The Naked Truth about
the Lie Running around the Church
by Kevin Harney
Most of us have heard the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. It is a memorable tale with a powerful message. The Emperor was arrogant and wanted the finest clothes possible. He hired some great and renowned fashion experts, and they got to work on his new wardrobe.
But the fashion experts were scoundrels. They knew nothing about making clothes, but they knew a great deal about deceit and thievery. So, they worked and worked and worked. When the king’s patience was beginning to wear out, they allowed him to see the fine clothes that were still in the process of being made. They assured the arrogant monarch that only the truly noble, wise, and best of people could see and appreciate the fine clothes.
When the king looked at the material being fashioned on the loom, he saw nothing. When the charlatan tailors held up the “clothes,” the king saw only air. But, everyone else was declaring how beautiful and elegant the clothes looked. Even the king’s counselors agreed that the clothes were exceptional, because they did not want to look unwise.
Too embarrassed to say he could not see the clothes, the king entered into the ruse and agreed that the clothes were beautiful. This process of deceit continued until the clothes were finished, the money was in the pockets of the “tailors,” and the king was marching down Main Street in great pomp, circumstance, and nothing else!
Finally, someone blew the whistle. A little boy exclaimed, “The Emperor has no clothes!” At this moment, when the truth was spoken, everyone knew what was happening. The veil was lifted. The kingdom-wide denial and deceit was replaced with clarity and truth. The Emperor indeed was buck-naked.
The Naked Truth
This story reflects a painful and present reality when it comes to evangelism in our day and age. There is a lie, a deceitful ruse, that has been sold to the church and Christians all over the world. It has been said enough times, by enough people who seem to know what they are talking about, so that the subjects of the kingdom are fearful to say, “The Emperor has no clothes.” I believe most of us see it. We know that what we are hearing about evangelism is wrong. But who are we to disagree with the conventional wisdom? Who are we to blow the whistle and say, “This is a lie”? Who are we to declare that the king is naked?
What is this deceitful message that is being paraded all over the Western Church? What is the lie so many followers of Jesus are hearing and accepting? What is being said about evangelism that is so wrong, destructive, and harmful to the cause of Jesus?
Here it is: “Christians are too forceful and blunt with their faith and we need to settle down, back off, and be more subtle.”
Over and over in the past decade we have heard speakers, read articles, and received this message with repeated clarity. Christians are scaring people off with our bold and pushy evangelism tactics. The best thing we could do is calm down, back off, and cool our jets. We are offending the world and driving people away from Jesus. Our blunt and blatant tactics are counter-productive. Our words are too direct. The only way we will reach this generation is by backing off.
It is time for someone to stand up and declare, “This is a lie.”
I don’t believe, in most cases, that this is intentional or malicious. But it is having a profound impact on the church. People read articles and hear seminar speakers talk about all the damage being done by over-zealous Christians. They sit and watch a video that portrays the idea that believers are in the habit of coming up to people with a bull horn and screaming religious slogans at them—scaring, offending, and driving people away from faith. They say, “That’s right, we should not be like the bull horn guy. We should back off and quiet down. The last thing we ever want to do is offend anyone.”
The dilemma is, the bull horn guy is a myth, a caricature that does not exist in reality. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there are a few people out there that use this kind of bludgeon-like approach. In New York, Chicago, and L.A. there might be a person or two who scares people away by this very loud and invasive approach. But, is that really what most followers of Christ are like? Does the average Christian need a warning to back off from their over-zealous commitment to evangelism?
An Honest Picture
I began doing an informal survey of church leaders as I traveled and spoke around the United States. I asked over a thousand leaders a couple of simple questions. “Is the presenting problem with the people in your church that they are over zealous and too forceful in bringing the Gospel to their friends, neighbors and community?” I then ask, “How many of you feel that what your church members need is a warning to back off and be a little tamer when it comes to sharing Jesus with others?” Take a wild guess at how many of these leaders raised their hand and affirmed that the people in their Christian community need to back off, settle down, and dial back on the intensity of their outreach. The answer: none! Not one!
Then I asked, “How many of you would say that the greater need is for the people in your congregation to be more impassioned, more committed, and more zealous about sharing their faith?” The best count I have to date is about one thousand out of one thousand. As far as I could tell, not a single leader raised their hand to indicate that their church was filled with people who are pushing too hard in the area of outreach. These were leaders from across the country, from various denominational backgrounds and from every walk of church-life. Also, the gatherings where I asked for input on these important questions were not “evangelism” events. They were leadership training seminars and small group ministry events.
What is my point? The Emperor has no clothes! We have believed the lie for too long, and the results have been tragic. Church leaders are fearful and embarrassed to call the believers in their congregation to step out and do the work of evangelism. In the gospel of Matthew we read:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matthew 9:35-38)What Jesus spoke two thousand years ago is just as true today. The harvest is still plentiful. People are hungry for spiritual truth. The problem is not with the world; it is with the church. We have far too many believers who are not willing to become workers in God’s harvest fields. It is time that we agree with Jesus and speak the truth when it comes to reaching out with the love and message of grace.
No more encouraging believers to back off and settle down. Let’s not kid ourselves. For every “bull horn” Christian out there scaring people away, there are a couple of thousand believers sitting passively in church and never opening their mouth to share the amazing grace of Jesus.
It is time for the church to rise up, and followers of Christ must enter into the harvest. And, the next time you hear someone talk about how we Christians need to back off and settle down when it comes to the work of evangelism look at them politely and tell them that the Emperor has no clothes.
Kevin G. Harney is the Teaching Pastor and Evangelism Champion at Faith Church in Dyer, Indiana, and Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, Michigan. He is also on the teaching team of the campus ministry at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. He is author of Seismic Shifts and, with his wife, Finding a Church You Can Love and Loving the Church You’ve Found. Other resources from Kevin Harney include the book Leadership from the Inside Out, the Leadership Network Blog Spot, his personal book page, and his Seismic Shifts website which offers a church-wide campaign.