The Dangers of Evangelism

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I understand the basis of evangelism. There are lots of scriptural bases for doing it: making disciples of all nations, expanding our territory, and so on. Also, there’s a great feeling that comes with bringing someone over to your way of thinking and acting. There’s the sense of doing something good for them, plus there’s the validation of our own faith when someone else aligns themselves with it. Every new Christian is one more step toward ensuring that our churches, our faith, our stories or our values will be passed on for future generations.

That said, there are plenty of potential pitfalls in the process of evangelizing too. Depending on how you approach folks, there’s the potential that you’ll turn them off to a relationship with you all together, or what’s more, a relationship with your faith. Like it or not, you represent the entirety of Christianity to that person in that moment; that’s a lot of responsibility.

There’s also the implicit assumption in the evangelism process that I know something you don’t, or I have something you need. The way so many of us take this on creates an immediate power imbalance in the relationship that can be hard to overcome. There are also the problems of talking more than listening, making blind assumptions about the other person’s needs, background and values and going into the situation assuming the only person that warrants any change is the one we’re talking to.

But none of these is the most potentially dangerous element of evangelism.

Sometimes our zeal for sharing something that’s important to us blinds us to the havoc we can be wreaking in the process. We’re so intent on the end result we seek – converting the person we’re talking with to Christ – that we’ll say or do a lot of things we shouldn’t to get what we desire. We become salespeople for Jesus rather than partners in a relationship or equals in a conversation. And any good salesperson can tell you that there are two key components to closing a sale.

First, you have to be able to identify the need you’re trying to address in your subject. If you can’t recognize and articulate back to them what they need, it’s more or less impossible to sell them anything.

Much of evangelism training focuses on this. We ask questions, dig into personal history, until we tap into that longing, that brokenness, that hurt that each of us has and would love to make go away.

That’s not the problem, usually. The issue arises in what we present as the solution to those deficits, ailments and vacancies. We’re taught that Jesus is the panacea, the one-time inoculation against all that is wrong in our lives. All we have to do is welcome him into our hearts and lives, and all will be better.

Except when it isn’t. Then, we’ve created a real problem, because the person we’ve evangelized still experiences hardship, doubt, struggle or lack, but we’ve told them that Jesus can fix everything. So where must the problem lie? The only option is themselves. They must have turned on God, rejected Christ, brought this on themselves. Time to double down, to try harder, maybe even be born again – again – to see if, this time, it sticks for good.

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But it never does. Life is beset with struggle, suffering, bumps and brokenness with or without the Christian faith. At its best, the faith is a discipline that helps us contend with such difficulties, relating to the very One who knew suffering so intimately, and yet still chose Love. Clearly, given the fates of Jesus and those early disciples who followed him, the call of Christ is not one of comfort, flawlessness or blissful elation every day of the year.

To sell it as such is false advertising.

What’s the alternative? Living as Christ-like life, as much as possible, reorienting ourselves over and over again toward the path of love, compassion, peace and reconciliation, regardless of the costs. Some will look on this as absurd, unnecessarily difficult, when the world tell us we should endeavor to surround ourselves with comforts and satisfactions that will make it all better. But this is as much of a false premise as the one sold by many Christian evangelists. Such indelible satisfaction simply doesn’t exist.

But there is something more attractive than the promise of satisfaction. We think that we want comfort but what we really long for is peace. Where does this peace come from? Consider Jesus’ own examples. He didn’t shirk from struggle, but rather found ways, through his faith, to make peace with his own journey. That is the point at which such lacks, deficits and struggles lose their power and potency. They don’t go away, but they cease to be come central to our lives, because they are placed in perspective when held up against a peace that surpasses human understanding.

This kind of peace is self-evident. It requires no sales pitch, no coercion. It stands as a beacon others tend to seek out. Let that be enough.


Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.He is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. Christian has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. Visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.


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About the Author

Christian Piatt

Christian PiattChristian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.He is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. Christian has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. Visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.View all posts by Christian Piatt →

  • Jonathan

    I empathize with this blog post and find it very honest and refreshing. I have a respected friend who wrote a similar blog entitled “Resisting Fatalism.”

