Evangelism Won’t Cure It

It’s a rant. Adjust your volume and thinking accordingly.

My denomination is about to have a ten year emphasis on evangelism.

I’ve been a Southern Baptist since birth. As far as I know, my denomination has never had any other emphasis than evangelism.

My denomination is more interested in evangelism than any other denomination in existence or Christian history. Its entire apparatus of denominational machinery is devoted to the promotion of evangelism. Its denominational publications and web sites are basically all evangelism, all the time.

Oh there’s the occasional break for the culture war and to promote the new Kirk Cameron movie, but no one is missing the SBC’s concern with evangelism.

I’ve lived through more evangelism training programs than I can name.

I’ve been part of more evangelism emphases than I can list.

I’ve seen every kind of evangelism gimmick that the mind can conceive of brought out with a straight face.

I’ve seen the ethics and manners of normal human interaction go out the window in favor of confrontational tactics on beaches, on sidewalks and in public.

I grew up believing the entire Christian life was about soul winning and that if you couldn’t turn any conversation into an evangelistic conversation with closure, then you were a backslider.

I’ve been through evangelistic invitations at church, at youth group, at revivals, at youth revivals, at stadium events, at concerts, at ball games, at Bible studies, at Vacation Bible school, at movies, at meals and everywhere else.

My denomination is always starting a prayer emphasis in the cause of evangelism. We actually have an office of spiritual awakening, if you can believe it. I’m sure there’s a five year plan to move the hand of God somewhere.

I’ve heard thousands and thousands of evangelistic sermons. I’ve heard invitations that made me want to dig a tunnel to China.

I’m been exposed to guilt, manipulation, entertainment, scare tactics, lies, exaggeration, bribery and threats in the name of evangelism.

I’m part of a denomination that regularly baptizes five, six and seven year olds, then has the nerve to point at infant baptizing Christians and criticize them.

I’m part of a denomination that has rebaptized and rebaptized and rebaptized, again and again. And counted each one somewhere.

A few years ago, the baptism numbers started dropping for Southern Baptists. This year was the lowest in recent history.

The problem we’re told, of course, is that we’re not evangelistic enough.

I want to put forward another theory. Just call it a hunch.

I think our baptism numbers are dropping because ALL WE ARE IS EVANGELISTIC.

We don’t want to talk about anything else because if we do, we’re going have to admit we’re in very, very bad shape.

We need to have healthy churches. (With all 9 Marks.)

We need to have a clear Gospel message. (What’s being preached in SBC pulpits in many places can hardly be categorized using normal English.)

We need meaningful church membership.

We need pastors who can grow disciples.

We need Christians on mission in the world where God’s placed them.

We need to love people.

We need to live authentically human lives.

We need a missional mindset for going into the world.

We need to see our prevailing sins, like materialism, classism, racism and involvement in the prosperity Gospel.

We need to repent of our pragmatism, because it’s not true that if just one walks forward, everything we did was right.

We’re proud and sometimes we’re almost unteachable.

When a younger leader does something right in our denomination, chances are he’s in trouble.

Thousands of our churches are two generations from closing the doors.

Thousands of our churches need to either stop abusing pastors and their families or shut the doors.

We need to realize God isn’t adding many to us because we’ve got problems.

Every time Southern Baptists see some evidence that the ship is lurching, they go and attempt to get more people to join the cruise.

We’re like a hospital with real problems. Doctor problems. Staff problems. Quality problems. Effectiveness problems. People aren’t getting well. Some are getting a lot worse. Some aren’t making it. And we are concerned……about getting more patients.

Millions of Southern Baptists apparently don’t even exist.

Millions of other Southern Baptists would leave their churches for $5 and couldn’t write a three sentence paragraph on why anyone should join their church.

I love what the SBC does right. I really do. My denomination can be awesome at some things, especially in the area of cooperative missions.

I’m not dogging evangelists. I spend a significant amount of my time in evangelistic ministry. It’s one reason I will remain an evangelical.

Our denomination has some wonderful churches and some great people.

But let’s just say it: We’re Johnny One Notes on evangelism because we don’t want to admit how flawed, hurting, confused and increasingly dysfunctional we are.

We need evangelism in its place, and that won’t happen till we stop and look at the whole, not just the parts we want to blame.

And 100,000 more baptisms won’t solve those problems.

57 thoughts on “Evangelism Won’t Cure It

  1. My dear departed husband was SBC and I tried going to church with him. It was sad that I could take only so many sermons (maybe 200 over the years) about coming to Jesus and becoming SBC without any sermons on how to live the Christian life. The Baptist preaching bored me to writing grocery lists inside the hymnbook, which distressed my honey something awful. So I stayed home while he went to church. Now I’m on my own, I’ve reverted to my childhood home, the Episcopal Church. There, I get a weekly message on how to be a good Christian/human being. My mind is showered with thoughts, ideas, & insights, instead of rants about being saved, and no one tells me I’ll go to Hell if I don’t quit drinking, while the SBC smokers gather outside the front door sharing their smoke with all the congregation….

