Scared Little Kittens

Christians ought to make it their ambition to please the Lord (2 Cor 5:9). This sounds great in the abstract, but it becomes uncomfortable when it comes to evangelism. There are many approaches a church can take. The two ditches to avoid are:

  1. to focus so much on being “nice” (i.e. “See! We’re normal people, here!”) that you’re reluctant to give the Gospel lest it drive people away, and
  2. clinging to old methods that might not be the best for your area (e.g. door to door evangelism)

What happens in between these ditches depends on your context and your congregation. I minister in a very secular area, and I’m convinced nothing less than aggressive, winsome Gospel messaging will work. Next weekend, our church will participate in the annual Christmas parade in Olympia, WA. This is the secular epicenter of a very secular area. We’ll carry four 10’x3’ banners that proclaim the Gospel. We’ll hand out about 1000 bags, each with a Gospel tract and candy.

No other church goes near this parade. They should. It’s a great opportunity to give the Gospel. I think they’re either scared, or they don’t believe the Gospel, or they’re insular. I don’t think they’re maliciously insular or self-consciously scared. I think they’re intimidated by society, and they’ve tucked into their shells like frightened turtles. I don’t think they realize how cowed they are. I don’t know all this, of course - I just suspect it.

Paul tells us that, because He knows the fear of the Lord, he tries to persuade people about the Gospel (2 Cor 5:11). Christ’s love for Paul controls him, because Paul has made some necessary conclusions. Christ died for all His people, so all His people have now died to themselves (2 Cor 5:14) – or, at least, they should have. Christ died for His people so that those who are now “alive” by the Gospel should no longer live for themselves, but for Christ who died and was raised (2 Cor 5:15). This has implications!

But, this paradigm shift is something secularism whittles away at. It intimidates Christians and it intimidates churches, little by little and bit by bit. It erodes confidence and it encourages us to make the Gospel a private affair; something to be kept safely away behind locked doors. It eventually makes us ashamed of the Gospel. It makes us afraid to boldly take a radical counter-cultural message of sin, reconciliation, redemption and forgiveness into the public square. It makes us into timid little turtles, peeking out from within our shells.

Paul can speak of this radical paradigm shift because, if we’re Christians, we aren’t the same people we used to be. The outer shell is the same, but we’ve been made new (2 Cor 5:17). God has done this. He reconciled us to Himself, then passed along this ministry of reconciliation to us so that we’d tell other people all about it (2 Cor 5:18). He’s reconciling His people throughout the whole world, not counting their trespasses against them, and has given His people the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19). It’s God who reconciles, but it’s people like us who spread the message so the Spirit can work in hearts and minds.

It’s as though God is making His plea to the world through Christians; “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5:20). That’s why God made His eternal Son, who’s never known sin, to be sin on for His people, so that in Him we would have the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). Little local churches throughout the world have this message that can reconcile people to God.

There’s something to be said for building relationships; for indirect evangelism. But, we need to remember to not be wimps. We need to poke our heads out of our shells. We need bridge building and aggressive, winsome Gospel messaging. There’s a reason why nice guys finish last. They’re so polite they let people run over them. Secularism is running over us … over and over again! Do we believe our message? Does Christ’s love for us control us? Or, do we want to stay in our shells? Will we hide in the corner like frightened kittens? Is our “public engagement” in our churches nothing more than uneasy politeness that we mistake for courage?

If we have the message of reconciliation, then we need to actually, well … give the message at some point. You aren’t sharing the Gospel if you hold a public event just to show people that you’re nice. The Mormons are nice, too. So is the Lions Club. Why do they need Christ, then?

Maybe because He’s the Reconciler! So, tell people about Him and His message.

May the Lord be with you all, as you seek innovative and winsome ways to spread the Good News in your communities.  

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There are 9 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Appreciate the challenge. I am less of a risk-avoider than I used to be, but still not anything like bold.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Don't know if I'm "bold," either, to be honest. We're doing the parade this year (we also did it last year). We're also trying to partner with the Bible Presbyterians across the street to put on a "what is Christianity" event at the local library. It'll be a 20 minute overview of the Christian faith and message, followed by a 60 min Q&A from audience. In this area, you know what you'll get: abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism. We'll advertise for it VERY heavily on FB and spread the word by our congregations. It ought to be fun!

