Evangelism

How Pokemon Is Luring Millennials to the Church (Parking Lot)

Image via REUTERS/Sam Mircovich/Illustration/RNS

If your church is suddenly overtaken by millennials with their heads stuck in their phones, you can thank Pokemon.

Yes, Pokemon. The Nintendo-owned franchise, which produced colorful cards and later video games, is back — this time luring young adults out of their apartments and into museums, parks, and places of worship.

God? Meaning of Life? Many Americans Don't Seek Them in Church

Image via REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi/RNS

LifeWay Research has taken a close look at what might draw them in, zeroing in on people who say they have not attended a religious service in the past six months except for special events or holidays.

Worship? Not particularly interested, two in three people told the evangelical research firm in a survey released June 28.

Evangelicals and Refugees: Care First, Conversion Maybe Later

Image via Allen Clark / RNS

Ask Wah Nay Htoo how an evangelical church helped her refugee family after they arrived in Colorado and her list is long.

“Oh my goodness, Cornerstone helped our family a lot — everything,” said Htoo, 38, a Burmese woman who lived most of her life in a refugee camp in Thailand before moving to the Denver suburb of Lafayette in 2008.

Nearly 1,000 Southern Baptist Foreign Missionaries Will Leave Posts

International Mission Board President David Platt. Image via Lexie Bennett/IMB/RNS

One out of five Southern Baptist missionaries overseas — or nearly 1,000 total — have volunteered to leave their posts to help the denomination’s mission board deal with its financial straits. That’s in addition to the departure of a third of the staff of the International Mission Board, also mostly through a voluntary program.

Netflix Introduces Televangelist Shows

Image via Katherine Davis-Young/RNS

Alongside programs like Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, Netflix now offers users another type of content: Christian sermons. The online video streaming service added lectures by four popular Christian pastors in early December.

“I believe if Jesus were on planet Earth today in the flesh he’d be on Netflix,” said Ed Young, one of the pastors, in a phone interview.

German Christians Disagree About Evangelizing to Muslim Refugees

Image via Michaela Rehle / REUTERS / RNS

One of Germany’s largest Protestant regional churches has come under fire from other Christians for speaking out against efforts to convert Muslims just as tens of thousands of refugees from the Islamic world are streaming into the country.

In a new position paper, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland says the passage in the Gospel of Matthew known as the Great Commission — “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” — does not mean Christians must try to convert others to their faith.

“A strategic mission to Islam or meeting Muslims to convert them threatens social peace and contradicts the spirit and mandate of Jesus Christ and is therefore to be firmly rejected,” the paper entitled “Pilgrim Fellowship and Witness in Dialogue with Muslims” argues.

Five Problems With Christian Evangelism (and What to Do Instead)

Image via Bevan Goldswain/shutterstock.com
Image via Bevan Goldswain/shutterstock.com

I got to thinking about evangelism this month in particular as part of My Jesus Project, a year-long practice I’m engaged in to more deeply understand what it really means to follow Jesus. This month I’m studying what I call “Jesus the Evangelist,” with Alan Chambers as my mentor. Chambers is best known as the founder and longtime head of Exodus International, an organization that emphasized conversion therapy, or helping people who were gay become — for lack of a better term — un-gay.

But it didn’t work. Chambers said so himself, as he is gay too, and he knows firsthand that he is still very much the same sexual being he was before. Further, the organization’s form of evangelism did a lot of damage, which he now seeks to repair.

Here are some all-too-common examples of how we misstep when trying in one way or another to share our faith with others.

What If Jesus Wasn’t the Answer?

Gajus / Shutterstock.com
Gajus / Shutterstock.com

I gave up street evangelizing a long time ago. It was a short-lived career — a few weekends into town with a friend, praying for God to help us meet someone we could share Jesus with. It quickly (thankfully) became clear to me that this business of following God is much better done in the context of long-term relationships with a broader understanding of salvation and mission.

Any time we try to confine the big and beautiful Good News of God into a simplistic message small enough to fit onto a tract or a 10-minute awkward conversation, we cut out too many important details. The truncated gospel of the Four Spiritual Laws requires that we get to the point — Jesus is the answer — as quickly as possible, lest our conversion, I mean, conversation partner gets away from us.

For Jesus to be the answer, there’s got to be a problem, and so we belabor the problem in order to solve it.

The mathematical equation of the gospel made sense to me when I was a child and perhaps into young adulthood. Prove the problem and solve the equation. Everything was simple, organized, and neatly categorized.

Somewhere along the way, it stopped making sense.

Converting People: I Don't Buy It

photo by Jeff Few, via Flickr.com
Man preaching at the Chinatown metro station in Washington, D.C., photo by Jeff Few, via Flickr.com

I was recently talking with friends about looking people up online. I told the story of being unpleasantly surprised to find, on someone’s Facebook profile, that he was affiliated with a sports-themed summer camp in the Middle East run by Christians with the not-as-subtle-as-they-think motivation of converting (or at least … influencing) young Muslim campers. As I told the story, I could see that I had probably picked the wrong audience: friends who, while they might not have signed up for such a project themselves, certainly knew people who would. I trailed off lamely, debating with myself whether to bother noting the obvious as an excuse for my reaction: that they had grown up in conservative churches and I in a liberal one.

But thinking about it later, I realized it was more than that. “I don’t believe in converting people,” I wanted to go back and say to them. “Not in the way that I don’t believe in wearing white after Labor Day — like a personal preference or moral objection — but in the way that I don’t believe in Santa Claus.” I do not believe it happens.

To be more specific, I don’t believe in people converting people. Conversion, obviously, happens. And other people may be there, even standing by and handing the convert a pamphlet. The convert may even be saying, “Because of you, I am converting!” But I don’t buy it.

Deconstructing God's Mission

Dennis Cox / Shutterstock.com
Dennis Cox / Shutterstock.com

When I ask people to describe a typical “missionary,” the usual response includes that of a young man with black pants and a white collared shirt (with a name tag attached) that knocks on doors, or perhaps an evangelical preacher who stands on (and shouts from) street corners, or possibly one who travels the far ends of the earth to help the poor and plant new churches. But just because some are more vocal and visible than others, such missionaries should not be acknowledged as the totality of all that exists, because:

All people in all places are missionaries, for all people in all places participate within a particular mission in some shape or form. Missionaries are as diverse as the human community itself.

While most missionaries do not self-define as such, the world is filled with them, many of whom serve with a high degree of commitment and faithfulness. For instance, if a missionary is – by definition – one who participates within a particular mission, then those who consume Coca-Cola are not merely consumers, but they are – by definition – missionaries of the Coca-Cola brand and its corporate mission. Similarly, there are countless political missionaries in all corners of the globe. As election cycles draw close, such missionaries multiply in mass numbers, and their energetic zeal often rivals – and sometimes far exceeds – the determination of many religious clergy labeled as extreme.

The world consists of countless missions and innumerable missionaries. As stated from the onset, all people in all places are missionaries, so not only should we hesitate to assume we know what a “typical missionary” is, we should also attempt to distinguish who a Christian missionary is to be within the context of countless other (complementary and competing) missions and missionaries. So what follows is a brief reflection on what the focus of God’s mission might be, and an exploration of how Christian missionaries may be able to function as a result.

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