Strange evangelism

I had a friend tell me I should go see the movie Dr. Strange. He knows I am a nerd. He knows I have enjoyed some of the other Marvel superhero movies. He saw the new movie and thinks I would like it. So he encouraged me to go see it.

In the middle of this conversation, I had no sense that this was awkward or difficult for him. He did not have to work himself up to do it. He just shared it because he knew it would be something positive for me.

As I reflect on this, I contrast it with the great reluctance so many Christians feel toward sharing the good news and inviting people to church. I wonder why it is so different from telling people about a movie or a book or a restaurant that we love.

The steps seem simple enough.

My friend knew I liked Marvel movies and I was a nerd. So the first step is to know someone and know something about them. I suspect my friend would have felt awkward had someone told him to go stand on a street corner and shout out about how great Dr. Strange was. He would not have enjoyed going door-to-door in a neighborhood telling people he did not know they should go see the movie. Neither should we.

If you want to feel more comfortable telling people about how great Jesus is and how great your church is, you have to know the people you are talking to and know something of their wants, longings, fears, and struggles. This is why pastors can’t be the primary evangelists at your church. They only get to know a small number of people and most of them don’t let the pastor really know them – not at first.

My friend liked the movie and thought I would like it. Okay, here is a tougher one. We can’t persuade people to be interested in Jesus and our church if we are not all that interested in them ourselves. If knowing Jesus Christ has not done anything to change your life or enrich it, then it is going to be hard to persuade someone else that discipleship is good for them. It comes down to this.  We have to actually believe that knowing Jesus Christ will make someone’s life better before we can be enthusiastic about explaining that fact to someone else.

In my teaching days at the business school, I used to tell student groups who were working on presentations that the first thing they needed to do was to come up with an idea they were actually excited about and interested in. I told them that if they were not excited by their idea, then there was zero chance anyone else would be.

If we are not excited by being a disciple of Jesus Christ, then we are never going to convince other people to join us.

My friend encouraged me to go see it. He said, “You should go see it. You will really like it.” Seems simple enough. And yet we struggle so much. In a sermon recently, I coached my congregation on this because so many people say they don’t know what to say to people. I said, “Say this: ‘I have this great church. It is so great to start my week each Sunday with them. I think you would really like it to. You should come worship with us on Sunday.'”

Not everyone will respond. That’s okay. But it is not hard to make the invitation.

I don’t pretend I have all the answers about this. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. How do we pastors help explain evangelism to our congregations and help equip them to do it?

Where do you even begin?

On the campus of Indiana University this week, a fraternity was closed down after a video surfaced featuring about half the members of the house cheering on and engaging in sexual immorality with a pair of women paid for their participation.

This might not be news outside of my neck of the woods. I bring up here because of the interesting history of the fraternity. Alpha Tau Omega bills itself as a fraternity founded on explicitly Christian — as opposed to Greek — ideals. The name of the fraternity itself is a reference to Scripture.

It is not really news that fraternities are hives of immorality. I know that. But reading the story did get me wondering how many of those young men had been raised in Christian families. How many of them ever give a second of thought to the Alpha and Omega after whom their organization is named?

There has been outrage over this incident. There have also been a fair number of defenders of the frat arguing that the morality police should keep their nose out of good, clean, consensual fun. This happens everywhere, they say. What’s the big deal?

It all has me wondering how the Church engages with the culture that forms young people who will do such things, make videos of them, and release them into the Internet. So much talk these days is about being contextual and meeting people where they are. If this is seen as normal by large numbers of people, where is the ground on which we might meet these young people?

Not the healthy but the sick

Thoughts come to me in odd places some times.

I was sitting in the back of a used bookstore in town Wednesday night. I was just sitting and listening to the people in the store. Downstairs, a group of teenagers were playing a role playing game, laughing and joking and reveling in being nerds. Upstairs, the staff were talking about Russian translations and high school classes and various other topics.

I found myself musing about what it would mean to witness to the gospel in that place at that moment, and I was instantly aware of the barriers that would make that difficult, not the least of which being that none of those people at that moment had any sense at all that they were in need of good news.

I prayed for them as I sat there and this thought came to me. I recalled Jesus’ first sermon in the gospel of Luke.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

I’ve read and heard that passage from Isaiah many times, but Wednesday night I found myself wondering if we should hear this as Jesus talking to the church about our target audience: the poor, the captive, the “blind,” and the oppressed.

Or maybe it is just a message for me and not the church. Or maybe it is just my own squirrel brain at work playing tricks on me.

All over my Facebook feed the last couple of days, people have been sharing this article by Carey Nieuwhof about reaching people who don’t think they need God. It seems like pretty good advice, but I wonder if maybe it is missing the point in a way.

People who find their lives comfortable and live indifferently to God have never been a very ripe field for harvest. This has always been the case. Read Deuteronomy 8 if you don’t think God knows this. Read virtually of the rest of the Bible for further confirmation. There is a reason the prophets were met with stones and chains.

As I ponder these things, I think of the way the early Methodist movement made its greatest impact among what John Wesley called “plain” people. Could it be that the ones who responded to Methodist preaching were people who had found the “happiness” their society offered them unattainable or false?

I recall Jesus Christ saying that he came not for the healthy but the sick. Is our chasing after people who see themselves as well-adjusted and basically comfortable a misunderstanding of Jesus’ ministry?

Of course, a great counter point to my argument are all those beautiful and packed mega-churches sitting right in the heart of some of most affluent communities in America. Rich and powerful people have spiritual needs, too, I’ve been told more than once.

But I can’t shake this thought that my most effective moments in ministry have been with those who are already conscious of their suffering or unhappiness or pain. Perhaps it is just not my gift to shake the sand that so many people build their lives upon. When God has used me the most, it has been with people already aware that the flood waters and storms have washed away what they had been building their life upon. Could it be that discontent is the soil in which the seeds of faith find root?

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)