Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Against Ministry Gimmicks

I hate it when Christians try to lure non-Christian into the faith with food, folks, and fun. I once heard a minister say to a struggling fellowship that what was really needed to get the group energized was a logo and a rock band. More typically it involves offering free food. Other times it's Christians agonizing over what clever activity they can concoct that would make non-Christians want to attend.

All of these are wrong ways to draw people to Christ.

First, it doesn’t work. The Cross is an offense, and when Christ calls a man, He calls him to die. Nobody’s going take insult and injury for a pony ride.

Second, only the Spirit can draw people. We know this. So what’s the point of drawing people in with gimmicks? If they’re only drawn by the gimmick, then they won’t respond to the Spirit. And if they’re drawn by the Spirit, the gimmick is superfluous.

Third, these efforts distract from the real challenge of getting out and preaching Christ. Instead of taking on the work of testifying to Christ, we plan pizza parties. Our efforts mollify our consciences that tell us we should be shouting the Gospel from the roof tops.

Fourth, it’s vaguely deceptive. “Hey non-believer, why don’t you come to this low-pressure quasi-Christian social event. We’ll watch movies, eat chips, drink cola from 2-liter bottles (cuz we’re cheap)….and then WHAM we’ll sneak up our stealth evangelist ninja on you and KA-BLAMO! You’ll get SAVED!” If we ultimately want people to come to faith in Christ, it doesn’t seem totally honest to pretend otherwise on the front-end. Drawing people by anything other than God is pretending otherwise.

Fifth, when Christ fed people, He did so out of compassion for them. But He explicitly rejected using food to draw followers. Large crowds came to him for another meal after the feeding of a multitude, and instead he preached a bizarre message in which he criticized their coming to him for a meal. This drove away the masses. See John 5 & 6.

What are they teaching our seminarians? A bunch of cheesy marketing is my guess.

It might be argued that these are techniques for being 'all things to all people that we might save some,' but I think instead that these amount to using worldly sales techniques instead of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit and truly embodying godliness oursleves. Further, I bet you can hardly learn me a soul who was saved by a gimmick. But I bet you can learn me a whole bunch of events where you had a buncha Christians milling about, eating pizza and drinking pop, and wondering 'where are the non-Christians? How come they never come to our cheesy events.'


jose said...

How about coming to join my church (small group, Christ posse, whatever) as we serve (give blood, collect canned goods, visit a convalescent home)? I know you're not Christian so we're not expecting you act like one, but we could use the help.

...and then we'll strike with our dragon-style evangelism because we've proved to you we're good people.

Or what if my motivation was really to cultivate my relationship with you? Inviting you to "come and see." To bless you because God's blessed me.

jose said...

Or if the whole point is to convert you to Christianity then perhaps I should talk of nothing else. The church should stop shelling out money for a building and bulletins and an espresso machine and instead pool their money to blanket their city with a gospel media blitz. Maybe we should, as Mark Driscoll said, get some balls and preach the gospel.

Anonymous said...

When I was a youth pastor we used lots of "food, folks, and fun". After a few years of doing that I only felt like 1 thing: A Used Car Salesman. I was tired. I was tired of trying to "con" people into becoming a Christian or getting their life right with Christ.

The conversations went something like: Hey man, you should come to church, it's cool. They would say: I don't know. I would then talk for 2 hours about God and them & other stuff. They would never come.

What I do appreciate is the fact that many people (though slightly misguided in ways that Kenny points out) really do feel bad that people are going to hell & they try many ways to "get them saved".

But, at the core of the gospel is sacrifice and death. Death to self, which cannot be wrapped up any other way than in truth. One Christian told me that my next church should have rock n roll and a hip logo and other stuff. I told him that the gospel is like a piece of sh*t to non-believers (offensive, foul). And that no matter how many ways you wrap it up on the exterior it's still the same thing. He just looked at me and walked away.

Cheesy events don't work because no matter how much money I put into something it can never compare to what kids / adults have in a playstation. But, I can offer something that the playstation can't - love, grace, forgiveness, Christ.

So, if they won't come to the church for my events, then maybe I should join them at their events. Maybe I could go where they are at and serve them.

