please don’t share the gospel :: fishers of men, yes… bait-and-switch evangelism, no

March 3, 2010

There may be good reasons not to share the gospel at your next church gathering.

Let me unpack this a bit.  At Living Hope Church we are all about relationships. “Building relationships that change lives” is how we summarize the disciple-making process.  We believe that honest relationships are so central to the way God wired us (and the way He spreads the truth of His Word) that we make small group life a primary goal of our church.  We help people connect with a small group of eight to twelve friends – called a LifeGroup – who do life together.

But for many people – especially those fairly new to Living Hope – jumping into a small group that knows each other deeply and relates openly…  that’s a big hairy scary step.  In fact, that may just be enough to chase someone who needs Jesus away from our church forever.  That’s bad. We can agree that people fleeing our church in fear is bad.

On a Sunday morning, with a couple hundred people swirling about, it can be difficult to really connect with others in any meaningful way.  It is just too big an environment.  So we intentionally offer other small-environment options where people can interact and really start to get to know one another.

Starting Point Events.  Our goal in any given Starting Point Event is not to share the gospel.  It is simply to HAVE FUN.

FUN is a God-honoring goal.

I know that some might see this as frivolous.  How can we justify spinning our wheels just having a good time when some of those in our midst might be doomed to an eternity without God?  We can and we do because we see evangelism as a process, not an event.  Even more to the point, Jesus called us in Matthew 28 to make DISCIPLES, not just converts.  Conversion is our starting line, in many ways… not our finish line.

So we are continually in the process of developing long-term relationships.  And long-term relationships often begin huddled around a fishing hole, or standing over a grill.  And we recognize, too, that long-term relationships rarely begin by probing into someone’s spiritual condition from the word go.  Too much too soon may actually close doors.  If you say you’re going to do something fun, let it be just that.  FUN.  Fun is enough.

Check out the video below, and get a glimpse of last Sunday’s Starting Point Event for Living Hope.  Ice fishing.  Grilled meat.  Snow football.  Good times.

Just fun.  And no Gospel message.  No bait and switch.  Just ice fishing.  It was the Church being the Church, having Church, and enjoying the Sabbath in community.  A mix, by the way, of mature believers and a handful of non-Christians.  Healthy friendships and fun are attractive.  Period.  It very well could be that one or two of those guys might find their way to faith through a relationship that was started huddled over a grill on Pelican Lake.

What do you think?  Did we miss an opportunity to share the Truth with someone who needed it?  Or can you see the bigger picture… and do you agree?  Discussion welcome.

 

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

12 responses to please don’t share the gospel :: fishers of men, yes… bait-and-switch evangelism, no

  1. seeing your title reminded me of some of the cold turkey bait-and-switch evangelism fostered on young people – you go up with a survey wanting to ask what you think the most serious problem facing young people is today, etc, etc – I even had a couple come to me on Lake Calhoun one time when I was just chilling and I had seen the group of kids get out of the van down the road.

    It always struck me as being profoundly disengaged and disingenuous and the antithesis of everything the Gospel is supposed to represent – without those relationships you mentioned, you’re not any different from every other wingnut telling us we’ll go to hell unless we believe THEIR religion

    I wanted to tell the kids I was a Wiccan and mess with them a while but I was (believe it or not) – profoundly hungover and decided to get rid of them ASAP with a Max Lucado book in my backpack – I doubt they had any lasting influence that day but you know how it is when you’re 18 and full of beans – I think we were that way once ourselves 😉

    RB

    • Thanks for checking in brother Russ. I am starting to feel more and more like on-the-street syle evangelsim is most often ineffective and rude. A turn off. And I don’t think we’re fooling anyone when we invite someone to our church for a “magic show” – fun for the whole family! – and then hit the whole family with a surprise attack.

      More and more I see the value of (and need for) discussing faith in the context of a trusted relationship. Doesn’t that just make more sense?

      I will throw this qualifier into the mix… The Word of God is living and active, and it does it’s work regardless of us. So I’m not saying that God’s Word on a street corner through a bullhorn won’t EVER pierce a heart. God can work any way He chooses, wherever He chooses, through whomever he chooses. But I also am aware that bait-and-switch methods and event-driven surprise evangelism have great potential to turn people away from Jesus. Yes?

