In my last column, we learned that evangelism is alive and well even though it may not look like “old-fashioned soul winning.” Instead, the 21st-century approach is imbedded in the church’s ongoing service, morphing into new shapes which are culture-sensitive. But moderate Baptist churches also need to ask the hard question: Is that enough? It’s great to have an incarnational approach, being the presence of Christ in our community. But isn’t there a point at which we are to name Christ as the source of our passion and hope? Social justice work is important, but the church needs to be more than the YMCA with the Lord’s Prayer thrown in, or the United Way with some praise choruses.
Full disclosure: I am not writing as an expert. In fact, this column is my way of thinking aloud about how the church I serve could do better and more. We are not reaching enough people with the gospel. Honestly, sometimes when I read our weekly bulletin announcements, I’m not sure winning people to Christ is on our minds and hearts.
Why are moderate/progressive churches embarrassed to be evangelistic? M. Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, once wondered aloud “why the more theologically sophisticated a person becomes the less likely she or he is to have any interest in inviting people to experience conversion” (Christian Century, August 19, 2015, p. 35). And this from a Presbyterian! He adds, “We gave up the revival tents, thankfully, but for some reason, we also gave up the invitation to surrender all to Jesus.”
I get it. We are all a bit self-conscious and embarrassed by some past evangelistic practices. But our response to bad evangelism should not be no evangelism; it should be healthy, biblical evangelism.
How do we achieve gentle, intentional evangelism that radiates integrity? The following thoughts are suggestive, not exhaustive. Next month, we will expand on each.
- Do all we can to align our words and our behavior. People aren’t moved by doctrines, but by example and experience.
- Make sure our church is focused on relationships, not rules.
- Stop whining about all the perks culture has taken away from the church and look for creative ways to be salt and light.
- Offer Christ with humility and transparency.
- Focus on dialogue with unbelievers, not monologue.
- Practice hospitality, which, by the way, is the context of nearly every New Testament example of faith-sharing.
- Offer a witness which is shaped by hope, not fear. And be sure to name Jesus Christ as the source of our hope.
Last year I conducted a funeral for an avid fisherman. For the pre-funeral visitation, the family had carefully displayed several of the rods and reels belonging to the deceased. One precious memory shared by loved ones was the friendly competition among family members during their many fishing excursions. Dad would say, “It’s not how pretty your fishing pole is, or how many you own; it’s how many fish you catch!” Church, are we listening? Pretty buildings — lots of them. Nice, shiny programs — wow. But are we catching fish?