So I hear there is a big stink going on down in Sullivan, Indiana; “big stink” is my southern slang for a fight. Apparently, there are a few high school kids, who call themselves “gay,” that plan to attend prom as practicing homosexuals. I’ll let my readers gathers the facts for themselves regarding all the details, but obviously when the public expression of homosexuality goes to the high school prom in small town Midwestern America there will be a few fireworks in the community. -And many of the “sparks” will be made by my fellow conservative Christian friends. I am sure that most Christians in Sullivan have already been asking tough questions like:
- How did we lose our Christian influence on the culture in “our” town?
- What can we do to reach those who are continuing to drift away from the church and our Christian values?
- How can we make Christianity and church life “relevant” to people in Sullivan, Indiana –especially the younger generations?
- What can we do to take back the ground that we have already lost?
I have been waiting for some time to finish up my latest series, “The Basic Elements of the Church.” I had previously shared that from my study of scripture and personal experience, I believe that there are three basic elements that make up the Church. The first element is Relationships: our authentic relationships with God and each other. The second element that I identified was Discipleship: our embracing of and learning to live out the teachings of Christ -and helping others to do the same. Pretty simple so far, right? Well, the third element is the tough one. To be completely honest, it is the element that I have struggled with for my entire adult life. (I will share why in a later post.) The third element of the church is, “Evangelism.”
Evangelism is our sharing of the Gospel message, or the Good News. When we attempt to evangelize others, we are “sharing Christ” with them and inviting them into our churches. We are extending an invitation for them to become a part of the Family and to be “like us.” We are compelling them to repent of their sins, ask Christ for forgiveness and come follow Jesus with us. We are in essence, making the argument that “our way of life is better.” We are rightly stating that it is much better to willingly follow Jesus than to be swept along in life by the undercurrents of this world.
So why is it so hard for us to make our argument? Why are we losing ground in our culture? Why is the Church in America shrinking? I believe these are the questions that we should be wrestling with. In addition, I think that if we would be completely honest with ourselves and each other we would have to admit that fear, manipulation and entertainment are often used in today’s Christian culture to compel people into the Church. -Not always, but often. My earliest memories as a child in church services are of the preacher speaking about hell and God’s wrath waiting for those who had not repented of their sins and given their hearts to Christ. In my adult church experiences, spanning across multiple denominations and geographical areas, I have observed various forms of slight, mild and even strong manipulation used to convert a “lost person” to Christianity. I am sure I have even been guilty of doing this myself, unknowingly of course with a very sincere heart. And then there is the “entertainment value” of our modern church culture. I’ll save you the rant, but we all know that “church” needs to be entertaining nowadays. We use our talents, technology and treasure to bring the “Wow Factor” to our church services, all so that we can “win someone to Christ.” BUT, what happens to “our” converts when the fear factor is lost, when they become wise to or grow tired of the manipulation, or when the entertainment of the world trumps that of our church services? We lose them, that is what happens. We lose them because our “evangelism” and flavor of Christianity did not present them with the “substance” that they so desperately needed to become well grounded followers of Christ.
So let’s stop and think about this for a second. God is good. He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins. He rose from the grave on the third day, conquering death, hell and the grave -and redeeming us. God has given us His Word and His Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. He gave birth to the Church so that we could have a family filled with others just like us who follow Him and who love and support us. AND He promises to return for His Bride one day soon. – Not a bad deal when you stop and think about it.
So if the above statement is true, -and I believe it is. Why do we have to use “Fear,” “Manipulation” and “The Wow Factor” to win people to Christ? And why are we failing to effectively communicate the Gospel Message? WHY??? I strongly believe that this is a question worth asking and a question worth wrestling with.
I also believe that the answer to this question will go a long way towards answering the questions that some of my friends and colleagues are asking in Sullivan, Indiana. Furthermore, I simply cannot stop myself from asking this question: “What would Jesus do if he was living in Sullivan Indiana and a few spiritually, emotionally and sexually confused kids were planning to attend the high school prom?” How big of a deal would He make out of? How many fireworks would He set off? How many bridges would He burn? How many relationships would He sacrifice?
Well, this post has grown long enough. I will finish discussing Evangelism and make an attempt at answering my tough questions in my next post. However, I would love to hear your comments and thoughts below.