No Longer Making Converts

I struggle with evangelism because it always seem so disingenuous. The only people I know that have ever come to consider themselves Christians who were not born into it were not the direct results of any evangelism techniques that we muster together. I deeply want people to know the peace and joy that I have that comes from my faith in Christ and life in the church. I’m just not sure that “converting” people is what we are going for. The church doesn’t exist to make converts. The church exists as an alternative community that lives in such a way that makes living make sense and truthful. You don’t just convert someone over to a different way of living life, especially a life of all they’ve known. Changing your life is a slow process, one that takes your entire life.

I’ve thrown out most strategies of evangelism. I find them to be inconsistent with who the church is supposed to be. I do not think it is our job to sell our way of life and try to convince people that it’s a good way to live. I do not think it’s my job to give altar calls, to catch people in their moments of weakness and lack of faith, and have people make cognitive decisions to ask Jesus into their heart. I think it’s my job to live in such a way that makes their live incomprehensible to their own existence. I think it’s my job to live a life so full of truth that they desire to be part of that kind of truth. There is no room for empty conversion techniques, growth strategies or altar calls when you are a community of people radically committed to a way of life. You just invite more and more people into this way of life and people will join you at their own pace, in their own way.

I don’t think the failure of our churches is because we suck at evangelism. I think the church is shrinking because the church isn’t the church. There is no longer anything to be drawn into. If you are stuck coming up with creative schemes, strategic planning, discipleship programs or manipulative maneuvers to bring people into your fold, then I fear that you are no longer being the church. Build communities that care about each other, the poor, God, the weak and are radically generous with who they are and that’s all the evangelism you will need. You will create a lot of enemies being this kind of community (probably with other congregations) but this what it means to be the church.

16 Comments

  • Nathan,
    What do you do with the words of Jesus to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples? Or Paul we beg you to be reconciled with Christ or …. Why can’t we be the church and preach the gospel? Because of sharing their faith people were added daily in Acts.

    • I just don’t know if “preach” means make converts to Christianity from other religions or ways of life. Rather the word preach there is the verb form of the word gospel, so Jesus is sort of saying go and goseplize the gospel, in other words, be the gospel, be the good news in the world, be the church. If preaching is reduced to making converts I fear we have lost the meaning of Jesus’ words and we reduce the gospel to simply another belief system, which it is not. The gospel is a way of life that makes Jesus Lord of a life, and you don’t just convince someone to do that through talking.

  • Nat, trying to read between the lines a bit here, but it sounds like what your actually proposing is in fact another type of evangelism, one that is in line with many strands of often ignored biblical truth. I think that it could be taken to too far of an extreme if not careful though, and we would run into some serious problems with our overall reading of Acts if we didn’t watch out. While I hear what your saying, and agree with it, I think sometimes a call to repentance (not the all to often call to “accept Jesus into your heart”) is necessary, and is also in line with John and Jesus’ ministry in the gospels, and the Apostles in Acts, no?

    • I didn’t think I was making a different call for evangelism at all? I am unsure a call to repentance does what it is supposed to do any longer, which to me would be just another form of evangelism and which lead me to write this post. I’m just not convinced that a proper way to act is to mimic what was happening 2000 years ago to people 2000 years ago, I think the church needs to rethink entirely what it means to be the church, saved and what that means for it’s relationship with the world.

    • I would ask, what is Jesus talking about when he says “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”? John the Baptist started his ministry with the exact same words. It seems to me that the Kingdom and repentance are intrinsically connected, and without the one you don’t have the other. Further, I guess I’m curious to know two things, 1. What gives the impression that 1st century immorality is wildly different than 21st century immorality? Are we not now also prone to greed, selfishness, envy, pride, boastfulness, lust and anger? (to name only a few – I should also include religious hypocrisy such as you describe, and which Jesus condemns as well) and 2. I’ve now forgot my second question lol, so I’ll just leave it with that *thumbs up*

      • Hey Justin, yes of course those phrases were used, but I wonder who were they used primarily too, my guess would be a lot of Jews and people that knew what the Kingdom of God was. The immorality was no difference, but the level of understanding of Israel history and what Christ was walking into is vastly different. Notice that Jesus never tried to get Pilate to repent.

        So I know the message of Christ stands the same, we still need to repent, it is still hand in hand with the kingdom of God. However, for some reason John and Jesus could walk around and use those phrases and people at least knew somewhat what they were saying. I’m not willing to place money on that being the case now.

        Also, while I want to model my life after Christ’s, I don’t think its fair to model every angle of his technique of evangelism if we aren’t going to model the rest (no money, no home, eventually crucified). If someone wants to model that entire journey, I’d be more than glad to keep my criticisms to myself, however the church is far from even close to living this kind of life but yet we seem so close to say that we need to evagelize for sure, that’s a really important one, but the whole selling off our possessions, putting our sword away, spending our time with the least of these, well those aren’t pre-requisites to being a Christian, but evangelism, (because it’s so easy and we’ve reduced it to spewing off cliches to people who aren’t listening) that is a necessary attribute of Christians.

