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Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about personal evangelism, the person-to-person variety that is usually conducted by rank-and-file laypeople in a church. Lately, Christian leaders have been pushing the flocks harder and harder to engage in evangelism. Unfortunately, nothing those leaders teach about it is really true — especially the stuff they teach about its actual nature. Today, let me show you the lies Christian leaders teach about the nature of evangelism — and why they need the flocks to see evangelism as supernatural and divine instead of completely natural.
Have you heard of the good news of MILLET SEED? (Samuel Jerónimo.) Hey, at least millet seed is real.(Note: Evangelism is, at heart, a sales process. Evangelists sell only one product, and it’s not belief in a magical invisible wizard in the sky. Evangelists seek to induce belief only so they can then sell their own group as the only valid way to meet the demands of that belief.)
Evangelism As a Supernatural Process.
Fundagelicals interested in evangelism have always seen this task as divine in nature, rather than natural and earthly. They insist that Jesus himself commands them to do it. Then, Jesus magically captures marks’ attention for the salespeople, and finally he ensures — via invisible strong-arming of his victims’ minds — that his followers’ efforts result in a finalized sale.
So in every way, evangelism becomes, for its fundagelical sales force, completely divine. Their actual involvement thusly shrinks away to circumstantial and coincidental at best.
When I was Christian, this is exactly what I believed about evangelism. My leaders taught that Jesus could and would use literally anybody to make sales.
All his pet humans had to do was open their mouths — just like in Jeremiah 1:9, Exodus 4: 15, and Isaiah 6:7.
If we did that, then Jesus would magically provide us with the best words to say in that situation.
The Belief, Illustrated.
We thought that this false belief operated just like that old Rose is Rose comic strip where Pasquale frets about ordering his own food in a restaurant. He wants a hot fudge sundae, but he’s nervous about talking to the waitress, who is a stranger to him.
Luckily, he has a guardian angel with a very hands-on attitude!
In this 1998 Rose is Rose strip, a guardian angel promises to help a nervous child. (Click to embiggen.)In the strip, the angel has told Pasquale that whenever he’s scared to speak, he only needs to open his mouth and the angel will take over. So Pasquale does exactly as he’s told. He opens his mouth — and OMG, yes indeed, his angel speaks through him!
(Unfortunately, the angel orders a steamed-vegetable platter instead of a sundae — because that was a better choice nutritionally. To heck with what the child wanted! HAW HAW!)
I bet every single fundagelical or ex-fundagelical reading that strip recognizes the teachings lurking behind this strip’s little story. We all lived this same reality — especially regarding evangelism.
As you’ll see shortly, we had very important reasons for believing that personal evangelism was divine in nature. Those reasons had nothing whatsoever to do with making sales. In fact, it’s a completely counterproductive belief in every single way.
But it’s so important to fundagelical culture that its leaders will never, ever change it.
Evangelism: Teachings In the Wild.
I’m not exaggerating when I talk about this teaching. Here’s some quotes from the wild that emphasize the supposedly-divine nature of evangelism:
From a Cru evangelist: “I stood trembling behind my closed door and prayed, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to do this. If you really want me to introduce these ladies to Jesus today, please make it supernaturally natural.'”
From Ministry Magazine: “A healthy biblical theology will guide the pastor/evangelist to a complete dependence on God for the mysterious work of conversion that He alone can accomplish. [. . .] Because evangelism is God-ordained and God-inspired, it must be understood as a successful enterprise in and of itself. God has not left evangelism to chance.”
From Pastor Mentor: “Your church can be used by God to lead people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. [. . .] If you believe Jesus, prayer is the first and most important piece in your evangelism system, because it is the Lord who calls people to himself.”
From Tim Challies’ blog: “The one who plants and the one who waters are together nothing. It is God who gives the increase. It is God who determines who will respond to the message and who will not.”
On and on it goes.
In a very real sense, in this bizarro world Jesus always does the real work. His salespeople only function as his temporarily-chosen vessels.
Sure, anybody could fulfill that function.
But Jesus wants them to do it this time.
Comforting Failed Salespeople.
There’s a method to these leaders’ dishonesty about evangelism. There’s a reason why they teach this false idea about the nature of evangelism. In fact, there are two reasons.
First and foremost, when something’s supernatural, there’s not actually any way to teach successful processes for it — or even evaluate current processes.
Nobody has to learn how to make sales, if it’s all just Jesus Power anyway. If the results are totally out of their hands, then literally nothing they can learn or say or do impacts those results. So why bother learning sales techniques that work? Why bother evaluating and comparing different processes, if it all comes down to divine whims anyway?
It’s not only pointless to learn valid sales techniques, but such progress detracts from the ZOMG MEERKUL of a finalized sale. Sales mean more if the salespeople have no idea what they’re doing, and if sales happen despite their behavior.
Of course, as I’ve said, sales have never really happened to any great degree with person-to-person evangelism. But fundagelicals’ folklore is filled with stories along exactly these lines. I myself heard them constantly, since many Christians’ testimonies back then involved inept salespeople. They still do.
Such stories are meant to thrill and amuse listeners, and also to remind them of what a wonder-working god they worship. He can score sales from any approach! Whoa dude!
But these stories are also meant to embolden listeners to go and do likewise.
Thus, a more timid fundagelical who really doesn’t do well in a confrontational sales model can feel emboldened to try to make sales anyway. Their god might just decide speak through them and score a sale despite their lack of confidence and their inadequate training.
