Here’s the other half of Working Evangelism. This blog will address the issue of strategy and its place in mission—a huge topic, I know, but one that I hope I can get through quickly. To ask a question, rail about my personal failures, or offer a daughter in marriage, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Much Is Good?
I think it’s clear that some strategy in spreading the Gospel is good. When you sit down with someone to get coffee, and you think about how to bring up Christ in the conversation, that’s good Gospel strategy. Going to coffee meetings with nonbelievers, joined by believers in your community, is good Gospel strategy. The disciples, in the beginning of their ministry in the book of Acts, used to go to the temple in order to have fellowship and pray together—which just happened to be one of the most public, most popular places to go in their world. If that isn’t good Gospel strategy, I don’t know what is.
But strategy gets iffy if it gets dishonest, in my opinion. I’ll use two examples of this, one blatantly dishonest, and one much much less so (although, frankly, I still disagree with it).
Example Number 1: International Campus Outreach
I’ve been a part of international outreach here at the University of Texas for the past two and a half years, and I’ve been blessed to be a part of some amazing groups and get to know some incredible men and women of God. I’ve absolutely loved my time here, and I want to say in the start of this discussion that I’m not singling out any group. What I’m mentioning here is a culture that is prevalent in outreach to international students—there is no specific organization that I mean to call out. I’m only discussing a cultural trend in evangelism, Church-wide, as I’ve observed it in Austin.
There is a certain shyness in international student outreach, particularly in that which labors toward Muslims. An example: Let’s say that you’re a part of a group that seeks to bring international students to a Christian dinner so that the Christians can mingle with the internationals, make friends, spread the Gospel, etcetera. It’s a safe bet that the label of that dinner will be something like ‘cultural exchange,’ or ‘meet-n-greet’ or something similar. Now that isn’t necessarily bad—it may even be true. As pointless as it may be to exchange culture without a goal, there are some people who enjoy it, so that may be an honest answer.
But I think the problem comes in when people start asking why ministries and churches affiliate themselves with these organizations, or why Christians come to these dinners. At this point, when a Christian is asked what the purpose of the dinner is, I don’t think it’s an appropriate answer to say that it’s a cultural exchange or a mingling event. Our Muslim friends are smarter than that. They see right through us, and they know that Christians aren’t just strangely fanatical about getting coffee with people from far-away lands.
What if we were honest? What harm could that do? Here’s the answer I give to any Muslim (or any other international student) who asks me what the purpose of Crossroads is: “We are a Christian organization that tries to expose international students to Christian community and Christian beliefs. We try to love them in the way that Christ loved us, and to show them who Christ was by the way that we love one another.” Can you guess how many negative answers I’ve received to that? Not a one. And it filters out the students who don’t give a rip about Christ, allowing me to focus on the ones whom the Lord might be drawing.
Yes, I recommend all the students in Crossroads take the tack that I take—and I recommend anyone else interested in the evangelization of international students do the same, even though it’s certain that you will have to un-train yourself from the dodgy answers that you’ve been taught to give. Don’t waste your time. Filter out the folks who don’t care, and tell your friends the truth, if you love them. They’ll understand, and the level of boldness that you start the relationship with will make it easier to sow seeds of greater importance down the road.
Example Number 2: The Insider Movement
The above is fine. There is no major error in it. It’s a bit dishonest, but honestly, even if you do this, the people group that you’re reaching out to already knows what you’re doing as soon as you begin to talk about Christ anyway, so it’s okay. But now we move on to an example of Gospel strategy which is completely unacceptable.
The Insider Movement is a stream of Christian missiology which takes new believers in Christ from a Muslim or Hindu background and recommends that they stay within their Muslim or Hindu social spheres, meaning that they continue to pray in mosques or temples (among other practices), and that they continue to tell their friends and family that they are Muslim or Hindu in order to not rock the boat and cause expulsion from their community. The goal here is honorable: to implant Christian believers within social spheres that are impossible for Christians to penetrate, allowing them to spread the Gospel in places that would be unsown otherwise.
But I believe the baby has been thrown out with the bath water here. A secondary goal in this missiological belief is to avoid suffering, and the Bible is clear on this topic: Suffering is guaranteed for all believers in Christ. What right do we have to divert our sufferings away from us, when Christ went to the Cross for our sins? Christ bled and died for us, in one of the most brutal methods of execution the world has ever known—how can we say we are honorable, if we deny the suffering He has appointed for us?
Unfortunately, these guys are wily as a snake. Their response would be as follows: “But why suffer unnecessarily? Christ has called us to suffer, but not to rush into pain—we don’t need to be masochists.” This is absolutely true. But now we have the issue of identity.
When a lost man becomes found and becomes a Christian, he is given a brand new identity. He becomes a new creation in Christ. This demands a change of behavior, a change of mentality, a change of personality, a change of interest, a change of emotion, and a change of motivation. When this new identity manifests itself, the man begins to bear fruit. For us to crush this new identity and ask the new believer to return himself to his old slavery, we are crushing the fruit from our new believers. This is absolutely unacceptable, and absolutely contrary to the bold preaching of the Gospel of Christ that we are called to.
Again, it deals with honesty. Do not lie to your friends about spreading the Gospel. Evangelize proudly—wear Christ as your robe of righteousness, as He is. Do not be ashamed of Him or shrink back from the truth, and God will be with your work. Christ has promised that we will never be alone—why are we so scared to trust Him?
Be honest. Be clear. If you go to a lunch intending to spread the Gospel, say so, and don’t worry about what they think—you’re honoring and serving them, whether they recognize it or not.
Be honest. Be simple-minded and innocent as doves, even while understanding that the cunning of a serpent will be necessary—but don’t use a serpent’s cunning as an excuse to hide the light inside you. Make good, honest disciples, and preach Christ boldly, for the Lord hems us in, before and behind.
Lord, thank You so much for Your Gospel and the chance we have to participate in Your work! I pray that You would lead us, God, and that You would teach us how to spread Your Word. I ask that You would use us and change us, that You might encourage us to spread Your Gospel even more boldly, and that You might fill us with Your Spirit and with wisdom. Please bless us, and please draw us nearer to Yourself—I ask that we might be filled with love. In Jesus’ Name,