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  2. I know I’m way behind, posting on this. But I’ve gotta ask, did you come visit our church just before you wrote this? We’ve got issues and what did we do? We started another evangelism program and gave it an olympic theme (Go for the Gold!). If you want a gold star by your name, just invite someone to our church. It’s sad.

    I too have to say that I love the SBC’s cooperative program and I love the IMB’s flexability. I have many friends overseas and they have the freedom to discard the 1950’s approach to reaching and teaching people in whatever culture they are in. Maybe the IMB should send missionaries to us, they might teach us a thing or two.

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  3. Michael,

    It’s not just the SBC. All the guilt tripping and manipulation that goes on with the command to evangelize. I realized several years ago that I just simply wasn’t an evangelist. Simply living my life is a far better witness than trying to turn every conversaion “toward spiritual things.” Unbelievers sense our lack of genuineness when we try to steer conversations. They realize we really don’t care about them; we care about our own religious activity. One church I attended had regular prayer for the lost in prayer meetings. It was simply a recount of every conversation being steered toward spiritual things, and when the unbeliever turned the converstaion back to the topic, it was seen as Satan snatching up the seed that fell by the wayside.

    This is exactly how I feel. You could be reading my mail. I cannot effectively establish real, genuine relationships with people when I’m constantly feeling pressure to look for any opening to insert spiritual nuggets into the conversation or steer it toward some evangelism question like “What does it mean to be saved?” or “If you died today, do you know if you’d go to Heaven?” My parents are neck deep in this sort of programmed evangelism talk and it drives me crazy. How they think it comes off to the average nonbeliever and how it actually seems to them are totally different things, but they don’t get it.

    I just try to be normal. I try to live my life in a way that people can see a difference in how I conduct myself, how I treat people and so on. And when subjects come up that naturally lend themselves toward touching on spiritual matters or a Christian outlook on the subject, I don’t shy away from it. But there’s a fine line between not shying away and forcibly shoehorning a bunch of God Talk into any crevice you think you see.

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  4. Man, Michael . . . you know how to rant . . . and you rant the truth!! Church health (or lack thereof) is the real issue, not a lack of emphasis on Evangelism. Of course with SBCs (and you know I am one) it is not enough to just “do” evangelism, it has to be done in the right formula — the way the “real” evangelists do it. Fear, guilt, manipulation, etc.

    I’ve been reading iMonk for a long time . . . never have you posted a more insightful article, at least IMHO.

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  5. Michael,

    I think I know what you mean. As I wrote above, I do believe in contextualization when presenting the Gospel to different people, cultural groups, etc. I *don’t* believe in just continually hitting someone with the Law, if it is clear that that person and I are speaking different philosophical/cultural languages (starting from different presuppositions).

    In the end though, I may be more of a Van Tillian presuppositionalist than you are, when it comes to evangelism and apologetics. I do believe that posing thoughtful questions to non-Christians is important (as a part of pre-evangelism). I don’t think, though, that we can’t use propositional truth statements with postmoderns, simply because they believe (in the darkness of their unredeemed understanding) that language is just a game or a series of “power plays.” The fact that they *use* language itself to make such absolute-sounding statements is very problematic for their position! Exploring these inconsistencies can be helpful in evangelism (and/or pre-evangelism). To give up absolute truth statements with postmoderns, or other people, and say that we can *only* focus on community, existential meaning, beauty, etc. in evangelism is to concede too much.

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  6. How come I (taken for awhile in a Southern Baptist church) NEVER had 1 Southern Baptist person witness to me in college in 4 years?

    How come I’ve only ran into 1 person witnessing to students at public universities in 13 years? (And he was a retired engineer showing students a DVD on evolution vs. Creationism)

    How much evangelism SHOULD be on Sunday morning? How much evangelism should be in the highways and byways throughout the week?

    How did Jesus do it?

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  7. …part that was a little bothersome to me was when they said the reason that we are Christians is to bring others to Christ. — Mike

    This is what IMonk talked about with “Wretched Urgency”. Never mind that it’s basically an MLM pyramid scheme — “Amway without the soap”; “Sheep Saving More Sheep so that they can Save More Sheep.” Never mind that the Christian afterlife was originally Resurrection of the Body, not “souls” adrift in a Fluffy Cloud Heaven.

    Otherwise, you can tunnel-vision into “Wretched Urgency” mode to the point you can’t see the collateral damage. Or even drift unknowingly into the part of the Inquisitor in Mark Twain’s Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, where “If I rack him ’til he die, I shall have Saved his Soul.”

    I am NOT “a soul” for the “saving”. I am NOT a potential notch on your Bible for brownie points at the Bema. I am not a red shirt in your Wretched Urgency spiritual psychodrama. I am ME, both “body” and “soul”, intertwined so tightly that only Death can split them into two incomplete parts. (Why is Death considered “The Last Enemy”, instead of the welcome discarder of the body encumbering the Soul? Could the Soul be INCOMPLETE without the body? Without something physical to interface with a physical Cosmos?)

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  8. Christopher,

    As I said, I believe the law is a necessary component of evangelism and the Gospel. It’s the reformation paradigm of how we talk about it, where people hear it, how we communicate it that I question. Lost people aren’t setting in church listening to my ideas and thinking in my categories.

