Friday, March 20, 2015

Flashback Friday: How NOT To Do Evangelism

This is- quite unfortunately- a true story first posted in 2013. But similar stories play out far too often in our communities every day, so it seemed worth sharing again on this Flashback Friday.

I guess I'm going to hell...

Yesterday afternoon my door bell rang and I peered through the peep hole to see two well dressed middle-aged men standing outside my door. My house is often visited by local Jehovah's Witnesses, and so I opened the door expecting to receive some literature and a few words of encouragement. I was surprised to be told that they were instead representatives of a local Baptist congregation that I am not familiar with (You should know that I  married a Baptist and have lots of wonderful Baptist friends, and that what follows should in no way reflect poorly on the denomination as a whole!). They said that were in the neighborhood to invite people to church and offer them the good news of Jesus. They asked if my family attended church, and I replied that we were a part of Van Dyke United Methodist Church. I expected that to be the end of the conversation. I was so wrong...

The shorter of the two gentlemen said that he was sorry to hear that I attended a Methodist church. He asked if I knew that I was being taught an evil, Satan-inspired theology. When I replied that I did not know that, his partner said that it saddened them to know that I was going to hell. Just like that. Didn't even ask my name before condemning me to hell. These men didn't know me at all, but they had already passed judgement. When I asked how they could be so sure of my eternal destination, they again parroted back the words that I was being taught a Satan-inspired theology and therefore was going to hell. I have to admit, they seemed quite certain! I then asked them if they considered what they were doing to be evangelism in the name of Jesus. When they said yes, I explained to them that I disagreed. I mentioned that I had read somewhere that Jesus came to save to world, not to condemn it, and that if we want people to know him then we need to show them love, because God is love. This staggered them a bit. I then threw another "punch," suggesting that they might want to check the Bible for more information- specifically suggesting that they read 1 John 4:7-8. I said I would pray that they understand the part where John writes that "if we don't love, we don't know God, because God IS love." I finished by saying that while it is important to tell people about Jesus, that Paul pointed out to the church in Corinth that evangelism without love is just noise. I then simply smiled and waited for a response.

None came. Apparently I had scored a TKO by quoting scripture, and so they wished me a good day and left. I didn't even get my copy of the 4 Spiritual Laws or the address of their church. I went back inside and thought and prayed about what I had just experienced, and then I tweeted a short version of the story. I received numerous responses from people who shared my assessment of the situation- that evangelism without love is empty and weak. Many mentioned bad experiences of their own with church folks trying to "scare the hell out of them." Labeling people and denominations, seeking to shock people into relationship with God and judging people we don't know is not what Jesus had in mind when he told to tell the world about him. It scares me to think that these men left me and wandered my neighborhood representing Jesus in such a way. There is simply no telling how much damage was done.

So while they think I am headed to hell, there is work to do in the meantime. If love is the answer no matter the question, then we need to get out there and share the love of Jesus in every way  possible. We need to do random acts of kindness, invite people to the wonderful church I attend, and be the best neighbors we can be. We need to love inclusively. And for our churches, I have a suggestion. In our teaching and training, let's just drop the word evangelism and just start talking about reaching out in love. It's not a program, it's a lifestyle. Just a thought...

And as for my fellow Methodists, I suppose we should all find out how we wound up on a list of "Satan-inspired Christians." My guess is that teaching that the love of God whose name is Jesus is for EVERYONE just rubs some people the wrong way! :)  Have a blessed weekend!

Because of Jesus,

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