Summary: We have a great message to proclaim throughout the world. But how and why should we evanglize to reach the world with this message.
Right after Melissa and I got married, a little more than two years ago now, we received a new camera as a wedding gift. Because my wife is an artist and loves to take pictures, I took her into Boston for the chance to take some pictures around the city. The first stop that we made were the Boston Commons which is sort of like a smaller version of Central Park in NY.
As we got to the Commons, we could see that they were packed with people. There was a big protest going on about the war in Iraq and a group had set up shoes all over the grassy areas to represent the men and women who had lost their lives. We spent some time walking around the Commons, getting lots of pictures, and then made our way back to where we had started. We found a bench, sat down and just watched the people around us.
As we were sitting on the bench, Melissa continued to snap away pictures and this was one of them (put on the screen). Take a minute just to observe what is going on in this picture? What are your initial thoughts?
How would you feel if I told you that the guy in this picture was from a church group and was telling this girl about Jesus; he was evangelizing. As Melissa and I sat and witnessed this encounter, I was embarrassed for Jesus, the Church, and Christians in general. This guy, proceeded to yell at this girl, telling her she was going to Hell and that she was a sinner. Obviously, as you can tell by the girl’s body language, she wasn’t buying it. There was no give and take; there was no relationship at all; it wasn’t a conversation or debate. It was just top-down, “I’m gunna tell you what you need to know whether you want to hear it or not!” It turned into a yelling argument that ended with the girl swearing at the guy and storming off towards where Melissa and I were sitting.
As she approached us, I felt God telling me to apologize to her for this guy’s actions and words, and to explain to her that God was nothing like what this guy was portraying. I mentioned what I felt to Melissa and she said she felt the same thing. As the girl began to get closer, I got really nervous – it’s not often I approach a random person on the street like that. I said a quick prayer and then sat there and watched her walk by. I told myself and Melissa that I didn’t want to get involved and somehow make things worse. But then I quickly added that if God really wanted me to say something, our paths would cross again.
When it comes to sharing the message of Jesus Christ with people around us, I think there are three approaches that we can take. The first is represented by the guy in the picture and is what culture expert Walt Mueller calls alienation. This is what happens when Christians create an “us vs. them” mentality. We view the world as evil and try to separate ourselves from it as much as possible. When we do take advantage of opportunities to evangelize, it tends to be more like firing arrows over a wall from a safe distance and very impersonal. We are more focused on not being corrupted by the evil around us and getting the message across about hell and sin. Again, as I mentioned before, there is no relationship or give and take, just a forced feeding.
Just a brief side note here, this doesn’t always come in the form of yelling or verbal condemnation. Personally, I think tracks fall into this category. To me, they are really impersonal and come across really rudely. Does this mean God doesn’t use this form of evangelism to bring people to relationship with Himself? Absolutely not, but I just think there is a better, way to go about it.
As there may only be a few of us here today that relate with these extremes of alienation, we are all guilty of the attitude if we have ever avoided or judged someone based on appearance, their activity choice, language, or anything else.
The second approach to evangelism is what Mueller calls accommodation. This is described best as adopting “cultural values and behaviors that are contrary to” what the Bible teaches. All this is done with the motivation of spreading the story of Christ but is really a watered down message based on convenience for the Christian to not be too weird or different from the world. The goal is to look the same and then take opportunities to talk about Jesus but is ineffective because of the heavy hypocrisy surrounding it. We can find aspects of this in all of our lives simply by asking the question, how different is your life as a Christian compared to your neighbor or friend who doesn’t have a relationship with Christ? What message are you sending about Jesus?