    And while I deeply believe the Romans 1 description of depravity, that doesn’t mean a Buddhist student can conceptualize the person of the Biblical God instantly. Pre evangelism. Francis Schaefer. All that.

    Atheists, etc may have a “deep” level knowledge of God, etc, but that’s under the effects of the fall. I talk with atheists every day and they explicitly deny all my premises, even though they understand them. Yes, the HS can change them instantly, but I can’t operate on the assumption that I should procede with a paradigm Luther used in discussions with Catholics 500 years ago.

    And postmoderns simply question the purpose and use of all language. That’s another topic. Christians- esp reformed types- seem to think that everyone thinks and conceptualizes the way they do. Not the case.

    peace

    MS

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  9. Michael,

    Also, in the second part of my last comment, I should have included atheists and postmoderns, along with Buddhists and Hindus, as people who don’t believe in a personal God– while Paul, in the verses I mentioned, seems to say that these people, and everyone else, do have some knowledge of the true God.

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  10. Michael,

    Can’t the Law still speak to someone’s conscience and convict that person of sin, in spite of that person’s presuppositions and/or cultural paradigms? Don’t get me wrong– I *do* believe in careful contextualization when presenting the Gospel to different audiences in different places, situations, etc. However, are peoples’ presuppositions and cultural paradigms so powerful that they nullify the power of the Law to convict people of sin against a personal God?

    About Buddhists and Hindus not believing in a personal God, what is your understanding of Romans 1:18-21, which seems to state, by strong implication, that all people do know of the true God’s existence from the evidence of nature and because God has made His existence “plain to them”? To be sure, people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” bot don’t verses 18-21 make a strong case that all people do have *some* awareness and knowledge of the true God– not enough to save them, but enough for them to be held accountable for this knowledge and for their disobedience to it?

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  11. Christopher:

    1) Because Buddhists and many Asians don’t have a concept of a personal God. I’ll spend a whole year dealing with that issue sometimes.

    2) Because Atheists reject the entire theistic paradigm.

    3) Because postmoderns don’t accept my statements about God as having any meaning for them other than an attempt to impose my culture on theirs.

    4) Because students from a Muslim culture believe my entire presentation on God is blasphemy and simply Western crusader rhetoric.

    5) Everyone isn’t an easy target for what Christians accept as effective apologetics. For many of the young people I deal with, religion is a concept that has no meaning to them at all. They are not asking religious questions, and are miles from any concept of Christian morality or guilt. In fact, the idea that God has moral standards identical to a man standing in a pulpit with a book is nonsensical to many students.

    I can talk about Christianity all day, but people who don’t buy the paradigm or the presuppositions aren’t going to be duped into saying they need a savior. “Salvation” is a meaningless concept to most of the students I teach.

    On the LAW: Of course Paul talked about the law in dealing with questions of Judaism and the extent of the Gospel. And Luther etc talked about the Law in the reformation debates. But the idea that non-Christians ought to be preached to with the law paradigm assumes they have bought into those discussions or give some authority to the New Testament. They don’t. Today’s post-moderns aren’t really interested in reformation debates or Paul’s arguments in Galatians or Romans.

    Evangelism has to use these concepts, but they will be in the context of areas postmoderns do understand: relationships, community, significance, beauty, existential meaning, wholeness, etc.

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  12. Michael,

    One other question. You write that “Law preaching is a Reformation paradigm.” Didn’t Jesus and Paul both use the Law, and not always with people who were strictly within the Jewish culture and mindset?

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  13. Michael,

    In this comment, I’m asking a couple of honest questions– please know that I’m not trying to be difficult. How would a non-Christian from another culture not understand that the God whom we worship has given us Ten Commandments that are a sort of “measuring stick” for moral behavior? How would non-Christians from other countries have difficulty understanding that our God condemns murder, for example, in the Ten Commandments, and that according to our God, unjust anger is also “murdering” a person in one’s heart (although I can see how the “in one’s heart” concept would warrant some careful explaining)?

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  14. The law is an understood component of what it means to be made in the image of God, and it is a necessary component of understanding aspects of the Gospel.

    I preach to hundreds of lost people every year, almost all of them from other religions and cultures. Doing a “Ten Commandments” survey doesn’t begin to make sense to these people. They aren’t in the Judeo-Christian worldview.

    “Law preaching” is a reformation paradigm. I understand it, but vast numbers of people don’t at all. They question the very epistemological premises of the commandments.

    I can agree with the importance of exposing our moral nature and God’s requirement of righteousness, but I believe there are other ways “into” a pre-evangelistic conversation.

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  15. I was just in our churches membership class this weekend going over the beliefs of the church. When we got to evangelism I remembered this blog. We actually were told how to give the message of salvation using the fingers on our hand, it was weird. That was just interesting, the part that was a little bothersome to me was when they said the reason that we are Christians is to bring others to Christ. I was thinking to myself “That’s not why i’m a Christian” I am a Christian because it is the only option I find acceptable, it’s that or Hell. I will tell other people about what I have found but I don’t think that is the reason to be a christian. Am I mistaken?

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  16. Isn’t the preaching of the Law what show us that we need Grace. Without hearing the Law how do we know that we are not capable of fulfulling it?