  • http://twitter.com/superrustyfly superrustyfly

    I’m not sure we agree on every last ecclesial and theological detail, but you have nailed this perfectly. We need an evangelism that presents a gospel that can survive the toughest of moments.

    • Drew

      Agreed. I disagree with most of Piatt’s theology, but I think the essence of this post is spot-on.

    • SamHamilton

      I agree.

  • http://kathyon.blogspot.com/ Kathy

    Many are peddling a faux version of the gospel, apparently believing that the Jesus version is not powerful enough in itself, so those who are converted are converted to something other. We now have a sub-society of something-other converts. If we are living out the greatest commandment, people are drawn to what we have and can encounter the freedom that comes in Christ, not the frustration that they must not be doing it right.

    • Jonathan

      I like this comment, to me it is the essence of Spiritual Warfare (Standing in your identity.): “If we are living out the greatest commandment, people are drawn to
      what we have and can encounter the freedom that comes in Christ, not the
      frustration that they must not be doing it right.”

    • Frank

      I agree there are many faux gospels (prosperity, gay is not a sin, saved by works, etc…)

  • ragamuffin

    love the post. well written. but does ‘truth’ (a dangerous word i know) have a seat at the table with compassion, mercy, peace and reconciliation? jesus never seemed to lower that bar or use that bar to hit people over the head either. but still, as much as i relate to your words and agree, i wonder if we’re afraid to mention truth or prescribe something as true, solid, trustworthy in this jaded and relativistic culture we now find ourselves? Is Christ our King? Can He still command us if He so wished? Would we say yes? ‘I desire obedience not sacrifice.’ I’m just a struggling ragamuffin myself but I hold out hope that even someone like me can choose love out of my freedom. If Jesus be true, then that means I’ll need to let go of much of what I’ve relied on the get by in the past. He still brings about change in the heart, mind and eventually our will. He won’t do for us what we can do for ourselves. I’m just wondering is the whole ‘i’m broken’ truth can become an excuse for not choosing to love? to not respond to the grace God is already extending to me?

  • Frank

    The only danger of evangelism is not participating in it.

    • http://snommelp.tumblr.com/ Snommelp

      That is only one of many dangers. The worst danger is in presenting heresy as Christianity, and thereby (knowingly or otherwise) attempting to lead people away from Christ.

      • Frank

        Yes you are right. I assume when I speak of evangelism that the biblical gospel is shared not something made up.

        • Drew

          Frank,

          You miss the point. Of course there is no danger in perfect evangelism. However, that is Piatt’s point, that there are many ways to mess up evangelism.

          • Frank

            We can certainly mess up the message. We see that right here on this blog.

        • http://snommelp.tumblr.com/ Snommelp

          That can be a dangerous assumption, considering all of the various heresies that have risen and fallen through the years – and considering all of the false gospels that are preached to large crowds today.

          If the True, Biblical Gospel is shared, there can be no problem. It isn’t possible. But you don’t have to search for long in the history of the church to see people preaching a “gospel” that uses words from the Bible, but which is not Biblical.

    • Jonathan

      “It is probably better to call us “Soterians” rather than “Evangelicals.?

      Out of the word “euangelion” comes this word “evangel” or “evangelistic.” Evangel is short form in English for the Gospel itself. Evangelism is the act of spreading the Gospel, an evangelist is one who evangelizes. Being evangelistic is being passionate about the Gospel and wanting to tell other people. And then there is that word “evangelical.” Evangelical an adjective to describe a group of people who are Gospel centered, they have a Gospel culture they are very “evangelical.” They’re all about the Gospel, what a beautiful thing to be. If that is what you mean by Evangelical then sign me up. …

      But what’s interesting, and Scott McNight makes this point: That within many circles, that if you hung out with them, you might not discern that they are’nt Gospel centered in it’s fullness. They are preaching that Jesus died for your sins, and took the “wrath” of God… etc., but not the fullness of the Gospel. There is probably another word that would capture their culture better rather than saying it’s a Gospel culture, and the would be the Greek word “Soteria.” Soteria is the word for “salvation.” What McKnight suggests is that many Evangelical cultures, subcultures within the church, that is Gospel cultures, are actually more “salvation cultures.” They are about getting people to make a decision so that they are saved from their sin. So he would say, “It is probably better to call us “Soterians” rather than “Evangelicals.” Evangelical’s are full Gospel people.