      Bless you Russ. I like your transparent journey. Even if you’re a left wing nutter sometimes. Love you, bro. 🙂

  2. middle of the road nutter these days – 😀

    I understand the qualifier – I think it’s been used to justify a lot of bad Christian broadcasting – LOL – but it doesn’t make it any less true, I suppose, but the motives/means of the messenger can taint it beyond effectiveness – probably not from overzealous teens though – yuk yuk

    • You said, “…but the motives/means of the messenger can taint it beyond effectiveness…”

      YES. Ding ding ding! I agree. And it’s not the saved, “faith on fire” teens I’m worried aout. It’s the LOST ones. And they can smell fakery like the bakery. I don’t know why I just busted a rhyme, but it did make me feel down with my bad self.

  3. Couldn’t you be you baiting them with relationship too? It could be all bait and no switch couldn’t it unless you proclaim Christ to them at some point? If your aim is to see them converted to Christ might not your relationship building be seen as an ineffective and rude tactic in the end?

  4. Hey Patrick. Thanks for checking in. And yes, I could see it that way if we honestly didn’t care for these people as people. If we were merely doing “relationshipy stuff” with people as a mean to an end (sharing the gospel).

    But that isn’t happening. Real friendships are being established over and over. And sometimes the process of sharing the gospel takes a long time – and multiple approaches. God does the work when the time is right.

    One man in our church attended Living Hope for a few years, but he did not commit his heart to the Lord. Developed deep relationships. Moved out of state for a job that didn’t materialize. Ended up moving BACK to our neighborhood a year later. Their family was welcomed back by all of their friends here, and they felt at home.

    Earlier this year, he accepted Jesus as His Lord and Savior. To be clear – JESUS did the work in Him, and JESUS did the saving. It wasn’t his church friendships that saved him. But they had a circle of deep relationships that drew them back to our area – and to our church specifically.

    We don’t see relationships purely as a means to an end. Relationships are an end in themselves – and in the course of those relationships, we are ALWAYS trying to see where God will open the door to share the truth. We just trust His timing and enjoy each other along the way.

    Good challenge, Patrick. Does that satisfy your concern?

  5. Josh,

    I guess I am still trying to understand what do you mean by “Relationships are an end in themselves”? If they are an end in themselves then there is no other reason for you to have those relationships but the relationship itself. So, if in your view God never opens the door to share the truth with these friends of yours would that be just fine with you? And how do you know whether the door is open unless you try to go through it?

    • OK Patrick, that’s a fair concern. Because it is true… we could basically build up some ongoing buddy relationships and enjoy each other without ever confronting spiritual realities. But we’re talking about deep, honest, meaningful, authentic relationships – in the context of a living and active faith in Jesus. That means not only being saved, but sharing God’s heart for lost souls – and obedience to His command to go and make disciples. When I say “relationships are not just a means to an end – they are an end in themselves,” it must come with the understanding that the kind of relationship building we’re talking about comes with an intrinsic desire to get beneath surface level. We want to build life-changing relationships. That’s code for “We want to develop the kind of relationships wherein God can use us to speak the truth – so that He can change the lives of those we are in relationship with… and change us in the process.”

      There is a time to be bold. There is certainly a place to ask some probing questions – to try to go through that door. My point in this post is simply that it is often in the context of an ongoing relationship that those opportunities will arise. Sometimes God saves souls at a one-time event where His word is preached and the gospel is shared in its fullness. But sometimes people from outside our church may just want to get to know us a little bit before they start to consider the possibility that this faith and the Jesus behind it all may actually be real.

      Bottom line: pray, ask to be full of the Holy Spirit, and “Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you.” If you’re looking for an opening, there will be a way to open the door and have that conversation. THAT’s the kind of relationship we want to build.

  6. OK, I agree that we should always be ready as you said and that we should make the most of every opportunity and that for most people those opportunities will arise in the context of some kind of relationship. So let’s say that we have been friends for a while and I find out that I have only a short time to live. I believe that there is probably some kind of God somewhere but I am concerned about dying. I think that I am basically a good person (I haven’t done anything really bad, like murder for instance). You come to visit me in the hospital. What are you going to say to me?