As for seminary, I can comment on that. I went to Western Seminary and they NEVER taught cheesy gimmicks for ways to "grow a church". They actually train people for ministry and counseling and studying. Here, however, is what happens:

More often than not the guys who are seminarians have small churches and some guys with big churches and no seminary degrees come along and say "You're crap doesn't work (not the exact wording)". And their "right" (numbers speak volumes: example, "you're team sucks." Really, scoreboard!) So, the seminarians listen to the big church guys and figure that must be the way to go.

Ben said...

Kenny and I have debated on this before.

It all depends on what you mean by "gimmick."

Are you saying a ministry should never have fun or social events? Some call that "fellowship", which I believe is vital to build up the body.

Are you saying churches should never serve food or have a welcoming atmosphere? That every ounce of their energy should be spent on preachin' that sermon? Than I simply must disagree.

I find absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things (or serving, as jose talks about) as long as they are not done in a spirit of trying to hide the Gospel. You've got a point that it often is...that the hospitality takes the place of the ministry. But it needn't be that way.

I also must disagree with Kenny and Dawson's one-note characterization of the Gospel. Yes, it can sometimes be offensive. Blunt truth often is. But it's called "the Good News" for a reason! It's a wide welcome to all the world to come approach the throne of grace. It's a message to all the hurting and broken, that God sees your pain and has a way out of that brokeness...and that Way is Jesus.

The image of the Gospel you paint reminds me of the fire and brimstone preachers I've seen in my own Southern Baptist tradition. May make you feel good that you aren't watering down the Gospel....but such preachers made it very hard for me to understand the concept of Love in connection with Christianity.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this for my entire commute to work.

Kenny's probably more right than I was first willing to admit. I think we are reacting against 2 different things.

I'm reacting against the "Christian" culture of my youth...with its rejection of "outsiders" who dressed different and couldn't speak Christianese...with its fire and brimstone preachers who seemed to lack an ounce of concern/compassion for the broken human beings they preached at (but darn if they were ever going to water down the Gospel). My memory of many Christians I met is that they seemed to fit every anti-Christian stereotype.

Kenny is reacting against something that's a lot more prevalant in our "sophisticated" Christian culture and our youth groups. The playing-down of the Gospel and playing-up of the fun. The attempts to draw people in and some how do stealth ministry.

I feel like there's something wrong with both cultures. Some way they both fail to preach the Gospel. But I'm not sure I can find the common thread.

- Ben (typing from a work computer that doesn't let me log in)

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

Kenny, I love you, I love you, I love you! And yeah, I love you other guys too! I've been and still am too swamped with my current work load to comment other than with this hysterical triple bravo. I've written things like this on and off my blog, as well as talked about them. Agreeing completely with your observations, this is why I am so insistent on singular use of the Bible ("Only ONE Book") to shape us and equip us for witnessing, let the chips fall where they may. This is also why I see the institutional church as a marginalised "sheep pen". There's no way we can prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness without going out into the wilderness. I ask God, "Lord, I am a Greek Orthodox. Is this what you want me to be?" Something tugs at me, and I seem to hear, "Maybe you should try being a Greek Gothodox. Other sheep have I that are not of this (Orthodox) fold, them also I must bring…"

The Word of God, the Son of the Father, He is, was and is to come, the Pantokrator, became one of US, without change or corruption or sin. Yet He took on our nature and really became one of us, not just in myth or symbol. And He did this for love. If we love the lost, with His kind of love, what is to prevent us from becoming one of them, living among them, learning of them and, without change or corruption or sin, bringing them to salvation by demonstrating by our own bodily fellowship, that they too are WANTED in the Kingdom of God?

He wants us. And He wants them. This has nothing to do with "church" in the form that idea has taken on. Now, the ancient Church, the eternal Church, no longer resides in the institutions we have made (not even the Orthodox Church!), but in the pilgrim people, who scatter seed as they go for others to harvest, and who meet the Lord wherever they turn.

Glory to God, brothers, for the insightful words you all have written here!

-Dave said...