      If we could rescue the word Evangelical, that is, about being Gospel focused, Infused with a passion for the full Gospel. Not just being a Soterian, who is about making “decisions” for Christ. We got to help people make “decisions” for Christ so they are “saved” from their sin. Making decisions (Soterian). Rather a Gospel culture is about making disciples. And saying, “How can we help you?” Not just find forgiveness for your sins, but live as a forgiven person who then offers forgiveness to others.

      • Frank

        Its both not either /or. Its both a decision that someone makes (we are to make sure they have the right information) and living in/with/through the Gospel.

        • Jonathan

          Yes, but experiential evidence/honest criticism would reveal that we are probably more soterian.
          —-
          At least that is my interpretation of the line in the above article: Sometimes our zeal for sharing something that’s important (soteria/salvation) to us blinds us to the havoc we can be wreaking in the process. We’re so intent on the end result ((decisions for Christ) we seek – converting the person we’re talking with to Christ – that we’ll say or
          do a lot of things we shouldn’t to get what we desire (decisions for Christ). We become salespeople (Soterians) for Jesus rather than partners in a relationship (evangelical/full gospel) or equals in a conversation (evangelical/full gospel).

          • Frank

            I agree but I think ultimately its important to remember that the Holy Spirit does all the work so its really not dependent on us at all other than to do it.

          • Jonathan

            Great I’m glad we agree on something. But, if the HS did ALL the work that would lower us to mere robots. Rather than the edifying position of Sons and or skilled Co laborers. Why not take the criticism and try and learn to become skilled and good at something.
            —–
            Follow me and I’ll TEACH you how to become fishers of men.

          • Frank

            I agree but ultimately we cannot take credit for or the blame for someones eternal life.

          • Jonathan

            Tony Compolo says something along the line that it isn’t enough to just be skilled at interpersonal communication skills, but we must also be skilled at listening to the Holy Spirit. That that will be the difference maker. Taking us from just being worldly counselors to being spirit lead healers.

          • Jonathan

            On your statement above though about taking credit or blame: What do you think about words like: it would be better for you to tie a millstone around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Or But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! Or not everyone should desire to be a teacher because they will be judged more harshly.
            —–
            Sounds to me that there will be some blame, maybe I’m wrong. I could also point out places where Paul takes credit of saving people. ie: Philemon.

          • Frank

            Yes if we cause someone to sin we are guilty. What does that have to do with evangelism unless we are teaching a false gospel? Once again I make the assumption when talking about evangelism that the true Gospel is being shared.

            Paul wasn’t taking the credit he was stating a fact that through his ministry he came to faith. Paul also says:

            Titus 3:5 (ESV)

            5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

          • Jonathan

            “Begotten” is a big word though.

          • Frank

            Paul seems to be using it as leverage not as credit taking.

          • Jonathan

            That’s what I was thinking. My thought was you could cause some to stumble and fall. And you could also help others to succeed. The Lord gets the Glory, but it’s also what you were created for.
            —-
            And when you do it well he is pleased. It’s a form of worship.

          • Frank

            I think we agree. My point si that God reveals Himself to people, we either participate or we don’t but I don’t think we can be blamed or take credit for someone choice to accept or reject God. All we can do is tell people and be light.

  • SamHamilton

    While there are definitely some nuggets of wisdom in Piatt’s blog post here, he does evangelism a disservice. Many great evangelists have gone out, directly preached the Word and people have been brought to Jesus because of them (see the Apostles). I’m sure other people have been turned off in the process too. What of it? Shake the dust off your feet… Or, consider that even though they’ve chosen to walk away, a seed has been planted that the Holy Spirit will use. Obviously, we’re not all called to be Jonathan Edwards or Billy Graham. At times we’re better off heeding Piatt’s advice and stick to being a beacon, but fear of being thought weird or causing people to reject you isn’t a reason to forgo talking about Jesus.

    I think the crux of Piatt’s distorted view of evangelism comes with his belief that “We’re taught that Jesus is the panacea, the one-time inoculation against all that is wrong in our lives. All we have to do is welcome him into our hearts and lives, and all will be better.”

