Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Church Delusion: Part II


Evangelism seems to take one of three forms in the church today. A quick list would be: impersonal, blitz (blitzkrieg), and street witnessing. All three are very popular within the church today. Yet the first two have the highest support due to the easy and comfortableness of the activities. They are all undertaken with good motives yet the out come is questionable.
Impersonal witnessing is almost more for the Christians than for the non-believers. Billboards and bumper stickers are put up along freeways and slapped on cars with the hope that someone might see it and change their beliefs. As the church has moved to business models of operation this type of witnessing has become more popular. We place billboards, that have a cross on it and states “He died for you” and have a bible verse reference such as John 3:16 on it, along highways hoping that with the number of people that pass it daily a few will cry out to God. We assume that people know what the bible is, know the significance of the cross and know that they needed someone to die for them. We assume they care, understand and are open to new thoughts/beliefs. We assume that over exposing non-believers will leave them neutral or open to the scriptures and not harden them off. Often times this logic is supported with verses such as Isaiah 55:11 “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” However the outcome is as impersonal as the message itself. Bumper stickers are equally as effective. The ultimate goal of impersonal witnessing is the best product placement seen to date. Sometimes impersonal is taken under the guise of not allowing anyone an excuse to claim they never knew about Christ’s work. Yet the outcome of this type of witnessing are short cryptic messages or images that are bombarded upon viewers. The logic seems to be that putting stickers on our cars will create a more amiable mindset toward Christians and church. That coupled with the fact that Christians are rarely among the people that need the message of Christ long enough to let their life do the talking for them. Christ ate with the tax collectors and sinners, yet it’s easier, nicer and less messy for us if we put a sticker on our car and expect them to come to us.
Blitz (blitzkrieg) witnessing takes its name from the London blitz of World War II. The German planes would bombed London en masse then retreat back across the channel behind their lines for safety. In the same sense it is a common policy of church evangelism to inundate an area with people then, when the day or event is done, they’ll pull back to their normal areas of socializing to be untouched by where they just were evangelizing. A popular strategy in our local area is to send youth groups 10-12 hours south into Mexico for one week then pull back into town and share the stories of “God’s work” in Mexico. A more recent strategy, locally, is for three days a year (four months in between each day) to mobilize the entire church, multiple denominations, to do work in our town. This strategy is much improved over the other blitz strategy. However the result is similar, hundreds to thousands of Christians come out to inundate our local area then dissolve back into the scenery. Four months later another wave emerges very similar to cicadas.  Very similar to impersonal witnessing this form is concerned with trying to only affect the Christian participants in a positive manner, or if there are negative reactions then they can be written off as persecution and told as war stories. We do not consider what assumptions we are making toward the receptors of our evangelism. We assume that random people interacting with an individual on a scheduled three days a year will change that individual’s life. We invade people’s worlds with no awareness of the cultural difference between them and us, with no awareness of our own cultural biases, and expect them to understand what we are doing and saying, expect to have street cred with them—because we got our hands dirty three times a year. There is a benefit to this method, it has helped show other suburbanites that the church is active and cares about their city, however these are not those whom the event is apparently aimed.  
Street witnessing has the widest spectrum range of activities, from people holding signs, to yelling into bull horns, to handing out tracks on a street corner, to having a conversation, to knocking on doors. It can be a very personal style of evangelism. The more obnoxious forms have similar assumptions as the styles mentioned above so I will not address them in detail here. There is a wide range of how to become involved in a conversation with people some quite invasive, some quite “organic.” Door knocking can be quite invasive, even I’ve been known to tell door knockers to go away. This style is a delicate issue because it can be quite a natural and non-invasive to introduce people to Jesus. The people street witnessing that I have talked to are a common site near the bars in town. They have capitalized on the nights that these streets are the fullest.  However while the streets are the fullest, they are typically full of people who are not concerned with anything but tonight and getting plastered. A common assumption in this is that Christians do not frequent, let alone go to bars. As one who used to frequent clubs, several awkward conversations ensued because the fact that Christian’s may attend parties or clubs was not considered. The bull-horn waivers often caused quite a scene when other Christian’s approach to encourage them or let them know that there were more then pure heathens out that night.
These three methods are blind stabs in the dark and are not incarnational methods. What does it say that Christians must leave their personal lives to be around those that need Christ? We “need” programs and groups to reach out to others. Our lives do not speak for themselves or if they do then we are so isolated that no one notices or asks questions. We prefer anonymity either by isolation (street witnessing) or by mass effect or by stickers and billboards.
In our little corner of the world, the “gospel” (good news) message is the same. You’re bad, you need a “savior,” there’s this cool guy named Jesus and you should say this “prayer”……rinse and repeat. Our one focus is “saving souls from hell” in the largest group size as possible. In some reformed circles there is almost a “drug dog” mentality, we don’t know where or who the “elect” are but dammit we’re going to find them. Then once their found, they’re on their own because we need to find the next soul in need of realizing they’re “elect.” It is quite an obsessive compulsion. We’ve stopped treating people as humans, maybe we’ve forgotten what it is to be human, and have started treating them as collector trinkets.  We are not interested in their lives, stories, or spiritual welfare, instead all we’re interested in is if they can check of the “said the sinner’s prayer” box or not. We’ve disconnected the gospel from the rest of life. Salvation has become a prayer at a single point of life with no repercussions on the rest of the way we live. At one local church the gospel has been boiled down to feeling better about yourself, “you’re accepted just the way you are, now go live like an accepted person.” Needless to say, this is quite popular with Christians, who are interested in sustaining their way of life. The injustices at work in and around people’s lives is barely a footnote that is glossed over in our pursuit of their soul and systematic injustices that affect their daily lives are not even recognized because that would require more time and every minute more people die. Our ultimate message to those around us is “become like us” and you too can live a comfortable life knowing that you have eternal fire insurance. We have no answer for evil and injustice; rarely do we even try to combat such forces. But rather we have resigned ourselves to hunkering down waiting for the “rapture” content to fiddle while the world around us burns. The world around us needs hope; needs to be shown that Christianity is more than a mind trick, more than an intellectual pursuit and that we actually are aware of the world around us and working for the kingdom. We have forgotten the physical needs of humans in our spiritual philanthropistic endeavors.

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