My Big, Ugly Evangelization

My Big, Ugly Evangelization May 25, 2018

Photo Credit: Zonda Bez (flickr).
Photo Credit: Zonda Bez (flickr).

As a younger Evangelical I once went door to door conducting a so-called research survey. It was our Outreach Pastor’s idea, and it was ostensibly to support his Master’s Thesis.

And, by “Master’s Thesis” I mean he was attending an unaccredited Pentecostal Bible college called “Master’s College” and had to write a thesis.

It was—how do you say—a bit of a crapshoot.

But, there we were, conducting our survey.

I am, by nature, an introvert and so knocking on a stranger’s door to ask them if they believed that Jesus Christ was Lord and Saviour of the World was something of a stretch for me. But I did it anyway. In fact, I did it because I was told that was what you did.

That’s how you evangelized.

That’s how you shared the good news of Christ: By going door-to-door.

Years later, in university, I found myself again in an awkward situation. This time it was with a group of friends from what was then called Campus Crusade for Christ—their name now, I think, is something far less innocuous. I had joined a small Bible study group, initially, and study the Bible we did. It was great: enriching, edifying, educational. I loved the fellowship amongst out tight-knit group of Christian guys but one day our group later, a curly-haired guy a few years older than the rest of us, decided we should do something different; something more worthwhile, he said, and do some evangelizing.

After all, he opined, that was the whole point of the Christian life—and, he pointed out, the purpose of Campus Crusade for Christ.

So evangelizing we went.

(I can still remember, clearly, the half-dozen awkward encounters we had standing around the Arts Lecture building, although I’d prefer to wipe it from my memory.)

It was the season of my big, ugly evangelization. And, you know, it never really worked.

See as a younger Evangelical I believed that people needed to be stopped in their tracks and confronted with the message of Christ. We’d call it The Romans Road and used the time-worn formula for convincing non-believers that Christ really came, died for their sins, and is worthy of their belief. We thought, somehow, that a random discussion on a street corner, a doorstep, or the university commons on a Friday afternoon would convince a weary world that there must be a God.

I don’t know, man.

Why we believed that someone would change their mind about Jesus in the course of a single conversation is beyond me. Our methods, as they were, are nothing short of wildly outdated, outmoded, and probably were never effective to begin with.

And, these days, in what is decidedly a post-Christian culture, our assumptions that there’s something, anything, to believe in are fallacious to begin with. But still we struggle, we debate and the season of our big, ugly evangelization needs to end. Now.

Rather than struggling to convince a deaf and blind culture that the thing they’re reaching out for so desperately is God let’s live like we already know Him. Because we do.

And because in a post-Christian culture that is as good a witness as any. In fact, that is better.

Because all we managed to do, collecting survey data for our Outreach Pastor was to bother people at their doorstep on an otherwise beautiful Saturday afternoon.

And all we did, stopping to trust pamphlets into the hands of university students that one time on campus, was to convince an already skeptical generation that Christians were, after all, just a bunch of wackos like they’d thought.

We are often our own worse enemies.

Because Jesus didn’t drop out of the sky to proclaim the truth of who he was, and how to be saved. Far from it. Instead, he was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he grew up in the Jewish culture, and when the time was right he began to teach. And if Christ is the ultimate model for our own Christian lives then there’s certainly something we can learn from him in there: Our evangelization methods were unsuccessfully precisely because they were un-Christian to begin with.

Instead, I suggest, we live like Christ.

I would suggest, rather than a formula for convincing others of the truth of Christ we convince ourselves first. And, not with a formula but with daily prayer, penance, and devotion. After all, if we really believe that Christ came, died, and rose again we would love an astoundingly different life. We would, I think, be slower to anger because we recognize that in the same way Christ forgives us, we should forgive others. We would be more patient and more kind because, after all, we’re all facing the same struggles and drink from the same Well of Grace. We would be more ready and willing to lend a helping hand, or listening ear, or gesture of good will because in the same way Christ moved first and reached out to us, we ought to reach out to others.

We strike up relationships instead of always trying to be right.

We offer compassion instead of being the first to criticize.

Instead of simply arguing for Christ we ought to live like Christians. And that difference, my friends, is nothing short of fundamental.

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