    Are we really taught this? I’ve never been told Jesus will solve all my problems or that I’ll never face another trial in my life. One only has to spend two minutes with the New Testament to know that’s not true.

    But everyone does need Jesus. Not to solve their problems, but because He loves everyone. And we all need to be loved. “You are loved,” is a great evangelistic tool.

    …any good salesperson can tell you that there are two key components to closing a sale.

    Did I miss the second one?

    • Drew

      You’ve never heard of Joel Osteen? He has the biggest Church in the United States by promising that Jesus is our key to health and wealth on earth.

      • SamHamilton

        Yes, I’ve heard of him. I didn’t know Piatt was referring to prosperity gospel preachers when he wrote “we.” I assumed he was talking about evangelicals and mainstream Protestants. If this was mainly a criticism of the prosperity gospel than I’m in agreement with him.

  • Ryan

    I spent five weeks this summer going out on a college campus and essentially trying to convert people. We are called to evangelize, so I cannot dismiss the work I did. But I worry that when we focus on numbers, as I think I at least tended to do over the summer, we miss the point. 50 spiritual conversations, 10 “gospel sharings,” X “came to Christ.”

    I wonder if I’d been going about it just a little bit wrong. Leading by love, not words, is a lot harder.

    • Frank

      Love gives us the right words. We need to use words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.hogue Andy Hogue

    No, that’s not “enough” just to be an example of a changed life. Even Paul preached.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.hogue Andy Hogue

      Festus: “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane.”

      Paul: “I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

      King Agrippa: “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

      Paul: “Short time or long — I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

      (Acts 26:24-29)

      • http://www.facebook.com/andy.hogue Andy Hogue

        Wow. People are voting down Scripture itself. “Red Letter,” indeed.

        • http://snommelp.tumblr.com/ Snommelp

          Either they are voting down the Scripture, or are voting down your interpretation thereof. Consider all of the options before claiming that others are heretics.

  • Jordan

    Evangelism is a tricky thing. It is true that tactful and loving evangelism is ideal. And like with everything else, us sinful humans have messed up something that’s meant to be good. It shouldn’t be a sales pitch, but the article seems to suggest not doing anything at all, and rather trying to live like Jesus would. As you mention, the life of following Jesus is not easy. And I believe that includes the possible rejection / maybe turning people off that comes with stepping out in faith to preach the gospel.

    “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:18-20 (The Great Commission).

    I once listened to a Piper sermon where he talked about how the battle has been won… We are on the winning side, and we should be running around proclaiming that Love has won, and death has been defeated. Telling people to join in the celebration. If we are truly aware of this great victory, the natural response is to not only live in its light but to share it with others. In a loving, tactful manner. The first step is being in a worshipful relationship with Christ ourselves, and not only wanting to build numbers, like others have said. But how wonderful when others step into the light and start to live the abundant life that comes with the perspective that we are free!?

    I think you make good points, and we need to be careful, walking in the Spirit when evangelizing. Making it real, not sales-pitchy. Incorporating our evangelism with social justice and true care for the people we are reaching. But to live by example and nothing else… that’s not what it says in Matthew 28:18-20. He said GO, not live your life and HOPE that people ask you why you’re a freak of nature (in the best way). ;) If there’s anything Satan wants, it’s for us to believe that we’re “off the hook” because “evangelism is counter-productive”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DeepNarcosis William J. Green

    Anyone who thinks they can single-handedly lead another into a genuine conversion without their name already being indelibly inked in the Book of Life and without a strong move of the Holy Ghost “to give the increase” begs the question of his/her own authentic conversion. The pressure is OFF us and on the person to decide whether to make the leap of faith s/he either feels compelled to make by the Holy Ghost or not, from mortality to eternity as an adopted son or daughter of God.

    • Jonathan

      Priest/midwive/nurses aid to the doctor God/brother/equal/witness- It is a joy and honor to participate in the conversion/healing. And we are all called to do it at some level.
      —-
      In some people you may have a large role, and others a small.

  • Paul

    I wish I could just read a post without reading the fucking comments.

    • Frank

      You can but you obviously choose otherwise and then complain about it? Really?

    • Drew

      No one is making you read ‘em bro.

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