“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Christian Life - Part VII - The Cult of Evangelism

You may be saying: "OK Ray, I have been with you through the other sections of this series, but 'Cult of Evangelism'? That is too much! There cannot be a cult of evangelism!"

I pray that you will bear with me and see if you are suffering from the cult of evangelism. BTW, as I write these posts, I do not want people to think that our church is immune from any and all of these issues -- we struggle with them like any church; my point in posting these is to keep us all vigilant.

So, what is the 'Cult of Evangelism'? Well, it is the cult that promotes the mindset that ANYTHING done to bring people into their church is not only OK, but Biblical! We see this mindset in some of the following ways:

1. - You may be suffering from the Cult of Evangelism if your idea of evangelism is to give away a car, motorcycle, or big-screen TV to the people that bring the most friends/proselytes/bored relatives/strangers to the church within a given period of time.

2. - You may be suffering from the Cult of Evangelism if you believe that you must have a famous ex-football player, wrestler, actor, NASCAR driver speak, at your church (regardless of their ability, or even beliefs!) on 'evangelism' Sunday! (And why do we have 'evangelism Sundays'; aren't all days for evangelism?)

3. - You may be suffering from the Cult of Evangelism if you believe that the number of people who show up on Sunday morning to hear the professional 'Worship Team' and see the Las Vegas-style message indicate your level of success. I have read many, many statistics that show the level of actual discipleship that goes on in many churches is abysmal -- unless you get 'plugged in' to a small group that fits your profile, you will slip through the cracks. While I am not against Small groups per se, see my post on The Cult of Individualism.

4. - You may be suffering from the Cult of Evangelism if you have a church of 2000 members, of which 78 show up on Sunday morning, or any other time for that matter. You have made people members simply because they were worked into an emotional frenzy by a professional 'pleaer', convinced to sign a membership card, maybe even prayed the little pray that is printed on the 'Evangelism' card, but there was no discipleship, or follow-up -- their one-time emotional decision has left them with buyer's remorse, and you with a bloated membership roll -- of course you may parade around the number of 'decisions' as a mark of honor without even being aware of the true spiritual condition of many of your 'converts'.

Why am I so hard on this? Because the Church, like Esau of old, has sold her birthright for a bowl of pottage. We have a wonderful birthright -- we are the Children of God, and have the unbelievable priviledge to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to all peoples, places and nations. Yet, for the immediate gratification of a bowl of pottage, in the form of membership numbers, or church size, we have sold that birthright. We no longer preach the Good News of the Gospel -- we now 'evangelize' by using marketing techniques, even going so far as to hire professional, secular marketing groups to do our work for us!

We demographically dissect the community around us, determining WHO we want to reach (sad to say, that is often the ones who will be able to best 'fund' our ministry), all the while ignoring or marginalizing anyone who does not fit that profile. In our community we have several poor areas that several groups within the local church body wanted to evangelize for years, but I actually heard a pastor say that these groups were ..."not in the profile for the demographic that we wanted to reach". The wonderful thing is that people ignored him, and went in to these communities to preach the Word!

We use gimmicks, and gadgets to bring people in; I have even heard of a church that had an outreach event disguised as a lingerie show, others have even raffled off dinner with the pastor for the one who brings in the most people. My friends this is not evangelism -- this is growth at any cost, the ultimate in pragmatic outreach!

When we turn to the Scriptures we do not find the disciples engaged in this nonsense -- their preaching was straightforward, their message clear, and the people who responded were changed! Go read Peter's sermon in Acts 2 -- 3000 were added to the church that day! Seems like pretty effective evangelism to me. And yet, he did not revert to giving away a donkey or putting up a special speaker for the morning -- he simply preached the gospel. There are some who would say -- "Well, we get them in using these tactics, but then we preach the Gospel to them" I have two observations regarding that --

First, I disagree -- I have been to several churches who use these worldly gimmicks to bring people in, and I have yet to hear the Word preached at their church at all! Most of these folks don't want to 'scare off' the people they have 'tricked' into coming to church, so they inevitably water down the gospel until it is unrecognizeable. Sadly, many of these people think they are doing a great job of evangelizing, but in reality they are simply creating a big club, where everyone gets together on Sunday morning to share a cup of designer coffee, and buy books from their cult leader -- I mean, Pastor!

Secondly, If you think that using a 'bait and switch' technique is acceptable, then not only do you not understand our commission, you are blatantly lying to people, and were I an unbeliever caught up in that, I would be unhappy once I figured it out. This is one reason why many of the huge churches are a revolving door -- yes many people are coming in, but a good number go right back out the back door. And sadly, what churches have done is given these folks just enough 'church' to make them believe that they are 'saved'.

Well what is our commission? Matthew 28:19, 20 -- Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

How many modern Pastors believe that Jesus Christ is with us, even to the end of the age? If they do, they have a funny way of expressing their confidence in that truth -- by reverting to worldly tricks, gimmicks, and methods to bring people to their church! And how many of these people teach the new believers within their church to observe all that Christ commanded? Sadly, it has been my experience that far too few do so.

Let us be churches who have a burning desire to reach the lost WITH the Good News of the Gospel, NOT the perishable junk of worldly methods. These methods are here today and fade tomorrow, leaving pastors stuck looking for the next biggest, best method; all the while many leave the unperishable, life-changing, eternal, Word of God safely up on a shelf somewhere -- to be brought down only for a few good ideas!


Even So... said...

Excellent...this really goes along well with my posts of this week...God bless you, pastor...

Ryan said...

You should write a book. This series is most excellent!

Ray said...

Thanks guys -- you know, I want to reiterate that I am not immune to the foolishness found in these posts -- I have been reminded by these posts just how vigilant we must all be.