    • Hello Patrick. Thanks for checking in again. I think this is a VERY important clarifying discussion. When I titled this post “please don’t share the gospel,” it was meant to communicate something about the METHOD we use to talk about Jesus… it wasn’t a blanket statement to apply at all times. I’m saying it is healthy to host FUN events through your church that are simply fun. However, the time does come when relationships have been established and the opportunity arises where it is deeply important to share the gospel. The scenario you bring up is a perfect example… A friendship has already been established, and now your friend is facing their mortality and the fragility of life here on earth, and they are afraid and uncertain about what’s coming next. The time couldn’t be more perfect to have a conversation about what really matters.

      What would I say? I would ask them how they are really feeling about facing death. If they share their fears with me, I’d press into that and let him know that everyone has to face reality at some point, because we all die. I’d share that it is possible to have peace at the end of your life here – that I do. And then I’d shoot straight about the Gospel:

      (1) Every single person that has ever lived (except Jesus) has sinned. Even people who have lived a “good” life have made mistakes and made some selfish choices. Everyone, no exceptions.
      (2) God created us to have an ongoing, loving, joyful relationship with Him.
      (3) Because of the sin in our lives, every single one of us has been separated from God. The relationship has been broken.
      (4) More than that – because God is perfect and Holy, He can’t have relationship with us when we have sin in us that is unaccounted for, and we will rightly face an eternity of judgement without God. Without hope. In hell.
      (5) But God loves us so much that me made a way to reconnect with Him without compromising His perfect, holy standard. He sent His son Jesus to die in our place – to pay the penalty for our sins.
      (6) Jesus really lived – a real man, and fully God at the same time. He lived a perfect life and never sinned. He voluntarily gave Himself over to die on a cross. Three days later, Jesus really did rise from the dead – proving His dominion over sin and death.
      (7) Jesus is the only way to forgiveness, reconnection with God, and eternity in heaven with Him.
      (8) If you repent of your sin (turn away from it), ask for Jesus to forgive your sin, and willingly receive Him as your Lord and Savior, the Bible is very clear that your sins will be forgiven, your past will be washed clean, and you have all the benefits of a son of God.

      This conversation would be much more than a list of bullet points. All meaningful conversations between friends are. I would take time to explain, listen, answer questions, share scripture… whatever was necessary.

      You can see another iteration of what I believe about God and man and the gospel on my “About” page. It’s the heartbeat of my life.

      I hope I’ve been clear. As believers, we are absolutely called to share the gospel. Just not necessarily at every event, no matter what the circumstances. In relationship, whenever possible.

  7. What about an event like an Easter event. Many do not really know what Easter really is all about . I think it would be a shame for a church not to be different from all the other Easter activities that are secular. What do you think? I dont think we need to do any “your going to hell stuff” but the gospel in a nutshell would be ok.

    • Hi Cyndi – thanks for your question.

      I agree that it would be a shame for churches to reflect the secular side of Easter. Easter morning is the GREATEST day of celebration for the Church! We revel in the power and triumph of the Risen Savior Jesus. On Easter, of all days, the Church is the Church – no Easter bunnies allowed. 🙂

      What’s interesting about Easter specifically is that it is two things at the same time: (1) A great and important day of celebration and worship for believers, and at the same time (2) the one Sunday morning of the year when unbelievers are most likely to attend church.

      For that reason, at our church, we unapologetically celebrate Jesus – recognizing His death on our behalf and resurrection from the grave that won our salvation – and it is a PARTY for the believers. And then our message is a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus. Our need as sinners for a Savior, and Jesus sacrifice for us. That way the Church can celebrate, and once-a-year attenders hear what their soul needs most. Some of our most involved members at Living Hope were saved through an Easter morning message.

      Just to be clear – I’m not opposed to sharing the Gospel EVER. No way! There are clear times to present the Gospel in all it’s fullness. That’s the hope of the world and the one most important calling of the local church! My point in this post was to say, it’s alright to have fun on purpose once in awhile without having a preacher involved. Because when the preacher is in the pulpit (like Easter morning), the Gospel will be preached, the Holy Spirit will work, and souls will be saved.

      Groovy?