We aim for February to do the first one. Again, no church in the area does anything like this. If one does, I just haven't found it. Why not? People don't even know what Christianity is! Why not provide a neutral venue (i.e. not a church building) and invite people to ask questions (ala Paul in Athens)?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I once did a short seminar on Islam at the local community center with a similar idea in mind. People didn't know much about how Islam and Christianity differ, and at the time there was a lot of curiosity about Islam -- and a lot of misinformation.

There are numerous opportunities in a study like that to just explain what Christianity is, while also explaining what it is not.

Considered doing similar events on Buddhism, Hinduism, some others. I suppose I still could, though the prep would be much harder to do with my current schedule. I studied Islam pretty heavy for several months for that, to try to make sure I could be fair, while acknowledging that one is not an expert even after that many hours.

Larry's picture

Moderator

We had a parade in our city that went right in front of our church. We never marched in it but we passed out candy and invitations along the parade route, gave out free snow cones, hosted free carnival games with prizes in our church parking lot. Not one person ever came to church from that. Not one conversation in almost twenty years included "we saw you at the parade and decided to check you out." It was totally ineffective for us. 

Which is why I would question whether we should accuse those who don't participate in something like this of fear, unbelief, cowardice, being intimidated, etc. It might simply be that they have decided it is an old outdated method that doesn't no longer works. It might be the power of experience from having already done it. It might be a lack of people to carry it out. It might be philosophicai and theological in nature. There are all kinds of reasons why some might thing this is not a good idea and not participate in it. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Wherever you minister, whatever your context, whatever your resources ... be bold with the Gospel in a winsome way. The secularists are bold. You should be, too.

Don't be afraid to do new things, different things, outside the box things.

Success is not conversions or visitors. Success is communicating the message to persuade people to choose Christ, trusting God to do the rest.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

If I have the chance to do it again, one thing I'd do differently as a pastor is lead the church to do quite a bit more "visible presence" activities in the community.

What I believe about that is that though no one thing has results like "we saw you at the parade and decided to check out your church," the combination of things increases awareness that you (a) exist (b) view the community as your community and (c) are not strangers.

There are many indirect benefits.

Oddly enough, this is part of what I've learned working in the law enforcement sector to improve policing: police departments all over the country have discovered (and are still discovering) that when a member of a sensitive minority gets shot by a cop its too late to build trust. So they're putting lots of energy into "friendly visible presence" and relationship building ("community engagement"). No one of these programs (like Coffee with a Cop, for example) has dramatic results. The combination, though, gradually changes the community's perception of what kind of people you are, how you view your fellow community members, and how they see your mission.

Larry's picture

Moderator

If I have the chance to do it again, one thing I'd do differently as a pastor is lead the church to do quite a bit more "visible presence" activities in the community.

This is absolutely true. It is something I concluded years ago, that we had to be involved in our community and we had to be visible so that when people start looking for a church or need spiritual help they think of us. So the measure of success isn't solely "No one came from it." It was a different measure. However,  in every endeavor, we are judging whether the resources expended are worth it. And that is a consideration in everything we do. Why doesn't the church itself just hold a parade? And why not do it every week? Because the resources expended would not be worth it. 

I think there is an increasing tendency for churches and Christians to consider "presence" as evangelism. So being in a community event or helping at a school or some such is considered "gospel work" or "evangelism." And it isn't. We need to keep those lines clear.

However, my main point in commenting was to address the fallacy that those who aren't doing parades are scared, intimidated, unbelievers, cowed, etc. There are a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with any of those things and I think we should be cautious about attributing motivations to people who do things differently than we do. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Wherever you minister, whatever your context, whatever your resources ... be bold with the Gospel in a winsome way. The secularists are bold. You should be, too.

Don't be afraid to do new things, different things, outside the box things.

Success is not conversions or visitors. Success is communicating the message to persuade people to choose Christ, trusting God to do the rest.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Wherever you minister, whatever your context, whatever your resources ... be bold with the Gospel in a winsome way. The secularists are bold. You should be, too.

Don't be afraid to do new things, different things, outside the box things.

This would have made a great article. 

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