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  17. I-monk, just a thought – do you think the direct cause of all this narcissistic focus on “evangelism” is Dispensationlism? — Rasselas

    Sounds like it might be worth researching. Whatever the reason, Darbyite Dispensationalism has become THE default among Evangelicals; this is especially blatant in eschatology, i.e. “PMDs = Protestants of Mass Destruction”.

    And if the World is Going to End Tomorrow At The Latest, all you can do is try to get as many as possible into the Rapture Lifeboat, no matter what the collateral damage — “This world is NOT my home; I’m just passin’ thru…” (What ever happened to Tikkun Olam?) As somebody on Christian radio said long ago, “If you can’t love them into the Kingdom, Scare Them Into The Kingdom”; I’ve always had problems with that approach, and we’re nearing the time of year where the Hell Houses and Tribulation Trails will be out in force, Saving More Souls (TM) at all the Not-Halloween Christian Harvest Festivals (TM).

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  18. Working/conversing with the public at nearly every one of my jobs, there was always that sense that I didn’t do the right thing to turn the conversation, or I wasted their time and mine because I didn’t lead them down the Roman Road. Conversations lost their luster, and prevented me from truly listening to people. — Korey

    Works both ways, Korey. If your customers have any advance warning, they’re gonna be too apprehensive that you’ll pull out your Bible and start with the high-pressure “HaveYouAcceptedJesusChristAsYourPersonalLORDandSavior?!?!?!?” to truly listen to YOU. I’ve been on both ends of Wretched Urgency, and it makes you VERY gun-shy. (I have one co-worker I don’t dare talk to because of that.)

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  19. A friend just sent me the link to you site. Interestingly, our church is in an “evangelism revival” rioght now. I am not attending these services…not becaus I am apathetic or because I dont love Jesus or people..but because I believe it will be the “same old, same old” just packaged differently.
    Over the past year, I have been able to share the love of Jesus with a dear friend that I work with who now has trusted Jesus. How did I do it? I didnt. The Spirit did HIs work in her heart. I just prayed for her, loved her, enjoyed her. This was in direct contrast to what I have always been taught about evangelism. But this was what God did. Who can argue with that!
    I am praying for our churches (SBC or others) to stop putting our confidence in our programs, personnel, etc. and instead pray more, judge less, and love more.

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  20. urban otter, you preach the law to the unsaved to make them aware of their need for the Savior.

    You preach the law to your congregation (as needed) to make them appreciate what God has done for them.

    Much of the problems people are describing here (bickering, infighting, disinterest, selfishness, etc.) are due to either false Christians or immature Christians in the church.

    Consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-11a:
    “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. _And such were some of you_”

    Later (ch 13) Paul gives the great poem on Godly love. It is our understanding of our own sinfulness; and God’s great love for us that He would pay the price for us, in Jesus, that makes us love each other – putting others before ourselves sacrificially. (See also Luke 7:41-43)

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  21. Urban Otter,

    “If the entire point of grace is that your salvation is secure in spite of your sin, there seems no reason to waste a lot of time trying to stop sinning.”

    Well, as born sinners with a inherent (and wicked) bent in that direction, we will not, in this life “stop sinning” in literally every area of our lives. However, we are still to hate our sin and resist it, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Paul makes it clear that grace is *not* a reason to take sin lightly or to stop fighting one’s sin.

    Nedbrek is making a very simple point about using the Law in evangelism to show unbelievers the reality of their sin, so that they will repent and seek refuge in Christ. Done carefully, with love and respect, this is a very Christ-like form of evangelism.

    I believe that the Law should be used in sermons mainly in applications to *non-Christians* who may be present in a church service, again, to show them the reality of their sin. The Law can sometimes be helpful for Christians in reminding them of the seriousness of sin (it has been at times for me), if they have come to take their sin lightly, but grace should definitely be the main emphasis in sermons, as related to Christians.

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  22. John Rothra

    May I add a fourth point to your list;

    4) The division and gulf between the clergy and laity which exists in most Baptist churches. That, in my opinion, is a major reason for the lack of discipleship, as well as the “entertain and be entertained” mentality that exists in Baptist, including most evangelical churches. After all, every pastor wants an audience, and every attendee wants to be entertained. If we saw the church as portrayed in the New Testament, as a true brotherhood/sisterhood instead, everyone would be mentored to maturity, to fill the roles delegated by the Holy Spirit according to the Spiritual gifts, rather than by and according to clerical authority and popular demand.

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  23. “About Nedbrek’s comments: I sympathize to some extent, but why should we be preaching Law, when Grace has transcended the law?”

    That was always my question, too. Why preach the Law if you’re incapable of pleasing God because the Law is impossible? If the entire point of grace is that your salvation is secure in spite of your sin, there seems no reason to waste a lot of time trying to stop sinning.

    I just figured that the reason my Southern Baptist church emphasized evangelizing others was because there really isn’t much you could do about yourself. You can’t please God and you can’t cease to sin. Other than church attendance and Bible study, the only other avenue for publicly expressing your faith and showing dedication is to evangelize.

