Evangelist or Ego-Driven Meddler?

If you’re a Christian driven to evangelize, beware of the devilishly smooth transition between glorifying God and glorifying yourself.

It’s a seamless slide from “God is good! Let him save you!” to “God and I are good! Let us save you!”

The moment you begin to proselytize to a person, you will likely catch a very heady buzz. And though it might feel like it, that buzz will not be coming from the joy of sharing God’s love. Its source will instead be the dizzying one-two punch of knowing that you’ve made yourself the focus of that person’s attention, and that you’re deeply meddling in that person’s life.

You’re the star. You’ve got the answers. You’re wise. You’re all-knowing. You have what that person needs. You can solve all their problems. You’re the person they need to listen to.

Good for you! You’ve got the power!

Bad for God. You’re acting like he doesn’t.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Jessica

    A group of girls participating in a recovery program spoke at my church several months ago and I remember them saying several times that…"I have saved ___ people since I turned my life around."

    I just remember thinking…no you didn't. Jesus did. I hope someone told them to stop saying that when they were speaking.

  • http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/ morsec0de

    "And my feelings are exactly that. If your god really loves me- he’ll come convince me to believe in him; you wont."

    Hopefully.

    Unless the horns and tail I've been growing actually mean something…

  • FreetoBe

    Ah, what a delicate balance. I often hear Christian’s say “I led so-and-so to salvation.” No, you didn’t. If God wasn’t there, no one was saved. God does the leading, the calling, the saving. He uses us, we have no right to use Him.

    Thanks for the reminder, John.

  • http://emphaticasterisk.com Lindsey

    So, so good.

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine

    Hey pretty sure God would be able to look past the horns and tail, I mean he did make them right LOL

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    The best advice on evangelizing I ever received was “people don’t save people; God saves people.”

  • ME

    Good advice, but those people are in the minority. Witness with love and prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. I sometimes tell people “I’m just one poor beggar telling another poor beggar where to find bread.” It’s easy to find excuses to not witness to others. Don’t waste opportunities to share the gospel of Christ.

  • http://sharpiron.org Christian Beyer

    So true, so true. I remember (not that long ago, actually) I was ‘on fire’ for God, a confrontational zealot that was so busy ‘telling’ people about Jesus that I never showed them anything remotely like Jesus (unless hr never swore, smoke, drank and had a penchant for tee-shirts about himself). I never listened to what these people had to say, never even considered that they might have an opinion about what they needed help with. Didn’t matter, I had the prescription. But this prescription seemed to cause drowsiness as their eyes would always glaze over.

    Once I stopped this sort of thing, started pulling back and acting a bit more (dare I say it?) humbly, people stopped running away whenever I entered a room. They would actually talk to me. Once and while they might even ask me something about my faith. Funny.

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine

    I think this is a realy struggle for Christians everywhere. It is in our nature to take the glory whether we like to admit it or not. Heard a song the other day by Casting Crowns. One of the lines was “jesus i going to save the world, maybe we should just get out of the way”. Really impacted me

  • arlywn

    whoooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go John! You just kit the nail on the head on why so many non christians really dont like religion talks with christians.

    And my feelings are exactly that. If your god really loves me- he’ll come convince me to believe in him; you wont.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Wonderful stuff. Thanks, guys. Nice. VERY nice, Christian.

  • arlywn

    lol, you have those too morse? Darn, thought I was special… lol

  • tavdy

    "Don't try to be a good man, just be a man and let history decide the rest."

    I've forgotten where I first heard that quote (though I suspect it's from J. M. Straczynski) but it fits with what Odgie said.

    Very often it's so easy to focus on trying to become some kind of mythical idealised "Christian" in order to attain holiness that we lose sight of the fact that the prize – Christ's love and life – is not something that can be earned but is given freely. When we lose sight of that truth we see sin as a greater threat than it is, which chains us with fear-based judgmental attitudes towards ourselves and others that alienate non-Christians. We can also become self-hating because, as mortal humans, we can never fulfil that ideal, and that bitterness often spreads to the way we interact with others. The result is that non-Christians often see our faith as a religion of intolerance, self-righteousness, judgmentalism and hate rather than acceptance, humility, forgiveness and love.

    We need to stop trying (and failing) to fulfil that man-made ideal and start being humans again, and leave the rest to Christ.

  • http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/ morsec0de

    “Don’t try to be a good man, just be a man and let history decide the rest.”

    It's from "Star Trek: First Contact".

    Still a good quote, though. ;)

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    I believe you're both wrong about the origin of that quote. It's from the first "Tarzan" book.

  • http://suddenlyatheist.wordpress.com/ morsec0de

    I didn't say that's where the quote had it's origin. Just that it was in a Star Trek movie. :P

  • Lynn

    There is a great deal of truth being expressed here regarding evangelism. I wanted to offer a few additional thoughts to what Arlywn has expressed: "…whoooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go John! You just kit the nail on the head on why so many non christians really dont like religion talks with christians. If your god really loves me- he’ll come convince me to believe in him; you wont."