I agree. I hate the idea of lying to people (in essence) about why we are doing this or another event.

"Drawing people with anything other than God" could have shades of meaning, though. Drawing people through a genuine love for them, manifest in service is indirectly drawing them with God, but it's not "come repent, sinner!"

My heartiest agreement is that events, programs, and the like are a cop-out to the real challenge of being the Body of Christ to the world.

Jeff said...

Dude, I literally fell out of my seat laughing at the "stealth evangelist ninja" bit.

I can testify (ha) that the honest type of evangelism - hey, let's talk about God and see what happens - is more effective than the "let's fool people into listening to the Gospel" sort. No one likes being duped. But I know that when I was participating in an honest discussion about religion, I was much more willing to consider the evangelist's arguments, even if I ended up ultimately disagreeing with them.

I suppose my point is that respect ought to be a key ingredient of evangelism, and that any gimmickry is devoid of such respect.

But I concur with Ben and Jose that there's nothing wrong with holding a fun event and inviting non-Christians. Evangelism doesn't have to be the focus of everything. In fact, the most effective evangelism is often that which occurs among people who hang out with Christians/Jews/whatever and think, hey, maybe they're on to something - the kind that happens when you're not looking. We encourage our youth group members to bring non-Jews to our events and we're not even an actively evangelizing faith...

Also... "When Christ calls a man, He calls him to die"? I'm missing something here. Most of the Christians I know think of Jesus as a path to life (I think). This might warrant another post altogether.

Kenny said...

Thanks, everyone, for the discussion.

I'm appreciating several things:

1. There's more to Christianity than evangelizing. I think that's right. So I should narrow my comments to the 'outreach or evangelism' wing of the Church's activity.

2. There are people who are sincerely trying to do good, if at times through somewhat goofy means. Okay, I'll agree that it's sort of the thought that counts.


"When Christ calls a man, he calls him to die" is a famous line from a famous book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 'The Cost of Discipleship.' The idea is that the human is sinful, and sin incurs the punishment of death; however, God provides a way of escape from that through Christ, particularly his work on the cross. However, in order to qualify, in order to be born again, one has to "die." And that means identifying with Christ himself having died on the cross, and thereafter considering one's old self actually dead, and now living a new life that wholly belongs to God. That's the gist of it, at least.

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

I wasn't going to add any more two-cents'-worth to this discussion, but I'll just mention two things.

I try to be a follower of Christ in the sense of Dietrich Bonhoeffer; his book Cost of Discipleship has had a greater effect on my life than any other book, except the Bible. To me, what he says in that book is real Christianity, whatever else might be true. So, I agree with Kenny's last comment about "being called to die." Yes, Christ calls us up into His life, but to do that, Yes, we have to die. The Good News is certainly good news to our spirit, but possibly very bad news to our flesh and worldly circumstances.

Second point, as an Orthodox Christian, I also believe only God can convert, but only we can evangelize, and that set of intentions and actions is fleshed out in activity, without qualification. I mean, we use whatever method (within scriptural bounds) to spread the Good News. One of the biggest efforts of my congregation in Portland (Holy Trinity GOC) is the "Greek Festival." This single event brings in many thousands of people to sample the "Greek" way of life. Many are astonished that Jesus permeates every aspect of our Christian Greek sub-culture. After every festival, we generate a great deal of interest in the Church, but also we have planted seed in the hearts of people who need Christ and are seeking Him. Though the results might be a dozen new members a year from this event, I am convinced that this gigantic party (to which Jesus is invited and comes) plants more seed of the Word than probably anything my church does in Portland. It would be nice to have evangelism teams, etc., or a soup kitchen; but this is, in fact, what we as a congregation do. (As individuals, we witness on a daily basis in many ways, but more spontaneously.) So, in the end result, it's not really depending on a gimmick. God just honors and blesses us, because in the presence of men and in His presence, we practice "philoxenía", the "love of strangers" in a strange world.

Jeff said...

I've been to some Greek festivals before... but mainly for the baklava. They're pretty cool, I'll admit that. Rochester, NY has a pretty sweet one.

OK, the "called to die" thing makes sense now. Thanks, I was really confused.