Scott Jones – Gilbert Campus Pastor
Ever see one of those videos of someone preaching with a bullhorn? I watched one recently of a guy in a public square screaming words and phrases from the Bible with little context or meaning for the people passing by. The response was amazing! Actually there was none, at least that could be seen from the outside. Most people just walked by, quietly forming conclusions about the guy with the bullhorn and the people and religion he represented. And honestly it’s not even an issue of motive.
I want to believe that these people have good intentions and are actually trying to do something helpful, something eternal. And even though their motives may be pure, and the message true, the delivery seems to be getting in the way. But does it really matter as long as they mean well? What we’ve learned is that the perception that’s formed from those on the receiving end of the message, those who don’t know the heart or intention, is that “Christians only care about converting others.” According to David Kinnaman’s research as revealed in his work UN-Christian, when those outside the faith were asked what they thought when they heard the word “Christian,” one of their responses was: “too focused on gaining converts.” So our response to this is in a way should first be to say, “I’m Sorry.” I’m sorry for anything that I’ve done to contribute to the perception of present-day-Christianity by my own attitudes and actions. And then our heart should be one that moves us to be willing to engage in genuine dialog that leads to change, so that we become a community that passionately reflects the heart of God and the character of Jesus.
A number of years ago, a friend invited me over to dinner. We had a pleasant conversation but I could tell that he wanted to get to something else. After dinner he invited me into his living room for coffee. He disappeared for a few moments and then returned with a flip chart. I got a knot in my stomach. Then he proceeded to, yep you guessed it, to make an Amway presentation. I was appalled and honestly felt a little violated. Needless to say I didn’t sign on. Now bring God, sin, forgiveness, Jesus, eternity to a person outside the faith, and without a belief that you care, these all important themes get lost in the shuffle and may alienate them further from where you are hoping to lead them than they were before!
Now I get the sense of unsettledness this brings. I feel the tension because we’re sitting on this calling from Jesus that sends us into the world with a message of hope and forgiveness. If you don’t know this, after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead he appeared to his followers and said this in Matthew 28:18-20.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
So how to you follow the words of Jesus and still move into people’s lives without creating the perception that you only care about their conversion and not about them? This is a great question to engage. Did you know, the word translated “go” is a word form that literally says, “as you go.” You might say the idea is “as you live.” As you go about life.
- to work
- to school
- to coffee
- to soccer
- to the gym
- to bunko
- to poker
In all of these situations, it’s about loving people. And while you and I are loving, we are looking for opportunity to share our story, to sense God’s leading in people’s lives, to show compassion, to pay attention to questions that people are asking – all with a view of inviting people into the life that God has created them for. But there are some myths that get in the way.
Myth #1: The best efforts are those that reach the most people at once.
Reality: Most people come to faith through a personal relationship.
This is why bullhorns are so ineffective. Now here’s something that might floor us in a media age with more bandwidth ever before: Less than ½ of 1% of young people came to faith through radio, TV or distributing literature. .05%
Myth #2: Anything that brings people to Christ is worth doing.
Reality: Some things do more damage than good.
I read something that surprised me a bit this week. Research has shown that a mass marketing of Christian literature into a neighborhood can actually have a negative effect on the majority significantly greater than the positive effect it has on the few that responded. Again, we have to ask ourselves the right questions here. What is the ultimate objective? Is it to get responses? Or is it to steward the image of God and the gospel?
Myth #3: We can’t worry about offending people when sharing the truth.
Reality: Following Jesus’ command doesn’t give us license to offend.
Now I understand that there is offense in the message itself. Any time you tell a person that they are not “okay”, when you eventually get around to the conversation that they have sinned against a holy God and so he sent his Son to be crucified on a cross, and they are accountable for that, that’s going to be offensive to most people. The cross is offensive. But here’s where we can agree. Let the message be offensive. Not the messenger.
I remember when I first became a Christian as a teenager. The first in our family. I came home and told my mom and four sisters they were going to hell. And we fought and argued around the dinner table. Then one of my sisters said, “So you’re saying that all of us and Dad are going to hell just because we don’t believe what you believe?” And I said, “That’s right.” And then, and I’ll never forget this moment, my father who was listening in the other room, stood up, looked me in the eye and slowly closed the sliding glass door to separate himself from the conversation. And the closing of that door became a metaphor for my ability to have a conversation with my family about Jesus. The good news is my father did receive Christ before he died 14 years ago and my mother and two of my sisters have come to faith as well. In spite of my “bullhorn preaching.”
Look at the words of the writer Paul from Colossians 4:5-6.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
This assumes that you and I have some kind of relationship with those outside the faith and that we won’t waste the opportunity for meaningful dialog about faith and God by being abrasive, arrogant or unloving. What if instead, we worked on creating environments through Christlike character that adds flavor to the conversation and engages people in conversations that invites them to ask questions and explore matters of spirituality and faith?
Myth #4: People will believe if we can present a logical presentation.
Reality: People will believe what they see more than what they hear.
The invitation to become a Christ follower in this culture seems to be more about “incarnation” and less about “proclamation.” And you know what? That’s how it all started. Luke records the movement of the early church in Acts 2:42-47 that gives us insight into how God used them in seeing people put their faith in Jesus.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
As we come face to face with God, his word and his works, changed lives, overcoming addictions, restored marriages, a reverence for His power and majesty falls over us. We’re amazed by him! Our lives take on a supernatural dimension. The things that are happening around us cannot be explained by human wisdom and practical decision-making. It’s not religion.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
The early church lived out of a unity and harmony that had never been seen before. Church wasn’t an institution dispensing spiritual products to a consuming public. Oh no! It was a dynamic community¾people who saw themselves not as individuals but rather a part of something bigger than themselves¾the people of God, “called out” to serve God, one another and the world. What was the result of the early church’s involvement in their community?
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
When we experience God and are connected to a community of faith that has these dynamic components to it, it’s contagious. People are drawn to it. They’re not compelled to be a part of an institution, but they are compelled to be a part of a community that’s truly experiencing God, that truly cares about people. And if our relationship with Christ is as good as we say it is, if we’re truly experiencing God, eventually he’ll lead us to someone who wants what we have found – not as an evangelistic project but as a human being created in the image of God – someone who matters to him, someone who matters to us. And in his timing and perfect plan they will meet him and find the life they have always wanted.
So let’s put down the “bullhorn” and pick up the “towel” and trust God to not only change the perception of our culture but to bring many to him through our acts of love and service.