Doing Something Different, Even If It’s WrongPosted: December 7, 2014
Evangelism is on my mind. It’s always on my mind, and I do mean always. My dreams at night seem to go on and on, and they are always about ministry and outreach. I’m always with my fellow missionaries at someplace like Burning Man, or the streets of Salem. This goes on night after night. I have no other reason than evangelism, which is the motivation for whatever ministry I do, for being here.
We’re living in a time when the institutional church, and in particular, evangelicalism, is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the times and the culture we live in. It’s been a long time since the Body of Christ actually grew much. We hear about “church growth”, but it’s pretty much always some trendy, novel new church drawing believers away from some other church whose novelty is fading. Church leaders keep coming up with new programs to draw people in, but as others have noted, there is a very small percentage that might potentially respond to such methods. The majority of the population will not.
They won’t come. Not at all.
Are we to ignore those who we know will not respond to any sort of marketing ploy to get them to “come to church”? Should we be content to sit and wait for what will not happen? Or will we say, “Here am I. Send me!”?
Paul said, “For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager…. to preach the Good News.” (Romans 1)
I have that great sense of obligation. I’ve left much behind to pursue that obligation. I’m not complaining. I don’t miss it most of the time because I am able, by grace, to not look back.
Evangelism is not magic, nor is it a formula. It can’t be limited to preaching a one-sided monologue to a crowd in some hall or stadium. It’s awesome when those things happen, if they bear fruit.
But there are a lot more people who cannot be reached this way than those who can. Among those who have no use for or interest in the church are a whole subculture that are changing the world as you read this, and although you are certainly aware of their influence – and maybe a little uncomfortable about it – most people are completely unaware of the origins of much of the changes that are happening (See “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World”, by Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson). Festivals are magnets for people like that. That’s why I go to festivals. To influence the influencers – as well as to minister to the hurting among them. And it’s just ordinary evangelism to me, because I truly feel like one of them. I love the culture and the people. I’m often criticized for that, and yet most believers don’t criticize the missionary who loves the culture and people of, say, Papua New Guinea. We applaud them, and support their missions.
“Ordinary” evangelism – day to day evangelism – is simply about being able to identify with the people all around you. Notice I didn’t say “your target people group”. People know when you have made them into a target, or a project. You have to be genuine, and you can’t fake this. If you are genuinely interested in a person, they will value what and who you are – but you have to value them first. If this is faked, people will know. If you’re like me, the methods promoted “at church” – handing out tracts, knocking on doors, approaching random people to ask if they would like to talk about Jesus – are just too uncomfortable. These methods make me feel phony. Unsurprisingly, many of the people that are the recipients of these methods see them as phony, and they are not appreciated. They turn people off and put up walls to the gospel. Now, these methods do work among certain people groups, usually those with a church background, and it’s vitally important that these be called back to the fold. So if you are doing any of these kinds of ministry and getting results, please, keep up the good work.
The misunderstood directive to be “in the world but not of the world” makes evangelism awkward and unnatural. If you truly felt free to rub shoulders and truly immerse yourself into the culture of your neighbors, you’d be evangelizing without even thinking about it. After all, Jesus didn’t say, “You will witness for me”. He said, “You will be witnesses unto me”. Think about that. It’s not so much a call to action, although it is that, as it is a simple statement of fact.
Alan Hirsch, in his excellent book, “The Forgotten Ways”, makes this observation:“I discovered that when surveyed, the average non-Christian population generally reported a high interest in God, spirituality, Jesus, and prayer that, taken together, indicated that a significant search for meaning was going on in our time. But the same surveys indicated that when asked what they thought about the church, the average non-Christian described a high degree of alienation.” Hirsch, Alan (2009-04-01). Forgotten Ways, The (p. 34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
This is what I have found everywhere I have gone. The groups I have ministered to range from Witches and other neo-Pagans, New Age proponents and practitioners, and festival goers. They are so willing, even eager, to talk about Jesus. Many times, their understanding of Jesus is based on fancy, but other times, they have some surprising insights into the person of Jesus. Regardless, they are open to really considering another’s viewpoint, providing that you are willing to treat their points of view with respect.
I truly like and appreciate people who organize and attend transformational festivals. I listen to them. I work alongside them. I am willing to, and do, learn from them. Who can deny that any one of us can learn from anybody, even a small child? I am not afraid of being tainted, or defiled, or negatively influenced by them. And you know what? Even if it IS risky getting so close to such strange people with such radical ideas, aren’t we at war? Have you ever seen a movie scene where any kind of rescue is taking place, like in a war movie? Or, are you a “first responder”, or have you ever had to rescue anyone from anything? Isn’t rescue risky? I’m willing to take risks to rescue people. I’ll bet you are too.
I really, desperately, want to hear from YOU. Please leave comments. Ask me questions. Criticize me. Offer suggestions. While I am quite comfortable with what I have been doing, I know I’ve only scratched the surface, and I am NOT satisfied with the amount of fruit. I know my flesh is a hindrance to the Holy Spirit, and I am trying to “decrease” while immersing myself even more deeply. I KNOW much more is possible.
If you’re reading this, I’ve prayed for much increased revelation of God’s will for you, and that you will experience His presence in intense ways!
Shalom and thanks for reading!