I live in the San Fernando area of Los Angeles. Some of the most notorious gangs in Los Angeles live just a few miles from our house, so, for us, the news of drive by shootings is something very common. In fact, we have witnessed two rival gang members shooting at each other just a few feet in front us as we were driving home one night. And even though they shot at each other, neither one of them was hit. The way these gangs shoot at each other, very much, describes the way American Christians do evangelism.
As some of you know, I was a professor at a Bible college for five years. One of the classes I taught was Evangelism and Discipleship. When I first started teaching that class, one of the assignments was for the students to witness to three people in the course of the fifteen-week semester and write a one page report on it.
Most of my students would wait until the night before the assignment was due, run to the local Starbucks, buttonhole a poor sucker who was trying to get himself ready for his graveyard shift by drinking a Venti Americana with an extra shot, and ask him, “Sir, do you know Jesus loves you?” or, “Where would you go if you dropped dead tonight?” to which he would usually reply, “No, and I don’t care.” Or “I really don’t give a *&^%”. And then, my students would proudly write their reports on these heroic acts of evangelism.
Within a semester after I started teaching that class, a colleague, who taught the same class, and I changed this assignment to the following requirements:
1. Each student had 15 weeks to make one new—someone they had never met before—pre-Christian friend,
2. Journal everything he/she could about the person and their relationship every time they met, and
3. If the person was to ever become a follower of Christ, what would the student do to disciple his/her newfound friend—an eight week course of action?
Please note that the object was not to, as our professional Christians would say, “close the deal” (have the person repeat THE SINNERS’ PRAYER”), but to just make a friend. After four years of teaching the same class, do you know how many of my several hundred students were able to make one friend in fifteen weeks?
Only a handful.
The majority of my students would rather spend fifteen weeks parsing words in Greek and Hebrew or study Systematic Theology than befriend a pre-Christian because most of them had never been taught the value of having non-Christian friends. After all, a prevalent belief among most Christians today is, “At best, a non-Christian has nothing good to offer Christians and at worse, they can take you away from your faith; so why bother making friends with them.” Therefore, rather than looking at those outside the church as men and women made in God’s image and worthy of their friendship, most my students looked at non-believers as their Drive-by Evangelism projects.
Often, out of shear frustration, I would yell at my students, “What in heaven’s name is your Greek and Hebrew or your Orthodox theology good for if you don’t even know how to share your faith with an unchurched person?”
The Christian motto: “Don’t go there, don‘t see that, don’t touch this and certainly DO NOT associate with those people,” makes us look more like Pharisees than Christ; whom by the way, went there, ate and drank that, touched this and most definitely spent a great deal of time hanging out with people who were considered to be the cesspool of society by the most religious people of his time.
Someone might say, “Well, we need to protect our young ones from the evils of this world. Yes, I agree! But, creating an unrealistic bubble of protection around them, for the most part, will neither protect them from the evils of this world nor will it cause them to be the salt Jesus commanded.
Even worse is the fact that this attitude is not just limited to young Christians, but throughout our Christian society.
I recently read an article by Christianity Today, titled Friends Outside the Faith, http://www.christianitytoday.com/tcw/2007/002/7.36.html, where four Christian women discussed their attitudes towards evangelism.
The article was so shallow and condescending that a friend wrote the following to CT:
“I cannot believe you published the article, “Friends Outside the Faith.” I am absolutely aghast at the perceptions these women have, both of themselves and those who they encounter. Throughout this article the only people these women are truly concerned about are themselves. They have an implicit belief that they are better than non-believers; and they believe all non-believers are searching for truth, i.e. Jesus Christ. Both beliefs are a fallacy.
Let’s look at the first and last examples given in this article. First is Kim; she talks about her realtor who is gay and has invited her to a party. She is only concerned with herself—if she will feel weird, what she will talk about, how it might look bad for her to go. Then there is Eva. Who is she praying for? Herself. She is praying not to mess up something, and then has the realization that God could actually bless someone through her. Me, me, me, me, me.
Lou and Lisa are no better; they believe that they are to be positive influencers of society and to associate with immoral people, just as Jesus did. However, they think that all non-believers are “desperate for something that’s honest, true, and real—and that’s Jesus.” How do they know what non-believers are searching for? When do they ever take the time to listen to what others want? They have their agenda: tell others about God. I don’t see too much listening in that agenda…”
To me, the blame rests on the leadership. I know Christian leaders who shine when given a mike and put in front of a couple of thousands people. They will preach the Gospel like Jesus himself. Yet, you put the same leaders across from one unbeliever and they would look like a deer caught in the headlights, especially if the unbeliever has nothing to help further the leader’s personal cause. Believe me, I have seen it.
The Church in America has to realize that the era of mass-evangelism is over. Today, more than ever before, people are looking for authenticity, transparency and someone they can trust. We must quit looking at those outside the faith as if they have nothing good to offer and, therefore, not worthy of our friendship unless we make them some type of evangelism project. We will become influential when we are willing to be their friends, listen to their stories, and not offer Christian cliché answers to their problems.