Monday, May 19, 2014

The Problem with Evangelism

'Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.' 
- Romans 12:2

There is an uncomfortable truth in our churches. It is the kind of conversation that is whispered in hushed tones behind closed doors, discussed over coffee in a wink wink, nudge nudge kind of way. It is the kind that makes the establishment tremble, and the people in the pews scratch their heads. Like a jacket cover, it may not tell the whole story but it does give a strong indicator of other issues.

The church has a serious problem with evangelism. Yet it was not always this way.

When we look back at the early church, evangelism was the least of their worries. The people of Israel were dissatisfied with the religion that the Pharisees and religions of the surrounding nations were offering them. They had grown weary of worshipping physical idols in their homes and feeling their prayers bounce off the roof. Living with strictly regimented rules that was supposed to give them a relationship with God had left their souls parched. They were hungry for something real, something tangible that would bring real change in their lives. Something the disciples were offering each and every person through living and preaching the Gospel.

Many of our churches today are still attempting to cope with the present reality that we live in a post-Christian society. Having grown up through the seventies and eighties, many current leaders remain ill equipped on how to minister to an emergent culture that has no reference of Jesus or Christian sub-culture. Growing up in these churches, many people in the pews have lost hope for real change. For decades, the church was a significant voice into broader culture -- influencing the flow of nations. Now, the power has tipped, and the imperialistic nature of a modern church has begun to crumble.

Our churches are built on antiquated assumptions about broader culture -- and the gospel has suffered because of it.

Real change brings about real change. This is the foundation that the gospel is built on. Jesus is risen, our chains are gone, and there is peace with God. This is not only a cognitive effort -- very few people will be argued into the kingdom of heaven. What the world, and indeed many church goers are waiting for is to see what a real Christian looks like. Not to hear from a pulpit, read in a book or hidden away behind some secret knowledge. We hunger for the hope found only in Jesus Christ. If He makes a difference in my life... then I should notice it.

Maybe this resonates with you today. You've attended church for years, and it has become a habit more than a movement in your own life. You once felt passion that has long since run dry. Sunday after Sunday you drive to church and put on your 'church face' and do your duty.

Perhaps you hear about this passion and you wish you had ever experienced that. Your own journey has been one of growing up inside a community, but without that personal relationship with God. There has always been a part of you that has wondered about the change that you have heard about in the Bible.

For the past six months, I have undertaken what some will consider a monumental change in my own personal life. After planning and running the yearly youth retreats, I decided it was time to take my eating and weight seriously. Nothing specifically triggered this desire as I have always been satisfied with my weight, but over the years it had definitely begun to creep higher. I began to track the calories that went into my body, as well as slowly beginning to increase my running distances through intervals.

For the first month, it was my wife's encouragement alongside my own will that carried me through. If you've ever tried a significant shift in your life, you know that forming new habits is hard work. A river doesn't change the direction of its' flow overnight, but day by day I logged the food I was eating and learned more about what caused the upward creep. In the month that followed, others began to notice -- and the questions began to be asked.

"Is your wife not feeding you?"

"I hope you are not under a lot of stress!"

"You are not overweight!"

I had lost approximately 10 pounds by that point, a significant amount for sure but by no means was I finished just yet. Through the next three months, I continued to track what I was putting into my body and what kind of effort I was exerting to lose more. As the weeks ticked by, I lost another 20 pounds.

My poor wife is a real trooper, because in normal (?) Mennonite (or Christian?) fashion, much of the assumptions about roles in the home fell on her. Was I sick? Was she too busy to cook for me? Being in a public role, I am somewhat used to being on display, but people would come up and touch my stomach as though I were pregnant, shake their hanging heads and mournfully say, "You have lost too much."

Thankfully, these are not the only stories I have to tell about this journey I have been on. Many other people, both men and women have asked me what I have done to lose the weight. Did I drastically change my diet? Forgo any form of enjoyable food in some epic form of piety? Starve myself? When I informed them that I had not actually significantly adjusted my diet, but instead merely changed how much I ate -- they were intrigued.

Many of them have attempted to get a grasp on their own bodies, but only found frustration. Years of diets brought short-term success but the long-term results eluded them. A temporary change brings about temporary results.

People saw a change in my life that they themselves desired. I was not preaching verbally about the virtues of my eating habits, they came to me. Wherever I went, I was preaching a message... without words.

The problem with evangelism in the church is that the church does not look significantly different than the world. People know there are politics, passive aggressive fights hidden behind the well dressed people sporting friendly smiles. They hunger for something authentic and real, but when they look at the church, the find it lacking. I have found this to be true both within and outside of the Christian community -- people are hungry.

Until Christ's bride (the Church) is willing to take the full gospel seriously, humbling herself before her groom (Jesus), we will not see this problem go away.

Jesus took the well established patterns in our hearts, and changed it.

We say the rich will be powerful, Jesus says our money is a liability. (Matthew 9:23-24)

We hoard power and influence, but Jesus told us to give it up. (Matthew 20:25-28)

We expect payment for our faithfulness, but Jesus told us it will cost us our lives. (Matthew 16:24-26)

This is not a change that happens on a leadership level alone. It is a cancer that we have allowed to lurk in the hidden corners of the church, and it is patently obvious to anyone outside of the Christian culture. Those of us inside of that culture are either unaware -- lulled into the comforting security of regularity or unsure of what to do to change it. Big changes require a big effort: the establishment of our Church involved God dying on a cross.

Rome was not built in a day. It grew brick by brick, second by second.

It involves a serious review of our own personal spiritual journeys. The church is not made up of leaders, but of people in the pews and any church can only be as healthy as the people who make it up. Are we asking more from our leaders? Are we humbling ourselves in our daily walks? Are we exercising our spiritual muscles instead of feeding our worldly appetite?

The question comes down to our own passions, because evil wins when good people do nothing. Reclaiming that passion is a deeply personal journey of discovery and surrender. It is about leaving our comfort and walking into the wilderness, trusting that God will provide the manna for our hunger. When God's people pick up their Bible's and reach out to Him on a personal level, hungering for a deeper relationship and taking the actions to build that relationship -- change will come. First with you, then as God calls you in the people you are close to and eventually in a nation.

People will be offended along the way, they will leave. This may not be the faith that they thought they knew, but it is the one they are comfortable with. Jesus did not come so that we could be comfortable, but instead to lead us into a new land. What He is asking for are people who are willing to leave Egypt and travel back into the Promised Land. He is asking you to leave a war torn nation for one of peace -- but we have to cross the battlefield first.

When our co-workers, neighbours and community begin to see our churches flourishing with people reaching out into their community in love... then we will no longer be talking about evangelism, but living it. There will no longer need to be evangelism programs, because it will be woven deeply into the fabric of the church. Feeding the hungry, welcoming the outcast and getting our hands dirty in the work that others are unwilling to take upon themselves -- that is the work of the church.

Jesus showed us the way, and it is far past time for us to follow it again. The key is under the mat, let's unlock the door and walk into our future.

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