Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Far Side of Evangelism

What We Say To Dogs
"Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!"
What They Hear
"blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah..."
from The Far Side by Gary Larson ( I love The Far Side. Gary Larson was/is a genius - ok, maybe a bit warped, but still a genius. And the classic "what we say to dogs" cartoon is one of my favorites. It wasn't even difficult to find: type "far side" and "ginger" to Google, and there it was.

Sadly, though, what caused me to hunt down the cartoon was the decidedly uncartoon-like reality of doing church. I'm beginning to believe that much of what we do in order to reach people for Jesus communicates about as clearly as Ginger's owner communicates with her. To use another pop culture reference, we sound a lot like Miss Othmar, Charlie Brown's teacher. (Weird bit of trivia: originally, Miss Othmar's voice was played by a trombone.)

Why is that?! I mean, we've got the most incredible message in the world...

God's so passionate about the planet that he donates his one and only Son. Whoever invests their life in his Son doesn't die, but gets given this limitless life. D'you think God sends his Son to slam people down? No! He sends his Son to liberate people. No one's written off if they're convinced about Jesus.
paraphrase of John 3:16-18 from word on the street by Rob Lacey

So, why does it come out sounding like "Get right or get left" or "Where will you spend eternity: smoking or non-smoking?" (Yes, I've actually seen these on church signs.)

I'm starting to think that we may have reduced evangelism to a clean-up project - a spiritual "extreme makeover" that is more interested in making people acceptable to us rather than seeing them transformed into radical followers of Jesus Christ.

Evangelism in this worldview is about churching the unchurched, not connecting people to Jesus. It focuses on cleaning people up, changing their behavior so Christians (translation: church people) can be more comfortable around them.
from The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

Frankly, unchurched people don't care about being made in our image... because we've spent way too much time shaving off the rough corners of our lives & drenching ourselves in the cheap perfume of self-righteousness. We haven't shown them anything worth giving up their Sunday mornings for, let alone their lives.

Occasionally when I do consulting for congregations I insist that the church leaders meet off-campus in a restaurant during Sunday church time. I ask the group to look around and then pose the question to them: "Do you think these people struggled with a decision this morning of whether to attend church or to go out for a sausage biscuit?" Are you kidding? The church is not even on their screen.
from The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

So, how do we change this? How do we cut out the "blah blah blah SINNER blah blah" and really make an impact on this community?

Honestly, that's a bigger question than I can answer in a single e-mail article... so, for today, I'm just going to give you a personal starting point, a jumping off place for a journey with God into the great adventure He has planned for us. Here's the four-step plan:
  1. Write down your 10 closest friends/acquaintances. They can be co-workers, guys you golf with, people you get together with each weekend, whatever. Just write their names down on a piece of paper. (See, easy so far, right? As long as you can hold a pencil and write semi-legibly, you're good to go on this one.)
  2. Beside each name, make a note of what you know about their spiritual condition. In other words, do they go to church? Are they a follower of Christ? (BTW, "go to church" and "follower of Christ" are NOT the same thing.) What evidence of God's grace do you see in their lives?
  3. Think about the list you just made. Hey, too often in church we do these kind of exercises like homework and don't actually take time to think through the implications for our life. (There's a reason for that: it's called "avoiding pain." Sigh.) You may find that you don't know very much about the spiritual lives of your friends... or that all of your friends are churched believers. Or maybe you've got a lot of friends who are connected with churches but wouldn't recognize Jesus if He showed wearing a T-shirt with "Messiah" in hot pink Day-Glo lettering on the front. Whatever you find, ask yourself the tough questions: Do I really spend relational time with people who need Jesus, or is my life lived out in the rose-colored bubble of "churchianity"? Why don't I talk more about spiritual issues with my friends? (Note: I didn't say "why don't I witness more?" - so much of what we've been trained/guilted into witnessing-wise is Miss Othmar-ish "dump the Gospel & run" instead of living out our belief in Jesus 24-7. We don't need more drive-by Gospel sharing, we need more people whose love for Jesus bubbles up in their everyday lives & conversations.)
  4. Ask God for wisdom & direction. The temptation is to go into "Mr. Fix-It" mode when you're confronted with stuff like this... don't. Start right now, today, wherever you're reading this, by going to God and asking, "What now? How do I share the truth that changed my life with people who need to see it lived out and hear it spoken?"

There's nothing magic about this process - but there's something amazing & supernatural about our God. He is on a mission to redeem the world... and He wants us to join Him. Hopefully, with a bit more clarity... less "blah blah", more:

You live and breathe to profile and celebrate the one who picked you up out of your dark grovelings and stood you up in his brilliant light... Let your lifestyle be like a magnet for the locals. Let them charge you, try and sue you, but in court the jury will see a rare thing - a prosecution lawyer lost for words. And the papers'll write the headlines: "God turns up to take the credit."
paraphrase of 1 Peter 2:9, 11-12 from word on the street by Rob Lacey

This article originally appeared in 11/8/05 edition of The Grapevine, the e-newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

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