Rationalizing Evangelism Failure.
The other reason’s really skeevy.
Just as evangelists have nothing to do with their success, you see, they also have nothing to do with their own failures.
In fundagelicalism, a failed sales pitch simply means that Jesus just didn’t want that person to repent and get saved right then. (Aww, what a loving godling, y’all! /s) His salespeople can be utter asshats who completely offend their marks, but if Jesus really wants someone to buy their product, a purchase will happen regardless.
So nothing that comes of a sales pitch is ever the salespeople’s fault. It literally doesn’t matter what they do, so they might as well act the way they want.
And the behavior that pleases them just happens to refute all of their claims.
Neil Carter wrote a while ago about a fundagelical who took this attitude to its utter limit:
I found every single one of [Sye Ten Bruggencate’s] interchanges with [the debate organizer] tasteless and immature, like a petulant toddler correcting his mother for perceived injustices when in fact it is the child who is out of line. His treatment of her was simply deplorable and speaks volumes about his personal character [. . .]
At one point between recordings I asked him if anyone ever “gets saved” through his apologetic method. He quickly dismissed the question and assured me that wasn’t his problem. “It’s not my job to persuade,” he asserted. “That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, I believe him that he does not take any personal responsibility for the ineffectiveness of his methods.
I believe him as well. I’ve run into countless fundagelicals saying exactly the same thing when confronted with their sheer nastiness and hypocrisy.
Fundagelicals are, after all, the ultimate listen to what I SAY, not what I DO crowd. Even Ed Stetzer noticed that reality back in January. Fundagelical leaders have never been able to change that attitude in their flocks.
Supernatural = Imaginary.
Ultimately, nothing speaks to the purely human nature of Christianity quite like the realities of personal evangelism. Fundagelical leaders teach that it’s totally divine from start to finish. But it’s not divine at all. It’s just a natural sales process.
And that’s a problem — for them!
For a long time, fundagelicals didn’t need to worry about learning valid sales techniques. They simply held so much cultural power (and often legal power in their areas) that they could sign people up through sheer bluster and intimidation. It was a more authoritarian time, back then. Personal evangelism didn’t work very well even then, so most of those sales came of massive outreach efforts — like Billy Graham’s famous crusades. But fundagelicals saw growth at least, consistent growth year by year.
Things look very different now. Now, sales techniques matter. Now, fundagelicals live in an environment where almost everyone they encounter can freely accept or reject their sales pitches.
And all they’ve got are these musty old teachings that didn’t really even work back when they held cultural dominance. We’re seeing the results in living color: a religion in free-fall decline, with literally nobody reputable giving its adherents a single chance of regaining their former power.
No gods seem even remotely interested in helping them recover that power, either.
Sidebar: “The Gospel Doesn’t Need Trickery.”
There’s another aspect to the dishonest, inaccurate teachings fundagelical leaders like to push about personal evangelism.
I don’t think Christian leaders ever want their flocks to realize just how much emotional manipulation goes into evangelism attempts — or for that matter, into everything else in their religion. These leaders beat their chests and bellow unceasingly that “the Gospel doesn’t NEED trickery.” I guess they think this lie will become magically true if they just keep repeating it often enough!
In reality, evangelism success depends completely upon the salesperson’s command of emotional manipulation — along with, of course, picking the right mark to manipulate.
I began noticing that truth fairly early on in my time as a fundagelical. And yeah, it bothered me a lot.
People who succumbed to soulwinning attempts tended to be those occupying the very margins of society. We rarely bagged converts who actually had their lives together, enjoyed decently-good socialization and interpersonal skills, and weren’t stressed about money, relationships, or health. It bothered me even more to notice that our evangelists tended to intentionally and specifically target marginalized people in such desperate situations. For a purely miraculous process, much about it looked perfectly earthly.
By insisting that evangelism is completely supernatural in nature, fundagelical leaders can mask the manipulation that goes into the process. It’s not just human beings manipulating the tar out of other human beings. Nope nope! It’s JESUS doing JESUS POWER things the way he likes best!
Beliefs Matter More Than Evangelism Success.
Very few fundagelicals actually bag any sales at all. It’s been that way since I was one of them, and it’s gotten way worse since then.
(Sound off in comments, ex-Christians: How many sales did you make through personal evangelism? Bet we’ll barely cobble together half-a-dozen total between all of us. I’ll start with a big whoppin’ ZERO sales.)
Successful personal-evangelists in the tribe nowadays simply do better with salesmanship, that’s all. Maybe they actually know how to sell in the real world. Or maybe they’ve got so much natural personal charisma that they can overcome their tribe’s inaccurate teachings concerning evangelism.
Unfortunately, these few successful salespeople can’t bottle their wisdom to sell to the tribe. The tribe doesn’t want to learn valid sales techniques any more than they want to master better interpersonal behaviors.
Doing that would involve developing dangerous levels of empathy, compassion, and socialization — and would obviously refute their claims of evangelism being supernatural in nature from start to finish.
It is far more important to fundagelical leaders that the flocks maintain the correct beliefs than that they start achieving real success in personal evangelism. Sure, they want sales — who wouldn’t, in their position? If one of their flock members ever manages to score a sale, they won’t refuse it!
But they don’t want sales enough to change their teachings about evangelism — even to reflect the honest truth about how it operates.
NEXT UP: The salespeople who deliberately and intentionally sell their product as fire insurance. See you tomorrow!