I’m a terrible hypocrite.
Those who know me are not shocked by this confession, but this truth surprises me on a regular basis. Earlier this year, I was having lunch with some friends and the conversation turned to a recent encounter one person had with a street preacher. You know, the bull-horn-shouting, giant-sign-holding, turn-or-burn, make-everyone-uncomfortable types. Everyone at the table began condemning this method of evangelism, myself included. “Yeah, that’s terrible. Way to turn people off from Jesus. Church people!”
Less than a week later, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, passing memes and Vine videos. A tweet caused to stop dead in my tracks. I must have read it fifteen times.
Someone shared a quote from the late D.L. Moody, the great revivalist of the late nineteenth century. Moody once said, after being criticized for his methods of sharing the Gospel, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
Within these 140 characters, my own hypocrisy was brought to light. I was, in fact, far more proficient at criticizing the evangelism methods of others than I was at sharing my faith myself. If I am honest with myself, I spend far more time criticizing others than I do taking action myself.
Around the same time, I stumbled upon an article here at Off the Page. Sarah Wells wrote a compelling piece in July 2015 entitled Gas-Station Evangelism. I was deeply moved by the piece (and inspired by someone who is a far better artist with words than I am). As I read and re-read Sarah’s piece, I had one lingering take-away, “I find it far easier to criticize what someone else has done than to create something new myself.”
The platforms we have via social media have given us the ability to quickly and effortlessly criticize the faults and deficiencies in others. In a few seconds, we can hit share, like or retweet, pushing out criticism to hundreds or thousands. Criticism has never been easier, while creating something new has never been more dangerous. In a world where everyone with Facebook or Twitter is a critic, why risk being condemned or attacked?
My lunch conversation and Sarah’s article sent me on a quest of sorts. I began examining my evangelistic efforts (or lack thereof) and the root causes for my hypocrisy in this area. I’ve discovered some saddening truths:
-I’ve become insulated within my life in the church.
Several years ago, my friend, Eric Bryant, wrote a book entitled, Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World. In the book, Eric wrote these words, “Rather than befriending and loving those who do not yet follow Christ, it seems that the longer we follow Christ, the fewer people we actually know who believe differently than the way we believe.”
As I scroll through the last 20 calls, 20 text messages, and 20 Facebook messages, I find very few people who do not share my spiritual beliefs. My experience validates Eric’s observation. I’m not sure how I can share the love of Jesus with people who need it if I only spend time with people who’ve already found it. For me, this has meant prioritizing having coffee and lunch with my buddy who needs friends and is agnostic, instead of hanging out more with church people. I’ve chosen to stay with my hair stylist over ones from my church because she asks great questions about my sermons and writing. (And she does a great job!) Even last week, it meant putting down my phone and talking to my neighbor while we were both grilling steak.
-Sharing Jesus is far easier as a program than it is as personal process.
In the 1960s, the Four Spiritual Laws came out, dominating the church evangelism market. Then it was Evangelism Explosion with its question, “If you died tonight, why would God let you into heaven?” The era has changed, but people’s love for programs and formulas has not.
In the past, I’ve gravitated to the programs because I don’t know what to do and the programs make something complex and difficult into something much easier and simpler. Figuring out how to relate and converse with each person I meet uniquely is much harder. It is much more vulnerable and it requires me to sit side-by-side with someone, as opposed to above them as one with the all the answers. Jesus was God in flesh, yet as I read the Gospels, He never gives off an “I’m better than you” vibe.
-The popular models don’t resonate with me or look like Jesus.
In the average local church, there are more than a few people who wish their church would be more passionate about “evangelism”. The “evangelism” people in our churches are often the street-preacher types, who like the programs and systems. The rest of us back away with the thought, “I must not have the elusive ‘gift of evangelism’.” Either way, every Christian has been commissioned by Jesus to take the Gospel into the world. We have a story worth sharing and we know people who need to hear it.
-Fear and insecurity stop me from sharing.
When it comes to evangelism, I don’t think we talk about fear enough. Every time I’ve shared my faith (in rote, robotic ways and in genuine, conversational, human ways), I’ve been terrified and felt like I was suddenly naked and exposed. It’s one thing to feel secure and confident of our faith in church; it’s another thing entirely to think about sharing it with someone outside of the church who may disagree or even be hostile towards faith.
-My struggles with faith and church become barriers to sharing with others.
One of the reasons Off the Page was created was to give a space for young adults and millenials to have honest discussions about our struggles with faith and the church. When I think about how I’ve battled cynicism and bitterness over the last ten years, it’s no wonder I wasn’t sharing my faith or inviting people to church. Why invite people to something I’m not sure I want to stick with myself? If we’re struggling with our faith and church, it’s scary and dangerous to invite someone else into the source of our disappointment and pain.
Like Sarah, I don’t have a simple, quick answer that wraps up this discussion with a nice neat bow. I’m still wrestling with how to overcome my hypocrisy. But I’m grateful for D.L. Moody, Sarah Wells, Eric Bryant and others who lovingly and consistently challenge me, while inviting me to criticize others by creating something new.
I’m grateful for Off the Page and other venues where we can come and ask hard questions without the pressure to resolve them prematurely. We grow and change through this process. While I wholeheartedly believe Jesus Christ is the hope of the world and want people to discover the unconditional love I’ve found in Him, I’m not always sure how to do that well. Yet, some people had the courage to share Jesus’ unconditional love with me, and I owe them the gift of figuring out how to do the same for others.