Because The Cross Was Made Of Dogwood – Thoughts On Evangelism, Part 6

Sorry for the brief hiatus in this series. My oldest son graduated from high school this week, so my schedule was fairly full, as was my house. But we’re back at it now, so jump in the conversation.

When I think about churches and their evangelism programs, I often find myself asking ‘what are we evangelizing them to?’. Many of the churches I’ve been a part of do not have a solid answer for that question. When they talk about evangelism, they speak of technique, programs, and methodology. They spend very little time, however, on discussing what an evangelized person will look like that is different than what they are now.

In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey states that habit #2 is ‘begin with the end in mind’. If you don’t know what the end is going to look like, how will you ever be effective in pursuing it. This applies for evangelism as much as anything else. Without knowing what the finished product looks like, how can we ever hope to achieve it.

I believe this lack of focus on the finished product has created some problems for us. First, I think it has facilitated the hyper focus that Churches of Christ have on baptism. Baptism is very important, but it is only one of many important things in the conversion process. Since it is tangible… the only tangible part of evangelism as we usually frame it, we focus on that as the goal of our efforts. When we get a new convert into the water, most churches treat it as the end of the road for evangelism. They are then expected to get in the flow of things as a member of the church and pick stuff up as they go.

The second challenge the lack of a vision of an evangelized person has caused us is that we’ve turned discipleship into something weak and easy. When reading through scripture, I am overcome with the power of the concepts of ‘lordship’ and ‘surrender’. As a disciple, I’m supposed to live every minute of every day trying to fulfill God’s will on earth. How many of us really do that? How many of us can say we’ve grown spiritually in the last year? Two years? More?

From the time I was a child, I remember every church I was a part of having one of those grumpy, old people in it. They were mean, they wanted their way, and they were willing to do just about anything within their power (including manipulate others) to get what they wanted. A couple weeks ago I was at Rochester College for their Streaming Conference. During the conference, we participated in a shared reading of scripture of James 2:14-26 where we paired up after having the scripture read aloud and shared what stood out to us about the passage. The thing that stood out to me was that faith and discipleship would have external, visible qualities to it. It’s not acceptable to be the old, grumpy person in a faith community.

The thing that allows these two problems to occur is not having a standard by which we can measure people. Sometimes we will say ‘Jesus’, but psychologically we know that there is no way we can achieve equality with Christ so our efforts wane.

So, what is the standard that we are striving for in our evangelism efforts? Remember from earlier posts, external behavior control is not the desire, but internal change and Christlikeness. So, what can we use for a list of expectations that doesn’t judge externally and that emphasizes the expectation of growth? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

8 Responses to Because The Cross Was Made Of Dogwood – Thoughts On Evangelism, Part 6

  1. Caryn says:

    Great blog series! 

    I’ve often wondered about these same questions. My limited experience of thirty-five years a minister’s daughter and fourteen years a minister’s wife has lead me to this. It seems to me that the church is often composed of two groups or philosophies: The over-gracefull and/or the over-judgemental, and these two groups rarely meet in the middle with a healthy understanding of accountability and mercy or rarely even speak the same language.

    When I look toward scripture I see Christ being gentle on those who do not know better: the sinful, so to speak. However, I do see Christ really go after those who do profess to be religious. He calls His own on the carpet and is never hesitant to ask difficult questions. 

    I have worshiped with both kinds of philosophies. Within the over-judgemental group our church waned because of exhaustion and offensive hurtful language and often a missing forgiving spirit. Within the over-graced congregation we faltered because we held no one accountable to accomplish tasks for the sake of the congregation, never expected better behavior, never required biblical education of the young, and definitely never called out sin. I watched marriages break apart in both groups because we never discussed mercy and accountability as walking hand in hand within relationship. 

    We seem to forget that it is “the trying” that is the point. If we are not encouraging people to try to be better for the sake of the gospel, I just don’t believe the church is doing what it should…social justice aside. 

    I am personally troubled by ‘lack of spiritual growth’. Even discussing spiritual growth is subjective, because who can certainly determine what spiritual growth is except the owner of the spirit. That said, I am troubled when I see everything else in life take president over reading the word of God and prayer and service. This is not to say that our lack of spiritual priorities is unusual or new to Jesus. I’m sure he’s seen that before. Nevertheless, as a minister’s wife, it is a constant discouragement.

    I don’t think I answered your questions…did I? 🙂 But I DID post a novel on your blog.

    Thanks for asking the difficult questions.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for sharing, Caryn! I think some of what you hit on is a misunderstanding of grace. We think of grace as forgiveness or overlooking, but that’s not really it at all. Maybe I’ll post about grace next?

      I may disagree with you about not being able to determine spiritual growth. We’ve been given a guide to what people growing in the spirit will produce in Galatians 5 (interesting application of the whole chapter to your discussion above). In particular, the fruit of the spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. People growing in the spirit will manifest these qualities in an ever increasing way.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for sharing, Caryn! I think some of what you hit on is a misunderstanding of grace. We think of grace as forgiveness or overlooking, but that’s not really it at all. Maybe I’ll post about grace next?

      I may disagree with you about not being able to determine spiritual growth. We’ve been given a guide to what people growing in the spirit will produce in Galatians 5 (interesting application of the whole chapter to your discussion above). In particular, the fruit of the spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. People growing in the spirit will manifest these qualities in an ever increasing way.

  2. Erin says:

    Like Caryn, I don’t think I’m going to answer the question you pose.  I’m just going to use the occassion to post one of my favorite quotes, as this post again brought it to mind.

    “The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and
    spiritless. Christ may be ‘received’ without creating any special love for Him
    in the soul of the receiver. The man is ‘saved’, but he is not hungry nor thirsty
    after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little.” – A.W. Tozer
    (The Pursuit of God)

  3. Erin says:

    Like Caryn, I don’t think I’m going to answer the question you pose.  I’m just going to use the occassion to post one of my favorite quotes, as this post again brought it to mind.

    “The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and
    spiritless. Christ may be ‘received’ without creating any special love for Him
    in the soul of the receiver. The man is ‘saved’, but he is not hungry nor thirsty
    after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little.” – A.W. Tozer
    (The Pursuit of God)

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