    In my opinion, discretion and discernment should always be used in the midst of a discussion regarding "religion" between a non-christian and christian. Many times these communication skills are not applied and great misunderstandings and offenses occur.

    I believe that God can, if He chooses, use any form of His creation to convince people of His existence. Although He may not choose to do this in the same way as in the miraculous events of the Old Testament times…He still can use His creation…mankind…in the present day.

    Before Jesus left this earth, He told His disciples that God was going to send (as Jesus' representative) the Holy Spirit to teach them and remind them of everything that Jesus told them. This offers credibility toward the understanding that God dispatches His Spirit to teach people about Himself. Then, when God's Spirit directs them to do so, they can pass that knowledge of hope on to others.

    God's Word is described as alive and powerful. God can use the bible to convince people of His existence and His love for them.

    So, my thoughts are…God can use natural catastrophic events, supernatural miracles, His Holy Spirit, His Word and people in order to convince mankind that He exists; that His love for them is immeasurable; and that He wants to begin and sustain a personal/intimate relationship (one on one) with them, meeting and fulfilling their needs in ways that no one else can do.

    Scripture says that God is the author and finisher of faith… He is the creator of faith and the sustainer of it. The bible describes faith as a gift from God. This gift is offered to anyone who has a sincere desire to have it.

  • http://sharpiron.org Christian Beyer

    I think this line had it's origins in Tarzan as well;

    "Me saved. You unsaved." Or something like thata.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    And who can forget that classic, soul-stirring moment when, with utmost resolve, Tarzan determined, once and for all, to invent the flea collar.

  • http://odgie.wordpress.com odgie

    After 21 years as a Christian, i’m still sorting this one out. I have come to the point where I have nothing but disdain for methodologies, which are man-made and doomed to fail. People don’t respond to a method or a trick, they respond to the message delivered in the context of a relationship. If we see a person as a prospect, forget it. If we witness for Christ through our actions and our words to people with whom we have a relationship, then maybe we can plant a seed. And God, as always, will do the rest.

  • http://mormonsoprano.wordpress.com mormonsoprano

    Amen.

  • http://thesearethecrazytimes-christine.blogspot.com Christine

    A moment of silence in commemoration of that great inventor Tarzan

  • Dan Harrell

    Ok John, I never know where to put anything, but I just finished I'm OK you're not. Your message blew me away. I had recently read UnChristian, but it didn't go into the depth of not only what we should consider about the great commission and the great commandment, as your book does, but with you, I have a logical progressive thought process that helps me understand the entire puzzle. Let's love everyone and leave the saving to God. Let's answer questions in a loving way, with lots of respect for other valid viewpoints. Wow! And yes, there was a few times I felt that superior feeling. I'm saved and heaven is mine and you're not going. In the past few years I came to realize that I'm the last one that should sit in judgement of anyone. That God can have different paths to heaven is exactly what I wanted to believe, but after reading your book, I feel so filled with a calm certainty of how all this works and what my place is in the order of things.

    Sorry about the huge paragraph. All my thougths were spilling out at once. I feel like I can look at everyone else differently and enjoy them for who they are, not as targets.

    Ah, your style is pretty hip for an oldster like me, but I love it. Can I tell you that only John Ortberg stirred me as much in recent years. Thank you, pal, and God Bless. I hope you get this.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Dan: Thank you so very much for sending me this love for my book. I can't even begin to tell you the nightmares this poor book has been through; you simply wouldn't believe the trucks that have run over the thing. So that it made it through to you, and you read it, and would say the things about it you have here means the world to me. Thank you so much for helping me know that, after all, I'm not, in my work, totally wasting my time.

  • Dan Harrell

    John, It’s seems to me that the baby boomers who grew up in organized liturgy will have the most difficulty with this message. They love the structure and the predictability, of course, but they are stuck in a part time religion that preaches redemption through membership. Your book will save a good number of people from mucking up the real. Christian message and turning off even more people. Way to catch the wave!

  • http://www.cloquetmartialarts.com Chris

    Very nice.

    Now we just have to work out exactly HOW and WHEN do we share our faith with others?

    I have a number of thoughts, but two come to the fore:

    By unboastful EXAMPLE – simply live the life you should. Others will surely notice and the fact of one following Christ will come out somewhere along the way.

    Related to the above: SERVICE. Love and care for others, serve others. What better way to evangelize?

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Chris: Yeah, I wrote a whole book on The Great Commission vs. The Great Commandment. (It's called, "I'm OK-You're Not: The Message We're Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop.") But yes, as you say: can't go wrong simply being loving. Beautiful.

  • http://christianranter.wordpress.com Des

    The ultimate evangelist was John the Baptist. He could have easily been accused of egotistical behavior except given the fact that he wore camel clothes while preaching.

    So the obvious conclusion is that if you want to evangelize, you must prove your humility by wearing some kind of animal skin while preaching.

  • Robert Meek

    This reminds me of when we went to a J. Swaggart meeting, in Charlotte NC, in the 70s, and he was preaching that if you "believed" you would receive "wealth" from God. His example was a car dealer had just given him a Lincoln Continental. He then, almost sneering, said "If you want to drive a Ford Pinto, go ahead!" Mama rightly seethed, saying "I wonder if he knows how many people drove here today in Ford Pintos!"