    I burnt out early because I’m an introvert. I never knew what to say. I felt horrible that people were going to go to hell because I was socially inept. I hoped that God would save me because I had accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and savior. But if Christianity resembled the multi-level marketing scheme it appeared to, and I was an Epic Fail as a salesmen, then my Christianity was reduced to a “get out of hell free” card. Not that getting out of hell free is something to scoff at, it’s just that it didn’t bring me or anybody else any sort of peace and comfort, let alone the type that passeth understanding.

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  24. The Lutheran view of Law/Gospel is interesting, but let’s not revisit that debate. I’ve never seen those percentages in scripture. We can all agree that the Gospel is heard against the background of the law, and we can commend our Lutheran friends for reminding us of that.

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  25. Hmm, let me clarify… The topic is Evangelism, which must use the Law rightly (to bring about the knowledge of sin). That’s the 90/10.

    Sermons are for the benefit of believers, it should be instruction from God’s Word; helping us to conform our thinking to God’s way. That’s how we become disciples.

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  26. Michael,

    It’s not just the SBC. All the guilt tripping and manipulation that goes on with the command to evangelize. I realized several years ago that I just simply wasn’t an evangelist. Simply living my life is a far better witness than trying to turn every conversaion “toward spiritual things.” Unbelievers sense our lack of genuineness when we try to steer conversations. They realize we really don’t care about them; we care about our own religious activity. One church I attended had regular prayer for the lost in prayer meetings. It was simply a recount of every conversation being steered toward spiritual things, and when the unbeliever turned the converstaion back to the topic, it was seen as Satan snatching up the seed that fell by the wayside.

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  27. As I peruse the comments, amidst the praises I find some interesting with people trying to determine if a particular theological doctrine is to blame, considerations for leaving/avoiding the SBC, and questions regarding the validity of the denomination. This greatly concerns me in that it seems some people may be overlooking the point Mike is making. I’ll individually address the three areas mentioned.

    1. Theological Blame Game
    Many are quick to blame a theological perspective or denominational creed for a problem. The phrase goes something like this, “the problem we have is because of _________!” The blank is filled with various things, depending on the theology of the claimant. Everything from Calvinism, Arminianism, Catholicism, Reformation theology, Lutheranism, Dispensationalism, non-Dispensationalism and other are inserted ad infinitum and ad nauseaum.

    This is just another version of the blame game where one person wants to blame another for the problem. Mike does just the opposite: he points to his own denomination for his own denomination’s problems. He encourages us to look at ourselves, not point fingers.

    2. I’m not hanging out with hypocrites!
    The second problem is considering leaving or avoiding the SBC. Nowhere in the article can this be even implied! I challenge anyone to find a 100% perfect denomination in which 100% of the associated churches and 100% of the individuals are 100% perfect. It does not exist and the SBC is one of the total that has its flaws.

    The call is not to leave or avoid the SBC, but to resolve the problems; solutions are called for, not jumping ship. To call for avoiding it implies that there is a denomination out there that is always getting it right.

    3. Sinners! That’s all you are!
    The final error is to say or imply that the SBC is simply invalid in what it does. This is similar to the second problem above and often leads to it, but it is distinct. Here, the complainant decries the organization as being a problem in and of itself. Yes, the SBC has its failures and weaknesses; yes, the SBC make mistakes. No, the SBC is not invalid or incorrect by nature. The SBC as a convention, like every denomination, is a reflection of its membership: sinful, flawed humans who make mistakes and struggle with the temptation of sin.

    All that said, here’s the point of Mike’s rant: There is a lack of personal discipleship in the SBC! We get the dunked and leave them on their own. Just like a parent can’t give birth to the child then leave it to its own devices, a church cannot leave a newborn Christian to their own devices; in both cases, the child will suffer and the ‘parent’ is guilty of negligence and possible abuse!

    The lack of discipleship has led to theologically and spiritually weak Christians and churches. It has resulted in misplaced priorities and incorrect emphases. We need to train our people in evangelism, but more importantly, we need to train them to grow up spiritually. As they mature spiritually, evangelism is a natural by-product (or fruit) of maturity.

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  28. To commit on nedbrek would be piling on, 15 yards, personal foul, pointing out the obvious.

    The ship/hospital illustrations were brilliant except for one thing.

    I love my friends in the SBC but the real simile is we need more bodies for the funeral home.
    It means more money but the life is lacking.

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  29. Wonderful post (and some really insightful comments). I attended a church during high school in which every sermon every week was a basic “come to Jesus” message (with a sprinkling of culture wars). Week after week we watched and prayed as people came (or didnt) come make decisions. It seemed like that was all Christianity was about: getting my own initial conversion and then, once I’m ‘done’ – helping others get theirs.
    It was a great breath of fresh air when I discovered the deep practices and spiritual disciplines of formation and growth in the Wesleyan/Anglican traditions.

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  30. I shared your sentiments throughout your post, especially this one:

    “I grew up believing the entire Christian life was about soul winning and that if you couldn’t turn any conversation into an evangelistic conversation with closure, then you were a backslider.”

