn syrup – these are all things we are told we should be very concerned about all the time. And it’s not that they’re not real problems to varying degrees, it’s just that most of them are beyond our control to really change. But yet we spend a lot of emotional energy worrying about them. Then you have churches saying, “don’t worry about those things! Worry about this!”

      “If you can’t love ’em into the Kingdom, SCARE ‘EM INTO THE KINGDOM!”
      — some Christian radio morning talk show of the Eighties (“Dr Redempto”?)

      And I believe there was one Jack Chick tract that used Seventies Ecological Armageddon Scare to do just that.

      In a way, this is just a Christianization of today’s nihilistic pessimism, used as a tactic to Sell That Fire Insurance. In today’s fashionable secular Nihilism, it’s all over but the screaming; in today’s fashionable Evangelical Nihilism, it’s all over but The Rapture. And you find Cause du Jour and Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory all over both.

  5. I’ve just read the full post. It reminded me why Michael is one of my favourite writers. His eloquence is at times astonishing, as is his ability to tell you the things you were afraid of, hoping for, worried about, you just didn’t know it. Perhaps because he was so honest as a writer.

  6. Matt Purdum says

    Thanks, I needed that. I feel that certain people are in my life that I am to witness to, but over a long period of time, witnessing by demonstrating to them Christ’s love and character. Caring about them as friends and as humans. Respecting them. Taking seriously their objections to Christianity. Praying for them and believing that God will answer that prayer.

    Frankly, I find when Christians convey a sense of urgency to unbelievers, it’s a turn-off. Thanks again.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “And stop screaming. Nobody likes a religion with people screaming.”
      — Michael Spencer, Internet Monk

  7. I think I understand what you guys are saying, but when we start down that ‘what would Jesus do’ road, so that I too can do go out and do it, we start to focus on ourselves. Maybe not. I guess it’s all in how we talk about it.

    I too, don’t buy all that sense of urgency (although there may be) stuff, when discussing Christ. And of course I do not believe in all that deciding for Jesus stuff.

    • Steve I think you have a point- the disciple-making is a definite call. I think that the burden and urgency are taken out of it when we see that we are not personally commanded to approach non-believers with intention of converting them; a holistic view of the GC shows us, I believe, that the Church corporately makes disciples by sharing the Word and teaching among themselves. And in such a way that there’s a window from the outside. When you think of it as a Body of people living “with Christ” among a larger community of non-Christians, and you’re grounded in love, and make a practice of Abiding in Christ, you have a recipe for conversions rolling in out of the blue, in my opinion. Not to mention the already-converted being “further discipled” which is just as much part of the GC as conversion.

      The reason more churches don’t experience this is that we generally think of the local church as a cluster of individuals, not a united, living organism; and in many evangelical circles, we think of the Gospel as “that thing that unbelievers need to ‘get saved.'” Rather than the thing that the Church perpetually needs to have joy, to grow in love, and to know Christ.

      So yeah, you’re right. And Michael’s right. My 2.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “When someone asks you ‘What Would Jesus Do?’, remind him that flipping out and throwing tables around is a viable option.” — Christian Demotivational Poster

  8. I think this is a great topic. I’ve always felt that there needed to be a balance. I think there is some urgency in the sense that we never know when we will pass from this life and after that to face judgment. I think the Gospel is “good news” that needs to be delivered in some sense and I think it would be easy for a Christian to say “well, I’m not called, so I’m not going to do it”. So I think it is good to be proactive and intentional. But I think Adrian hit the nail on the head with regards to teaching and discipling. It is a process that IMHO doesn’t follow and flow from a lot of the in and out missionary trips. For many years I was part of a missions team that would go to the same place each year and “preach the Gospel” (4 spiritual laws style) to a particular community. It was mostly borne out of the Billy Graham style evangelism and we all understood the goal was to share the Gospel and our faith in the hopes that people would respond and “pray the prayer” and become Christians. It lasted 10 days and on the last day we would host a dinner for the community and share personal testimonies, sing songs, and perform a skit/drama. It was all well and good, and a great “experience”, but once we left, that was it. We had no meaningful contact with that community until the next year. There wasn’t really anyone in that community (a church or other Christian organization) who could do follow up, the really important tasks (Matt 28) of teaching and discipling. It was kind of “templated” in that we would plan everything pretty much the same way each year. Through all the years we did build some good relationships with that community, but to my knowledge, not one person had ever become a Christian or ever expressed sincere interest in learning about Christianity. While I think our hearts were in the right place in that we had a sincere desire to reach out, I don’t think we every really looked past the conversion aspect of it. So in that sense I agree with Spenser about knocking on doors to sell Jesus. I think it should be in an ordered way, and with respect to the ministry I was involved in, it would have made more sense to actually move to that community and become a part of it rather than just a short term thing. I think that would truly be a calling in the Pauline sense of wanting to witness to his people.

