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Bad Evangelism – #2

Evangelism is about spreading the Gospel, being a witness for Christ. However, somewhere along the way we confused evangelismblood-donor with sandwich board clad street preachers frothing condemnatory fire and the kitschy Jesus Junk so prolific in Christian retail. For instance, Kerusso (maker of this Blood Donor shirt and similar “witnessing tools”) has trademarked the slogan “Change Your Shirt. Change the World”. Yet if it were that easy, our world should have been changed a long time ago.

This notion that slogans, jingles, trinkets, bumper stickers, and Bible thumping can change the world is symptomatic of our soundbite culture. And a serious drift away from personal responsibility. Rather than seeing evangelism as part of a continuum jesus-mintstoward discipleship, a slow, sacred process wherein we befriend others, pray, listen, reason with them, and trust God for growth, we’ve reduced it to an ad campaign or marketing ploy, a shirt we change, a keychain we dangle, a billboard we erect or a commercial we air.

There are so many forms of bad evangelism it’s hard to know where to begin.

Getting people’s attention and then sucker-punching them with the Gospel is bad evangelism. Often called “interruption marketing.” This might be okay if we’re selling laundry detergent or Viagra. But eternal life? Attaching a Gospel tract to everything we do reduces us to propagandists.

Not respecting other peoples’ personal space is bad evangelism. Jesus did not get in peoples’ faces too often, so why should we? If someone’s not interested, then back off! Likewise…jesus-shirt

Force-feeding the listener, irrespective of their interest or spiritual hunger, is bad evangelism. If we did this to our kids they’d either get fat or throw-up.

Not listening to peoples’ hurts, fears and objections is bad evangelism.  If the objective of evangelism is to connect the Gospel with people, then understanding where those people are at spiritually and emotionally, is essential to making that connection. But that means taking time and listening…

Bad evangelism is more about words than works, it relies on saying the right things rather than living the right way. Didn’t Jesus say to “let your light shine before people in such a way that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16)? How is it that we’ve come to see evangelism in terms of what we say, not who we are? Last I checked, “light” was seen and not heard.

Detaching discipleship from conversion is bad evangelism. Getting saved is just the start. Yet too many evangelistic efforts present conversion as the final step. In this way, the evangelist leaves the messy business of helping someone grow in Christ to others.

Bad evangelism employs hype and makes unsubstantiated claims about Christianity. Gosh, hearing some people present Christianity you’d think it was a miracle cure to just about everything. The truth is, getting saved will not necessarily heal your marriage, make you prosperous, eliminate your worries, or control dandruff.

Asserting religious questions into any possible conversation is bad evangelism. Shoe-horning Bible verses into every discussion makes you rude, not righteous.

Hijacking cultural symbols, sayings and icons, and exploiting them for our purposes is bad evangelism. Can’t Christians think up anything new? Must we always use the Nike swoosh, the Gold’s Gym logo, or the Taco Bell Chihuahua to make our point? Egads! We’ve become an industry of copycats. Memo to believers: Be original!

Okay, so it’s a peeve of mine. How about you? Any examples of bad evangelism?

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • carolegagnon19@hotmail.com February 16, 2011, 1:44 PM


  • Benchmade August 10, 2013, 10:56 AM

    Your claims are wrong. You sound like an emerging church new ager. Jesus and all of His prophets and apostles were all street preachers and open air preachers. There is a place for one on one personal work and for door to door evangelism but street preaching and open air preaching is how the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles did the majority of their Gospel spreading. Once someone believes on Jesus Christ as God and the only Savior, then they are to be dealt with one on one for discipleship and also in groups. Jesus DID get right in peoples’ faces all the time. What do you think He was doing when He threw the money changers out of the Temple? What do you think He was doing when He preached the sermon on the mount? Paul and Peter and the rest got in peoples’ faces. There is a place for sensitivity and humbleness when the people are humbly coming to the Lord Jesus Christ. With the arrogant modern and post modern lost people you need to shock them with the reality of TURN TO JESUS OR YOU WILL BURN IN HELLFIRE forever.

    You are also wrong in this: Eternal Life and Discipleship are two seperate issues. Once saved Always saved. Discipleship has to do with maturity and rewards. Eternal life is about belief alone in Jesus alone for eternal life. Two seperate matters. They are not to be mixed.

  • John Morehead August 17, 2013, 11:15 AM

    Benchmade’s comment needs critique. The assumption is that a rhetorical form for proclaming the gospel in first century Second Temple Judaism is a universal form for all time. But rhetoric is related to cultural context. In the West we live in a post-Christendom culture where the church suffers from a serious credibility problem, and religious pluralism is the norm. In this cultural context such “open air preaching” is of little value, and we might benefit from using relationships, hospitality, and conversations as more in keeping with our current cultural context. We simply have to do better theological and cultural homework, and bring these two areas into conversation with each other as rhetorical strategies are formed.

    Beyond this, it is unfair to equate emerging church people with “new agers,” and using that term is a pejorative against a very influential stream of spirituality in the West that should be understood and engaged, not casually dismissed. As to Jesus “getting in people’s faces,” context again is important. While at times he did use harsh rhetoric with the Gentiles, for the most part it was a more sympathetic engagement, whereas his harshest rhetoric was aimed at those within his own religious tradition of Judaism. So this was an “in house” critique if you will. This too needs to be reassessed as we have drawn upon the wrong texts and wrong contexts for such encounters, particularly where the new religions are concerned, as I argued recently in an essay for the Journal of Asian Mission: http://www.academia.edu/3180955/_Walter_Martin_Was_Wrong_A_Critique_and_Alternative_to_the_Counter-Cult_Approach_to_Cults_for_Journal_of_Asian_Mission_14_1_2013_

  • John Morehead August 17, 2013, 11:16 AM

    One other related thought. I am currently working on the next issue of Sacred Tribes Journal. It will focus on the ethics of evangelism, a topic rarely considered by Evangelicals. Look for the new issue at http://www.sacredtribesjournal.org/stj/.

  • gary December 20, 2014, 11:02 PM

    You DO NOT know your bible, friend.

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