    Working/conversing with the public at nearly every one of my jobs, there was always that sense that I didn’t do the right thing to turn the conversation, or I wasted their time and mine because I didn’t lead them down the Roman Road. Conversations lost their luster, and prevented me from truly listening to people.

    A customer told me of the statistics yesterday, and when I googled them your blog came up, I mentioned it in a post, but linked and pointed people to yours because it was articulated in a way I could never do.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. But I think pinpointing the problem is the most vital part in solving it. Great post.

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  31. About Nedbrek’s comments: I sympathize to some extent, but why should we be preaching Law, when Grace has transcended the law? I’m concerned that your understanding of grace might be missing something. “For by grace are we saved through faith” etc. Yes, I know that we need to understand our own helplessness and guilt before God in order to understand the magnitude of our salvation, but I just don’t get the Law comment.

    Speaking personally, hearing law preached (and pushing it at others) never helped me be a better Christ-follower. Finally learning what grace is about, saved my life. Literally. And spiritually too, BTW. Consult Colossians 2 for illumination on this…

    Fascinating rant, Michael. I’m not SBC but can see similar trends in my own denom.

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  32. Michael,

    Having been a member of not-so-healthy and quite healthy SBC-affiliated churches in the past, I resonate with this post. The healthiest church of which I have been a member preached the Gospel in a way that non-Christians could understand– often, in a given sermon, “sin” was defined and explained, what “having faith in Christ” means and what it looks like (at least to some degree) were carefully explained… and so on, and people actually came to trust in Christ! Carefully, calmly, and yet still passionately, preaching the Gospel, in understandable terms, is a “method” of evangelism that I wish were much more prevalent in SBC churches.

    As a general rule at this church, children were not baptized. The youngest age that even *might* have been considered for baptism was 12 or 13, though I think it was more often 17 or 18. Baptism and church membership were taken seriously. Church discipline was lovingly practiced (and explained to the congregation), and not only for sexual sins, as is the case in too many churches.

    The church was very evangelistic, in terms of the everyday lives of many of its members, but it was an evangelism that flowed out of love for non-Christians and concern for their lives, both eternally and temporally. We didn’t have an official “evangelism program.” We met with non-Christians for dinner, worked with them at our jobs, helped them in various ways (I was a tutor of English to international students), and along the way, shared the Gospel with them, with love and concern, but not anxiety-ridden manipulation.

    It was very much a “9 Marks” church. May we see more of them in the SBC! For better or worse, following a cross-country move, I am no longer a member of an SBC church but instead have joined a non-denominational, elder-ruled, Reformed-leaning church. I miss congregational church government. I miss members’ meetings. I miss the seriousness and care which was taken with baptism and church membership and discipline (not that my current church is completely lax, but without a healthy congregationalism, it just doesn’t seem the same).

    My missing them, though, may much to do with how *well* they were practiced at this SBC church. As I wrote above, I have also been in less healthy SBC churches. May we work, and may God move, to bring more of our churches to health and balance, without an overwhelming emphasis on anything but the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Cross, and preaching, and living out the implications of, the Gospel!

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  33. Michael,
    Your post reminds me of when I first came to the congregation I have grown to love and cherish. Every one wanted me to push evangelism, but the congregation was in shambles. They had seen many pastors come and go. The moral was low. There was fighting among the people, and with whoever was pastor because he was pastor. The building reflected this also. The paint was awful, and old. Trees obscured its presence.
    I looked at them, and said. Evangelism is important, and no one needs to tell me that. I’ll be doing plenty of it. But more important to me right now is you. I want us to work through our problems, get every one to be of one accord, and the same mind. Then we will begin to grow. Today, we have a thriving congregation, the building has been painted, and all but three trees removed.
    Sometimes pastors have to remember to feed the sheep they have, help them grow and mature. Otherwise you run into a situation where, for every one you have coming in the door, 1 or 2 are leaving malnourished, and dying.
    To be sure evangelism is important, but pastors can never forget that Jesus told Peter not only to go an make new disciples, but also, and possibly more important, “feed my sheep.”
    Also evangelism shouldn’t be gimmicky, and evangelism seminars seem to me always gimmicky. If the people spend time in prayer and devotion, maturing in the faith, evangelism happens. But it is easier the more you know Christ, and what it is you actually believe. It is hard to introduce someone to a person you don’t know, or teach what you haven’t learned.

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  34. I-monk, just a thought – do you think the direct cause of all this narcissistic focus on “evangelism” is Dispensationlism?

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  35. I once heard an SBC leader call our denomination an “institutionalized revival.” Sounds good, until you realize that, as you so eloquently stated, we’ve evangelized without making disciples once we get them. Then we wonder why the back door to the church is so large…

    Preaching through the lectionary has cured me of the practice of molding every sermon into an evangelistic sermon. Sometimes, people simply need to hear how to live according to Scripture, not how to be born again. Sometimes, people need to praise God without having an invitation stuck on the end.

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  36. Stuff like this really makes me wrestle with my membership in the SBC.

    I’ve heard it a million times that the Southern Baptist Church is a mile wide and an inch deep, in fact, that’s one of our favorite things to say about ourselves. But we’re the ones who perpetuate it. I can’t count how many “counseling/witnessing” classes I went to that taught me how to share the gospel like I was selling something (no seriously, I’m in sales right now: I already know how to do a trial close or direct close because I learned it at church).