    • Thank you yes thats what i was trying to say this is not instant stuff. It does take a while to build relationships with people and disciples them

      • ….I agree, and I think that those who honestly believe that if a person is not “saved” as THEY define salvation is going straight to hell. They don’t want friends to go to hell. Therefore, I think some of this “urgency” is a misplace attempt to save the un-saved hell bound who don’t go to THEIR church!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          From my experience in Wretched Urgency Evangelism some 40 years ago, there is another factor. Back then the idea was that if you didn’t Witness to them and they Died Unsaved, God WILL Hold You Responsible(TM). i.e. God WILL Punish You. How’s that for a Wretched Urgency Motivator?

          The less drastic flip side of this was the idea that God would judge you as a believer (reward you “With Many Crowns”) entirely depending on how many Souls You Won(TM). The more notches on your Bible, the more bennies at the Bema. (And there was a lot of Christianese one-upmanship and bragging rights on sales figures.)

          Put these two together and you have some really insane pressure to Wretched Urgency Prosletyze everyone — EVERYONE — you run into. Drive-by Prosletyzing. On-the-spot Altar Calls. And this crazy-making pressure led to some really crazy and desperate Witnessing(TM) behavior.

          Until you resemble a certain purple unicorn. Except not as funny.

  9. This is what i’ve been saying for 10 years, but no one’s listening. Everyone looks at me like…what are you talking about? I say, read your Bible…pretty clear how we are supposed to LIVE….like Jesus did. Love God, love others. Live simply and quietly….
    But alas, I dare not repeat what MS says so eloquently.
    THANK YOU for reposting:)

  10. My impression is that recent scholarship dealing with the spread of Christianity within the Roman Empire is in agreement with Spencer about this: yes, there were initial church-planting missions by Paul and others, but the extensive, lateral spread into the culture was the result of quiet familial and social influence rather than bold and dramatic missionary efforts; Christians exhibited humanizing qualities in their lives, concern for the poor and sick, for instance, that were extensively missing from the culture of Roman antiquity, and these qualities, and the compassionate actions that flowed from them, exerted a winsome attraction on their fellow citizens that resulted in gradual, persistent growth in the number of converts over the long haul. This is markedly different from the culture of blitzkrieg missionary assault that has become the modus operandi of much contemporary evangelism.

  11. I know many of the comments here are a push back against the “overtly intense” evangelistic nature of modern evangelicalism, but to be fair, the world does need missionaries, and yes, in foreign countries, not just “locally.”

    • Absolutely, Huol. I was one for seven years, and I’m still in regular touch with the people I knew overseas. But overseas missionaries have a choice: they can follow the way of life outlined by Robert F above, or they can be like a missionary I knew who told me he was going to stop “being friends” with a local because after six months of “friendship” the local hadn’t shown any interest in Christianity. In the missionary’s wretchedly urgent view of things, six months was more than enough to invest in a relationship — and a relationship only served as a kind of stealth cloak with which to creep up on the target. I’m sure the missionary felt he was using his supporters’ money wisely, but to me he seemed barely human.

  12. Thank you for posting this. I have been trying to make this point for years, but it rarely seems to go over well. Most people seem to get a little bit fidgety when I talk about something like the “joy of pursuing holiness”. I don’t hear much stress on obedience from the pulpit, and virtually never aimed at women. Bad for business, I guess.

