Monday, January 16, 2017

Unhealthy Evangelism

arrow, direction, one way

We are putting an emphasis on evangelism this year at Perryville Second Baptist. I think this is an area I can definitely grow in personally and I hope to see our church as a whole grow in this as well. Our goal is not to necessarily memorize a specific evangelistic outline (although, I'm not opposed to that) but to shift the culture in our church were evangelism is not 'something extra to do' but flows naturally in our daily interactions as well as fostering a sense of urgency and intentionality in searching out gospel opportunities. While it is true that some in the church are more gifted at sharing the gospel, we still believe every Believer is equipped to share the gospel with others for three main reasons:

1.) They know the gospel! (Otherwise, they wouldn't be a Believer)
2.) They are indwelled by the Holy Spirit
3.) God uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise

With that being said, here are a few quick thoughts on when evangelism is actually harmful to the church. I know, I know. There's that famous Moody quote of "I like my way of doing [evangelism] better than your way of not doing it." And I certainly agree with that in part. However, I think we've all seen some of the bad ways evangelism has been done and I submit to you that in some instances it is actually harmful to the church and the people being evangelized. But I certainly am not advocating not doing evangelism at all! Rather, I support doing evangelism faithfully, biblically, and unto the glory of God. So here we go:

1. When the gospel is not present -

This should be obvious! But if the gospel isn't present, we aren't really evangelizing. We are just 'izing'. It's not a good tactic to leave all the 'hard stuff' out of the gospel like repentance (the proper response to the gospel), and the bodily resurrection (just a couple of examples), so that you can get people to come into Christianity. When we strip the gospel of its essentials, we no longer have the gospel! And when we invite people to place their trust in a false gospel, we are not seeing conversion to Christianity take place. I'm afraid there are many in the church today who have trusted an insufficient gospel and feel secure in their salvation when in reality they haven't truly placed their faith in Christ as their only suitable and all-sufficient Savior.

2. When the means distort the message -

So, the argument goes 'I don't care what 'means' we use to win people as long as we have the right message.' But sometimes, the means preach louder than the message. I once heard about a VBS that had 100% of the kids respond positively to the gospel message. The leaders put two large buckets at the front of the room. They wrote on one bucket 'Heaven' and the other 'Hell'. They asked the children to place their cards in 'heaven' if they accepted Jesus and 'hell' if they didn't. And for added effect they lit the hell bucket on fire. Yup. 100% responded 'yes'. We ought to eschew manipulatory tactics and underhanded ways. Preach the gospel.

3. When healthy church membership is compromised -

Personally, it's difficult for me to hear from pastors/leaders who are 'concerned' about evangelism but not healthy membership practices. As if these two things are at odds! Periodically you will see conferences on evangelism that feature 'evangelistic pastors' whose membership rolls don't emphasize the real make-up of their church. Say, 5,000 people coming on Sundays and 25,000 members. Evangelism that doesn't care about healthy church membership is at best woefully deficient. It is not connecting the fact that God isn't merely saving 'individuals' but a people for His own glory. "Well, yeah, but it's still bringing people into the Kingdom!" First off, that's not confirmed. Because John tells us that we know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brothers (1 Jn 3:14). Secondly, if some of those people are true converts they are not growing as they should be and the particular church is not as effective as it should be because they are missing parts of the body.

4. When the glory of God is not the chief motivator - 

This is sort of an underlying issue that can lead to the above three. But when our own reputation is the chief motivator we become more concerned about numbers. When people, in and of themselves, are the chief motivator, we become more concerned about lowering the standards to 'get them in'. But the driving force behind our evangelism must be that we are zealous for the glory of God. That God is infinitely worthy of the worship of the Nations. That we are provoked in spirit to see such idolatry in our communities. We care about souls because we care about the glory of God. When the glory of God is our chief motivator then our greatest desire will be to honor God, to be faithful to His Word, to rest in the sufficiency of Scripture. To let the latest evangelistic fads come and go and not get caught up in them, but rather to continue to day in and day out seek to faithfully share the message of Christ in the places that God has placed us.

5. When the church sees evangelism as priority number 1 -

Similar to the last point. But the church's main concern is the glory of God. Thankfully, we aren't left scratching our heads wondering what exactly God wants from us and how the church is to bring Him glory. We have His Word! Is evangelism an important part of the mission of the church? Absolutely! But, the issue is that many churches have gotten so caught up on 'reaching the unchurched' that they have dismissed other teachings of Scripture on the effect of the gospel, such as holiness, gospel unity, etc. The problem we see is our churches are less full than they used to be. So, the question we ask is 'what can we do to get people to come again?' When the question we should be asking is 'In what ways can we ensure that we are being faithful to God even in the midst of a culture that rejects Him?" The biggest ways I see this played out currently are through attractional and affinity based churches. The idea being let's make our churches more inviting or tailor made toward a certain 'affinity' (Biker, Cowboy, etc) so that we can see people saved. Let me quote from something I wrote in January 2016:
We think "church" is where people come to get saved. Can people get saved during a church service? Of course! But is this the purpose of the local church's weekly gathering? Absolutely not. You won't find that anywhere in the New Testament. It's strange to even consider how we came to assume this.

So, the idea is "we need to create a church for the 'unchurched'." Well, there's a reason men are 'unchurched' (not a biblical category btw) - they are lost. How can we read the New Testament and come away with the idea that we need to plant churches that people will come to and get saved? Not one church in the New Testament was planted that way. Instead, the gospel was preached, people were saved, and a church was planted (no adjective before the church either). We don't "come to church". We are the church that goes to people (Mt 28:18-20 That's the great commission - GO! Not "ya'll come!")
So again, maybe similar point number 3 as well, but when we make 'evangelism' crowd out the other purposes of the local church, we are committing an error. Actually, I would say that evangelism done in this manner is not biblical evangelism.  

6. When only 'baptism' is the indicator of 'successful' evangelism -

Unfortunately, sometimes we think that successful evangelism is seeing someone born again and to follow through with Believer,s baptism. While that is defintiely what we want to see, at the end of the day, God is the One who saves. We must be faithful to share the message. Successful evangelism is proclaiming the gospel and inviting sinners to repent and believe it in faith. If they are saved, then glory to God! But if they reject the message, it doesn't mean we are 'failures'. We must keep proclaiming! Keep inviting! Keep imploring with men to be reconciled to God! But our success is dependant on God and His work. So even if we don't see immediate fruit, we must keep sowing seed.

The goal of this post isn't to make us think evangelism is bad! Instead, it's to make us realize that bad evangelism is bad. Let us strive to be faithful in our evangelistic endeavors.