    As a whole, we don’t disciple anyone who responds to evangelism, and then wonder why we’ve had a hard time being good Christians when the tough situations in real life arise.

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  37. The problem we’re told, of course, is that we’re not evangelistic enough.

    Is that anything like the USSR’s problems always being Insufficient Political Consciousness of the Masses?

    Or various Islamic Republics’ problems always being “Not Islamic Enough”?

    Just what everybody needs, more Wretched Urgency (TM). Remind me to avoid SBCs (and by extension, all altar-call born-agains) for the next ten years plus.

    But I do not want her leaving tracts for her roommate. I do not want her miserable that her roommate’s salvation depends on her. I do not want her “burdened” and guilty. I do not want her friends talking about her in tones of dread when she is walking toward them, knowing she has to work out this guilt in efforts to convert them.
    — Internet Monk, “Wretched Urgency”

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  38. Fantastic rant. The hospital illustration hit it dead-on for me.

    nedbrek, I’m not sure what you mean by 90% law, 10% grace. I certainly agree with making it clear about why we desperately need Jesus…but hearing about how bad I am 9 out of 10 Sundays would send me out the door with the fakers. It’s satan who tries to get me to believe I’m no good…Jesus is the one who says “Hey come here, I’ve saved you, you’re not that person anymore and you don’t have to live that way. I’ll teach you how to live now.” No door prizes necessary with love like that. =)

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  39. Man,
    You’re describing the Methodist’s to a T. Program after program, each carefully designed by folks with Ph. D’s in “evangelism,” carefully crafted to get the message out without being offensive.
    Problem is, to quote John Adams, “We’re in a war, we’re going to have to offend someone.” I also like this one by G.K. Chesterton, “It isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
    Our Lord himself, made the point several times that the Gospel is going to be offensive. It would be like starting a religion today who’s chief symbol is the electric chair.

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  40. Happy Belated Birthday, Imonk! Your blog is an oasis for this thirsty wanderer. My childhood experience was also in the SBC. We had defined the way to salvation the “right” way and all other so-called Christians were “suspicious,” to say the least. Any non-Christians were most certainly “lost” even if they never had the chance to hear the gospel.(BTW, no church history was ever mentioned.) Just how did anyone “get saved” before the SBC came into being? Are all those thousands of Christians who lived and died over the centuries before the SBC was created burning in “you know where?” because they didn’t “come forward” during the invitation in an SBC church? Now, as an adult, I am “suspicious” of the SBC and the “if you died tonight” tactics that were used on me. I wonder if other readers of this blog can identify with my experience.

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  41. re:
    “I’m part of a denomination that regularly baptizes five, six and seven year olds, then has the nerve to point at infant baptizing Christians and criticize them.”

    There is a major difference between baptizing “believers” who are between five and seven years old versus infant baptism.
    The issue is not whether to baptize children or not, but whether we baptize children who believe versus children/people who do not believe.

    I am one of those who has been blessed with or cursed with a very complete memory dating back to the age of two, and can recall not only brief instances in that period, but detail, including detailed thinking processes. I am convinced, that, had I heard the Gospel, I would have had the cognitive and reasoning capacities to hear, comprehend, understand and believe or reject the Gospel at that time. As it was, I did not hear a clear presentation of the Gospel until I was nine, at which time I believed. Are children who truly believe ready to partake of the Lord’s Table and Baptism at these early ages? Most certainly!

    Jesus said; Mat 19:13-14;
    “Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

    I am all for baptizing people including children who believe, though they may be under two years old (and I am sure that there are such), but totally opposed to baptizing children including adults, irregardless of age, on the absence of a personal faith and confession.

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  42. Thousands of our churches are two generations from closing the doors.>>>

    A lot of the meetings in my yearly meeting aren’t even that far.

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  43. Wow. I love the emphasis on all the things the church should be doing (including the materialism) to be “healthy” and I was especially struck by this line: “I’m sure there’s a five year plan to move the hand of God somewhere.”

    As if one small plan of man can even budge the Hand of Almighty God.

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  44. Great post. I attend an SBC church that is currently morphing into a mega-church. I have watched in dismay as we have changed the Great Commission from “go and make disciples…” to “go and make converts…”. I am a lay Bible teacher with many years in expository teaching and apologetics. I have a heart for encouraging a true Christian worldview understanding among our folks with a strong theological/apologetic foundation. I was told that if any apologetic class was to be taught it would only be taught by a member of the pastoral staff. In three years of attending this church, the only apologetic material I have ever seen presented was a Ken Hovind Young Earth Creationist video. How truly pathetic. Our senior pastor confided to me that he constantly runs into Christians that are consumed with doubt, yet there seems to be no concerted effort to provide a forum where doubts can be voiced and answered in a merciful and compassionate way. It is easier to “shame” the doubter and treat his/her questions/doubts as “sinful”. The long-term commitment to producing disciples is short-circuited in favor of shallow, gimmicky “evangelism” techniques. My patience with this superficial approach to the faith has about run its course. Where is the understanding of inculcating a Christian “mind” and worldview that can truly interact with the culture where it lives? We are increasingly becoming irrelevant to the world at large, as we continue impressing each other with the latest “evangelistic” methods and techniques. To what shallow, mindless excuse for the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints” are we “saving” folks? By the way, I loved your post on “the Two Kinds of Prosperity Gospel”. I’m afraid that my wife and I may be headed for split/church marriage somewhat like yours. She wants to stay at the SBC mega-church and I have my eye on the new Anglican Church down the street. Oh, brother…

