Road Blocks to Evangelism
I dare say that unbelievers may well be afraid of joining us today, but for far different reasons. They fear that they may be judged and unaccepted as they are. I have also heard that they are actually afraid they may become worse people! Christians are often seen as being judgmental, close minded, hypocritical, and unloving. While this may not accurately reflect all christians, at the same time stereotypes don’t just come out of the blue. There are certainly christians both in the past and now who have had these characteristics, even though they would likely try to argue the accusation. While it’s hard to say how many christians fall into one category or another, I believe that there are certainly enough of these types of christians around as to not be able to write off as an anomaly. At the same time, they don’t comprise a large enough portion of christians to say that they define what a christian is like either.
Along with this, I think another thing which puts a block in the road to effective evangelism is our mind set of us verses them, of in and out. While there is a certain amount of this, I think our mind set has carried us too far toward separation. We see those outside of the church as sinful, wrong, not having anything positive to contribute, and unable to do anything good. At the same time, we think of ourselves in the opposite light, as if we rarely sin, have all of theology and life figured out, and do only good to the world around us. I submit that this is far from the truth. I think that we’re closer to non-christians and them closer to us than we’d like to admit. It’s sad, but it’s not uncommon for non-christians to be more honest and open than we are. We get so caught up in our looking and sounding the part and in trying to hold steadfastly to a doctrine (rather than the savior) that we put those things before really caring about others. I believe that part of this in/out mind set comes from our idea that once you pray a prayer and/or make a confession you’re in and that’s it. But there are plenty of warnings in the bible about standing firm so that you won’t fall away. (A full discussion on whether or not a person can “lose their salvation” is beyond the scope of this paper.)
A New Vision
I believe that we need to think of ourselves as being on the same level as non-christians, not as though we’re above them and the ones who will save them. The picture I like to paint of it is that it’s as if everyone were in a wide open desert. People are heading every different direction, some are wandering around, others are motionless trying to figure out what to do, and we Christians are right down there with everyone else. As Christians however, we know which direction to go, and we are one group amidst all of these people traveling together in the right direction. Being a Christian isn’t so much crossing a line or entering a building—the idea that we’ve arrived as soon as we’re over the threshold. Yes, there is a turning point; there are those who are going the right direction and those who aren’t, but none of us have arrived yet.
Put all of this together and my suggestion is that we live as a “community”, truly caring for and loving everyone, first of all those who are traveling with us, but nonetheless to those who we pass by along the way. We can invite people to walk with us, and see what we’re about. I think we need to allow people to be themselves (both believers and nonbelievers), and to let nonbelievers join us whether or not they swear allegiance to our statement of faith, to allow them to see who we really are. We shouldn’t make people feel they have to “clean up” and act just like us before we allow them in church.