Philly just had a big “evangelistic event” here in town that a good number of people I know attended. I understand the attraction of these events. They’re flashy, they’re “big,” they can be exciting, and they are “safe” for Christians to come to with their “unsaved friends.” I kinda think that many of my Chrisitans friends think of personal evangelism as the equivelant of asking your best friend out on a date. Sure, there may be an attraction there, but you don’t want to be the one responsible for tanking a valued friendship. Big events place the evangelistic push on someone else (for some reason asking people to such events is not seen as a dangerous thing to do, I don’t get that).
Anyway, I know a lot of people who went. There were some who go out of habit even though they’re recognizing they aren’t “the target audience” any more. There were some who go because they’re drawn to the glamour of Christian celebrities. Some even went because they wanted a friend or relative to “get saved.” While the impulse is noble, I was kinda disappointed by this last group more than the others, because it was there that I was told, “Yah, I’m hoping he goes forward [Christian-ese for “respond to the Gospel”], but of course I didn’t tell him that it was an evangelistic event. He just thinks it’s a concert – won’t he be surprised!” You bet he’ll be surprised that his Christian friend used subterfuge and deceit to bring him to the “Truth!” Doesn’t the “golden rule” apply to the “bait and switch” maneuver as well?
All in all, I try to deal with these Christian friends (some from the congregation I pastor, some not) patiently and use “teachable moments” so people might become more reflective about the things we do in Jesus’ name. I have people who do this for me, so I return the favor to others. Some people are just “young” in faith and are easily stirred up, they’re easy to help shepherd. Folks who keep going out of habit are a bit more challenging because it takes a lot of work to help the energy of that habit be directed in another positive direction (and you have to be careful because you might redirect poorly and do more harm than good). The last group is the group I’m at a total loss in dealing with. How do people get so blinded by the gild of the “big event” that we lose our ability to reflect on the inconsistencies of our actions in Jesus name? How to you help people see the gild while being compassionate? I mean, anyone can just take out a stick and start beating people – but there’s no redemption in that.
Here’s the thing, it seems like in our evangelistic efforts we always want someone else to “close the deal” for Jesus. A big event evangelist, a pastor, just someone to cross the “t’s” and dot the “i’s” and get another soul “in the kingdom.” I don’t begrudge the impulse to see people meet Jesus, it’s part of being a Christian (folks who don’t want to bother anyone with Jesus worry me more, as a matter of fact). Yet, the idea that the Gospel is a commodity that can be brokered by other people gets me down. Thinking of pastors as the agents who are asking, “So, what can I do to put you on to salvation in Jesus today?” is depressing. Are we so convinced that our lives reflect Jesus so dimly that we can only hope that the “big events” will overpower the darkness better than Jesus manages to do in us?