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  45. What you describe is not exclusive to the SBC. Many evangelical denominations or associations (as we call ourselves in the NABC) suffer from this same myopia. It is the relatively recent losses in membership the churches are experiencing that I believe have pushed this emphasis to the fore. The evangelical world in North America is frightened – and is acting more desperate every day. Time to pray and seek the Lord, not another program. Thanks for your honest insight.

    By the way, it’s only truly a rant if you are the only one on the soapbox. I suspect there’s a line longer than you might imagine of folks who want to join you there. And that is a hopeful thought, I think.

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  46. I-monk. This was dead on. I appreciate your emphasis on the Gospel. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…That’s what it’s all about. Keep plugging on that.

    “We need to have a clear Gospel message. (What’s being preached in SBC pulpits in many places can hardly be categorized using normal English.)”

    Sadly, in regard to the Gospel, the SBC is not the only denomination guilty of such neglect. We have way too much cultural and historical mythology clouding the Gospel.

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  47. We’re like a hospital with real problems. Doctor problems. Staff problems. Quality problems. Effectiveness problems. People aren’t getting well. Some are getting a lot worse. Some aren’t making it. And we are concerned……about getting more patients.

    Insanity—and yet we are all guilty of something close in one way or another.

    Your rant is appreciated.

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  48. Michael – I was reading “The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church” by Roland Allen the other day and he put something into words that I had sort of thought about but never really formed the idea very well. He pointed out that neither Paul, nor Peter, nor John nor any other writers ever felt compelled to repeat the Great Commission. There were no urgent appeals to go win the lost, to give sacrificially to missions and etc. Later on, he didn’t say it in these words, but it is to be noted that the early believers weren’t “trained” in evangelism – they just went out and told others of the great works God had done for them. In other words, they weren’t trained to believe that evangelism was hard and took unusual courage, they just went out and did it. And lo and behold the church grew spontaneously. I wonder if all of our evangelistic machinery is one reason for our lack of evangelistic success – just wondering.

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  49. Proper, Biblical evangelism can do a lot to strengthen the local churches.

    Preaching the Law, our utter inability to please God and our sinfulness, and God’s wrath will drive out the false converts – or convert them.

    The biggest problem I’ve seen with SBC churches is that they often focus on results, rather than Biblical principles.

    This leads to “membership drive” and “belt notching” mentalities, which leads to churches full of false converts (and horror stories of free ipods, gas cards, etc. for coming to church).

    Pray for these guys, and if you have any input, tell them 90% law, 10% grace.

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  50. Hey, thank you for posting this. A few lines hit close to home for me..

    “When a younger leader does something right in our denomination, chances are he’s in trouble.”

    “Thousands of our churches need to either stop abusing pastors and their families or shut the doors.”

    I was in full time ministry (now a truck driver with a ministry as a “hobby”!)before leaving a church who really hurt both my wife and I. It was tough and I see many friends in ministry going through the same stuff.

    I love the church, love ministry, but have no desire to be forced to keep the heart God has given me in wraps in order to keep on doing the traditions of any particular church. I love what I do know, speaking at churches, encouraging pastors and rediscovering why I first entered “the ministry”. We need to get away from singular focuses and encourage broader understandings of what it is to be Christian. Stop patching “problems” and start living our faith.

    I’m not from a SBC, but can relate perfectly with your thoughts. Thank you.

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  51. i think one of the lowest of lows for me in my days in the SBC was when we had a special service where the leaders of the IMB and NAMB got together to sign some agreement to collaborate in the coming years for evangelistic purposes to obtain some goal comparable to the link at beginning. the entire service centered around this document signing and it was made to seem like the declaration of independence was being signed with the fancy tables and chairs up on stage. apparently, we were supposed to be awe and feel privileged for even being present, but all i wanted to do was gag the entire service.

    i sat there scratching my head the whole time, why do we need a formal document in order to do evangelism? and why do two mission boards need a document in order to cooperate? isn’t that kind of just expected? can’t the commitment to sharing the good news just be something we do because it’s who we are, not a business model? i’m a cynic and i’ll readily admit it, but i honestly sat there thinking the entire time, “nothing will come of this. nothing will change. it’s just a stupid piece of paper and we’re just parading around pretending to be important and making some monumental decision.”

    i’ve made leaps and bounds (though it may not seem so from the above comment) with my attitude toward the SBC since i’ve left in recent years. but after reading the linked article from baptist press, it just seems that some things never change.

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  52. Hey Michael I know your talking about the SBC, but if we look close at all our churches, you speak much truth…it’s not that ” Christianity “doesn’t work, we just haven’t lived it’s reality.

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