  13. Cedric Klein says

    “Wretched urgency” is founded on one main doctrine- that without entrusting oneself to Christ as Lord & Savior in this life, one has no guarantee of any Eternity outside of Hell. IF that is true, then a frantic urgency to get as many trusting Christ as possible is the only humanitarian response, at least if you’re not a Calvinist.
    Add to that the teaching that a Christian may through negligence or bad example either deny someone their opportunity for salving faith in Jesus or- worse yet- through bad example, cause a potential believer to turn away- and thus “their blood would be on your hands!” That is a recipe for madness.

    It doesn’t help the situation that in my teen Christian years, two voices counseled moderation as “Christ is only actively saving a very few now”, but will give billions now dead their opportunity in the Resurrection. Those were Herbert W. Armstrong & his son Garner Ted.

  14. Thanks for sharing this post. It really resonates with me and I particularly liked the comment from Robert F. Like many here, I was raised in Evangelical circles and taught that if you weren’t out evangelizing then you didn’t love God, weren’t really a Christian, blah, blah, blah. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve learned that that view of evangelizing is a relatively recent innovation. The reason I especially liked the comment from Robert F. is that I’ve long been fascinated as to how the gospel was able to spread so rapidly in the Roman Empire during the early centuries. From all that I’ve read and been told, the Christians in Rome basically kept to themselves and focused on living holy and righteous lives. It’s always seemed to me that doing that very thing is what attracted people to Christianity. Yet today, so many think the exact opposite. So many believe (mistakenly, in my opinion) that the way to reach people is via seeker driven “services” and walking up to people randomly and talking to them about God.

  15. My pastor wrote this today (it ties in perfectly with this post):

    The holy trinity of American evangelicalism were Moody, Finney and Sunday. You can Google them and learn more if you wish. These three were the original purveyors of mass revivalism, mass evangelism and “Big Box” tents, the forerunners of “Big Box” churches. The actual peak of this form of evangelism was in the decade prior to World war I. Well over a thousand itinerant evangelists plowed the country, while hundreds of others, in established communities, developed that unique American version of showmanship religion which made the ministries in neighborhood and country churches seem dull in comparison. Sheep stealing was rampant as these free-will purveyors railed against established churches and their meaningless sacraments. During the height of it’s lather, from about 1910 to 1913, church membership in America actually declined slightly. Go figure.

    For many people, confrontational revivalism (the gospel at gunpoint, as one called it) is assumed to be the default way in which the church does evangelism. Give people a choice; heaven or hell, which will it be? Everyone must make a decision. First, accept Jesus as savior, then you must make Him Lord of your life. Salvation and this life are in some strange way unrelated, separated. Salvation becomes adherence to an ideology. The Christian life becomes a morality project, a striving after perfection.

    What we have going on here, it seems to me, is the religious equivalent of a sales pitch for a consumer decision about a product, rather than the proclamation of the decision God has made about sinners. And it is no accident that what has characterized these ministries from the 19th century up to the present is a reliance on the end justifies the means. All that matters is closing the deal. No method or gimmick is too outrageous, provided we can bring people to the point of decision. Then, once the decision has been made, the job is to keep the whip of spiritual growth on their backs so that Jesus will really become their Lord.

    But since when does the manipulation of a sales pitch play a part in the open and free proclamation of God’s grace? The only possible way to find any of this in the New testament is to ‘cherry pick’ verses and bend them out of all shape and context.

    The New Testament witness does not separate the saving work of Christ, His will to save from His will to be Lord. His Lordship and salvation are inseparable because He is the one who has done the deciding and He is the one whose life now defines the life of the Christian and Christian community. The only will that is free to do any choosing where God is concerned is God’s will. For us to claim such freedom is not the key to salvation, it is blasphemy. For it is claiming something for ourselves that belongs to God alone.

    Evangelism, therefore, is being brought by God’s grace – through Word and sacrament – to be with those whose great need is God’s concern. To trust God, to believe the Gospel, is not a consequence of my decision, it is the form God’s decision takes for me.