    Same city, different preacher, near the end of his service, he actually said, in a thunderous theatrical voice that HE forgave us of our sins. Not "He" as in God/Jesus, but HE the MINISTER.

    The crowd was enraptured, and cheered, roared with shouts of "Hallelujah," and "Glory" and so on.

    I was instantly appalled, as was my mother, too.

  • http://soiledwings.com Sherry Meneley

    I read this and INSTANTLY thought of someone who I once called "friend".

    It was so bizzare how one day she was suddenly heavy on proselytizing…at me…a Christian. Clearly I did something she thought was unJesusy, but just what that was I'm clueless about.

    When it happened I was stunned. I swear she drank some bad kool-aid.

    She wouldn't admit it but she shows all signs of being "the wise and all-knowing God-star with all the answers". Sad but true that her tactics turn-off people, even Christians. {sigh}

  • nicola

    I haven’t lead anyone to the Lord in years!!!!!!! I am very good at letting people believe their own thing.

  • Debbie

    Motive, motive, motive!

    Why do we want to evangelise? Because we are commanded? Because we care about ‘sinners’ and their ‘lack’ or because His heart beats in ours and there is no such thought of ‘get out of God’s way’ because He is The Way we live, it is as natural as breathing…

  • connie

    It is revoltingly self centered and uncaring towards others. The fact that you dont see this is astounding to the rest of us who have to hear your self centered, self important, egomanical blatherings. Did you even read the piece?

    • Debbie

      Who are you talking to Connie?

  • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

    “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi

  • Richard Jones

    John, I’ve known literally hundreds of people who are committed, driven evangelizers (since I grew up in a VERY fundamentalist church). I know of maybe four who fit your description above. You probably have run across more in your experience. Many truly fear hell for their potential converts. Many fear the disapproval of the God who is going to send these potential converts to hell. But many are just doing what they are told by a controlling (ok, say “influential”) pastor or spiritual leader. I personally think this last category fits most. Guilt and fear are by far the main motivators in Christian fundamentalism.

  • carl

    Unfortunately, these people don’t realize they’re doing more harm to Christianity than good. It’s just one of the reasons I feel that is causing church attendance to decline.

  • Susan

    Ow. I keep having to remind myself that it’s all about love. That’s it.

    • Kate C

      You and I both. :) <3

    • Bryan

      Me three.

  • Amy Michael Finnerty via Facebook

    John, I love this. Thank you.

  • Roxanne Schubert Danek via Facebook

    Thought provoking…Or, am I acting like She doesn’t?

  • Desiree Dickens via Facebook

    it’s not about YOU – it’s about GOD

  • LSS

    Have you seen THE BIG KAHUNA?

    Not that you need to, because you get it. But in case somebody doesn’t get it and you need to make them see what’s wrong with marketing of God.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0189584/

    I don’t think the online description gets into the religion part of it but it’s very very clever.

  • Sox

    What is the best way to prothlesize? By speaking of it not at all. By becoming that which you have faith in, by becoming strong and joyous. By becoming one who is obviously at peace with self and God. By becoming such a pillar of strength and confidence, and very relaxed in peace and security, that they will wonder what manner of powers created this. If you are such an example, you don’t need words. Just be who you are, and do not try to convince them.

    Do not try to convince them. Do not argue. Be.

    What they see, they will inquire about. Answer only as much as they are prepared to receive. Do not preach. Do not argue. Do not be concerned with their fears for you.

    You are not conformed to this world, when you have chosen a different set of values. Understand this, as written, “Be not conformed to this world. Be not like they are. Be different. As you are not conformed, yet be you transformed by renewing of your mind that you may prove what is the good and perfect will of God.” It is written in the Epistles of Paul. “Be ye not conformed to this world, to their religion, but be ye transformed.” And how? By changing your mind—by proving the good, the perfect mind and will of your God.

    As they see, so will they as well change the mind. Renewal of the mind. But do not struggle. Do not fight. Allow it to happen.

    • Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

      Very well said, SOX.

      • Sox

        Cheryel, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. As God is pure love those who use fear to sell a religious point of view are actually driving a wedge between their converts and God. Not something I would personally want to be responsible for.

  • Golly

    One can be evangelical about any belief system or political cause. As for me, I’m now a devout hypocrite. “Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves for we shall never cease to be amused.” -Anon. I found recent reactionary behavior at a certain progressive siite dismaying and am now tired of those preaching to the choir. Let’s hear it for those who acknowledge imperfection and model growth through healthy dialogue.

  • Robert

    My grandmother always said… “Actions speak louder than words”. Evangelizing Preachers seem to me to usually be talking AT me… rarely listening… and doing even less. (And often driving very nice cars, living in very large houses and using their churches as platforms to promote very profitable secondary sources of income… like Erwin McManus of Mosaic. He is now selling bags for $799.00 at http://www.mcmanus.la/ and uses his flock to get the word out via social media.) I prefer honest actions… not public relations.

  • Gary

    @John,

    Damn that’s good!


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