      • To be honest Nathan, I agree with what your saying, I think hypocrites need to stop “evangelizing” (or gospeling if that is preferable – because what they are promoting is no gospel at all), and I also believe people need to start living out their professions more deeply. I also hold no quames about using contextual language if one feels that terms such as “evangelism” or “convert” or “preach” or any other word, isn’t useful, and if it helps people see what your trying to say. Reality is I think the church is, by and large, lukewarm. And I think that they have resorted to just the thing your talking about and calling it “evangelism”. While I don’t think that what their doing is actually true evangelism, I agree with you that they think it is, and stand by you in opposing it. I believe that your striking at some good truth in what your saying. Having said that, I do think we need to tell people not to be greedy, lazy, envious, lustful, violent, or whatever, and we need to strive to tell people that these things will not bring them the joy that they truly seek, and that Jesus is the answer to all these things. At the same time I will be the first one to say I struggle with all those things…including hypocrisy…*goes and re-reads Romans 7-8 to get some encouragement* :O

      • I’m with you Justin, and you summarized well, it’s frustrating to have
        people promoting evangelism and nothing else, no discipleship, no justice,
        no community….It is this that I am pushing back against. I have very
        little against those that “evagelize” and actually live out the reality of
        the good news that they speak of.

  • May I ask, in sincerity: to what end are we rethinking it?

    • to what end? I think that maybe an end that is consistent with the scriptures, early church and the culture that we finds ourself. I’m lead to the belief that the way the church looks changes as culture changes, it’s essence and purpose is the same, but the mode in which it functions changes drastically, and probably does so depending still in what culture the church finds itself.

      i’m a lot more inclined to agree with a theologian’s work on who the church is supposed to be than I am with popular seeker sensitive evangelical churches whose mission it seems to be only to make converts. So I don’t know if I have an end in sight in which I’m hoping we land, I think we will always reinvent ourselves depending on where we find ourselves, but I’m not content not rethinking who we are and what we are doing.

    • OK, that’s a good answer. My next thought would be: what does it mean to be “consistent with the scriptures”? If it means, roughly “do what it says in the context in which it says to do it”, wouldn’t something like the Great Commission require us to “evangelize” in some sense?

      • Andrew, I moved this over to my site as well, because some of hte conversation was similar, I wrote this on my site.

        I just don’t know if “preach” means make converts to Christianity from other religions or ways of life. Rather the word preach there is the verb form of the word gospel, so Jesus is sort of saying go and goseplize the gospel, in other words, be the gospel, be the good news in the world, be the church. If preaching is reduced to making converts I fear we have lost the meaning of Jesus’ words and we reduce the gospel to simply another belief system, which it is not. The gospel is a way of life that makes Jesus Lord of a life, and you don’t just convince someone to do that through talking.

        So I”m wondering if simply making converts from one belief system to another is really what Jesus had in mind for us. I wonder if making disciples doesn’t mean getting people to cognitively understand statements about who we think Jesus is, but rather making disciples is being the kind of community that someone who already believes these statements then has a place to actually go and make that a reality in their life. So in one scenario you have people converting over to different belief systems and that’s the role of the commission, in the other scenario (one i think i’m proposing) you have people who have already come to a conclusion of some sort that they want to go in the Jesus direction and entering into communities of people who help them live out their beliefs. One group is set on trying to add more to their numbers, the other is set on being what they said they are.

    • Nathan,

      I could say a bunch of different things here, but I wonder if another question might be best:

      Would it be reasonable to say that, as imitators of Jesus, we should follow his method of discipling people? If so, Matthew is of great help there: it shows us exactly how he did it. He went about the towns of Israel proclaiming a fact (“the kingdom of God is present in me”) and demonstrating the truth of that fact with various deeds. What do you think?

      • Yup, I think you are right on, I want to be an imitator, but do you think it’s as easy as that? I think as culture and the world changes what it means to imitate Christ must change. If it did not then we would probably not need to keep taking theology classes and going to school and learning, we would just memorize the creeds and that would be that. But the world is changing drastically, so I wonder then what it looks like for the church today to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is present in us? That really is my sticking point I think, I do not think it looks like making converts onto our belief system as much as it is being a living example of what that belief system entails. And it has a lot more to do with loving, serving and blessing the ‘other’ than it does converting them and making them like us.

      • Nathan, I hope you don’t mind if I shift the discussion a little again. I feel like your last sentence to me is maybe expressing something central going on here:

        “And it has a lot more to do with loving, serving and blessing the ‘other’ than it does converting them and making them like us.”

        It seems to me that, from your point of view, “evangelism” (as you use the term) is something intrinsically manipulative, meaning, it is always about trying to get people to do things good for us but not necessarily for them.

        But isn’t another motive for evangelism (“making converts”) possible? I mean, if we think it is better (in the deepest sense) for people to believe in Christ than for them not to, isn’t it an act of love to try and get them to believe in him? I thought of the line by Luther describing how he understood sharing the gospel: “Beggars telling other beggars where to find the bread.”

      • I’m sure tangents is where we’ll understand better, I go on them all the time, and I think your question is good. Much of my experience is manipulative, yes, so that probably is in the background of what I say.

        I’m not opposed to conversion and the fact that people do convert, i just don’t think that should be our goal or aim. Maybe that is what is confusing about what I wrote as if I don’t think more people should come to know Jesus, that isn’t the case. I do think and want as many as possible to know Jesus, I am just not convinced focusing on that as a goal/aim is a proper way to be the church. I think being the church through love/forgiveness/service is the best option and the conversions will happen.

        So your question “try and get them to believe” is troublesome for me because I feel like then belief becomes simply a cognitive understanding of who jesus is, when I think that a faith in Christ and life in the kingdom is a lot more than simply caving in to convincing arguments.

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