Our Message to the World
In my experience, many christians fall into one of two categories: the first is one whose faith, no matter how devout, has little effect on their life as a whole, and so they are pretty much the same as the average unbeliever in their beliefs and values. The other group are ones who do feel that their faith should effect their lives, but tend to get caught up rules and externalities. What seems to be most important is keeping the outward appearance of purity and perfection. In either case, what is demonstrated is not the life changing good news that Christ proclaimed. In one case, you have faith not making a difference, and in another it seems to make the wrong kind of difference.
So in one manner of speaking, I feel that we as Christians have a big PR problem. (This may give the wrong impression to some, as PR is seen as putting a positive spin on everything, whether accurate or not. I’m not suggesting we change nor “water down” the message to be more palatable. To some it will be offensive and they will continue to reject it in any case.) If we feel the message being conveyed to the world is inaccurate and unrepresentative of what true Christianity is, then we agree that we have an issue on our hands. As I’ve already argued, I believe that one reason this is the case is because there are actually a significant number of christians out there who are actually this way. However, there are many great things Christians are doing as well. For example, that vast majority of homeless shelters are Christian organizations, and many world relief and aid organizations are Christian based as well. So why aren’t those what is thought of when unbelievers think of christians? Well for one, it’s likely in part because these organizations aren’t focused on bringing attention to themselves.
However, there are people and groups focused on bringing attention to themselves in the public’s eye. These tend to be the groups which are pushing for political change, trying to fight against issues and attempting to make law and the government conform to their beliefs. The problem is that many of these issues are personal to people, and by fighting them we’re seen as caring about rules more than people, and often times communicating that these people are horrible at the least and shouldn’t have the right to exist at the most. For better or worse, the people who are seen as being our leaders and/or who are the highest profile are these ones who also seem to be the least loving. A pastor of mine once said, “It’s a shame that we’re known for what we stand against and not for how we love.”
If we could remedy these issues, and if the church were united and acting in love as we’re supposed to, I believe that evangelism would really begin to make sense. I believe that only in this context can evangelism on an individual level really be as effective as it can be. I believe if we were doing this, we would have people coming, if not flocking to us to find out the source of the life that we have. And I believe that those who are gifted in evangelism would go out and reap large harvests.
Looking for Solutions
So I’ve identified two main problems. Solutions won’t be easy, but only when the problems are correctly identified and understood can progress be made toward fixing them. The first problem requires reform within the church. It requires the teaching of good theology and correct Christian living. This needs to be done on a large scale, crossing denominational lines, etc. (If anyone has ideas on how to improve this area in a significant way, by all means, let’s work on it!)
Ironically, ideas and lifestyle have been emphasized but misguidedly. They have been self focused—having the right beliefs and living a christian looking life have become the goals in themselves, rather than being the means and having the focus on loving others. When it comes to evangelism, there is a recent history of people attempting to convince people of the truth and validity of Christianity through reason and evidence, etc. While looking into these issues isn’t bad, I’m not sure that’s it is very effective anymore. Even when non-followers ask these questions or use them as reasons for not believing, I think that those aren’t really the issue. From my understanding, there was a time in the past when this approach was effective, but now days people are bombarded with so many messages that it doesn’t get through. Every company and group out there is trying to convince people of something and/or sell them something, and most of them construct solid sounding arguments and proofs. This has led to people being skeptical about everything. We won’t believe someone’s sales pitch unless we see it in action. We need to see it work for real people we know, not just paid actors, in order to begin to believe that it may be for real. This is why we need to be in relationship with non-followers.
The second problem may also be a difficult one to address. It may begin by making churches and religious organizations more aware of how we are viewed by those outside. Another possibility is of having an organization (or several) who focus on communicating what Christianity is really about, as well as what it isn’t about. It’s my hope that we can begin to make some real progress, and the the net result will be many more people will come to understand and receive God’s wonderful grace.
There are things which seem to be paradoxes in the Christian faith. For example, lose you life to gain it. I think this is one too: if we took our focus off of trying to evangelize people, and instead made our focus loving people, I believe that we would find ourselves much more effective at bringing people into the faith as well.