The Evangelism Question

Posted: February 22, 2005 in Everything

Evangelism has become a dirty word. It’s the spiritual equivalent to a four-letter word. Christians–by and large–don’t like to do evangelism, and non-Christians don’t like evangelism done to them.

I guess that’s the problem. Evangelism often feels like some kind of medieval torture that hurts and distorts both participants. I suppose the main reason for this is the church’s historic approach to evangelism; door-knocking, street preaching–which is more like street shouting, hellfire and brimstone. The Spanish Conquistadors came to the New Land, marched natives to the river at gun point and gave them a great option: Be baptized into Jesus, or be drowned. Either way, you were going under the water.

I’ve often wondered, “If the good news is good, why does it so often come in bad presentations?”

I remember being in elementary school in Mississippi and having Jehovah’s Witnesses ring our doorbell early on Saturday mornings. I didn’t care what they had witnessed; I just wanted to sleep! Sure enough, my dad would invite them in, begin a discussion about Biblical interpretation, get angered, and eventually kick them out. In that case, I don’t think evangelism was spiritually beneficial for my dad or the door-knockers.

I always figured the “Witnesses” weren’t very good at evangelism, because they would be back in the same neighborhood the next week, knocking on the same doors and getting the same results.

The issue–at least from my vantage point–is that evangelizers (if that is a word), are so determined to see results that we often jump toward the fastest, easiest, most convenient way to teach people what we believe rather than enter into long-term spiritual conversations in which we embody the nature and spirit of God–at least to the best of our human capability. We are often so eager to share faith that we forget about the experience of faith–both for ourselves and for others.

Brian McLaren puts it this way in his book, More Ready Than You Realize. “I suppose we faith-sharers need faith–faith that God is working in the the person’s life from many different directions; faith that it is not all up to me and that it does not all depend on this one friendship; faith that God will not give up on the person: faith that God’s Spirit is so pervasive that even after desire recedes, it will resurge again.”

  1. R Debenport says:

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. McLaren has a lot of good things to say about sharing our faith in a real way. A small part of the “evangelism problem” is that we’re more interested in making converts, than disciples. Discipling takes time, attention, honesty, love, truth, consistency, modeling behavior.

    One more thought… the missionaries over here call it “net fishing”. We develop disciples as a community working together. Not a solo evangelist.


  2. Brendo says:


    A breath of fresh air, this post. Coming from a non-religious perspective, evangelism typically presents me with a problem. I find it’s seldom done in a way that allows me to feel comfortable. The manipulations usually employed take advantage of common fears and uncertainties (as you said, the quick and easy targets). There’s a world of doubt available to us, but those aren’t honest grounds on which evangelists should be planting faith.

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