When I was in college as a brand new Christian, I dreaded the thought of evangelizing something awful. I saw evangelism as needlessly hassling people at a laundry mat on Saturday mornings who otherwise wanted to be left alone to fold their clothes. There was also the interruption of a family’s Tuesday evening supper time or their watching the final moments of Wheel-of-Fortune so I could engage them in a phony spiritual conversation that merely led to pressuring them to attend our church.I was always nervous during those encounters, primarily because I was clueless as to what to say and that was on top of my awkward anxiety I was feeling at the time because of my perceived, unwanted intrusion.
Additionally, I always left with a heavy heart of guilt because rather than putting the person into a spiritual head-lock and holding him down until he cried “uncle” by praying a sinner’s prayer to receive Jesus into his heart, I just wanted to end the conversation with a pleasant “thank you for your time” and then exit as quickly as I could. A true lover of men’s souls, at least as I thought, would never struggle with cold-turkey evangelizing. Yet here I was struggling, because I didn’t know what to do really and I felt those encounters were inappropriately manufactured.
During the first semester as a junior in college, I was asked by my college pastor to participate in an Evangelism Explosion class being taught at our church. Our college pastor was preparing a mission trip of sorts during our spring break and he wanted me, along with a select group of other kids, to prepare ourselves for the trip by having some “evangelizing” knowledge and experience. I was some what willing to take the class, because I thought it would help me overcome my dislike toward evangelism, especially the cold-turkey variety.
Evangelism Explosion, or E.E. as it is popularly known, was a simplistic evangelism outline developed by D. James Kennedy. The gimmick driving the E.E. presentation was two opening questions designed to break the ice with the person being evangelized, as well as provide a starting point for the evangelist to introduce his presentation.
The first question asked something like, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?”
Pretty much every person to whom I asked this first question responded positively with a “yes.” I don’t believe I can recall anyone I asked responding with, “No, I’m headed to a devil’s hell in a hand-basket and loving every minute of it.”
The second question, however, was meant to add the rub that was to get the presentation going. It asked, “If you were to die tonight and stand before the LORD, and he were to ask, ‘why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”
The question is supposed to expose what it is exactly a person is placing his or her confidence in for salvation. Unlike the first one, I received a variety of unique responses with that second one. Anything from “my good works” to “I walked an aisle at a revival service when I was eight.” I can recall one time on one of those spring break mission trips to the Detroit area asking a 13 year old kid the second question. His reply was classic: “What would I say to God if he asked me why He should let me into heaven? Well, its your job.” What do you say to that exactly?
Any rate, I took the class. It was a 10 lesson course that met once a week. For the bulk of my friends, it was on Tuesday evening. I had a college class on that night, so I had to take it on Saturday mornings. It was myself and another fellow my age who had even a greater dislike for evangelism to the point of being emotionally paralyzed. At first, the two of us were enjoying the class, because it was taught by one of our Sunday school teachers who did a good job. Plus, the first 2 or 3 weeks did not involve any of that door-to-door or laundry mat evangelism I dreaded.
But maybe the 4 week into the session the teacher couldn’t do it any more for some reason or another and a popular lady from our church took his place. (Yes, you read that right). When that happened, my evangelistic fervor was extinguished.
The lady had a reputation of being charismatic-friendly (she loved to attend James Robinson crusades if you know who he is) and she was heavily influenced by Bill Gothard, a man I believed only caused havoc in congregations who used his teaching materials. During the lecture portion, that lasted about 45 minutes in her living room, she spiritualized the biblical text at every turn and spent a good 10 minutes binding devils and calling up hedges of protection around us as we prepared to go out into the world.
When we started the personal evangelism portion, we were supposed to call on those folks who had visited our church and filled out a card. Come to find out that Saturday mornings are a terrible time to visit with people. Go figure.
Worse still were those college students, particularly the ones who were required by their fraternity and sorority to visit a church at least twice each semester. Just for future reference in case someone wants to try go door-to-door on a Saturday morning, a 19 year-old nursing a hang-over from the previous night’s party who is just getting out of bed at 11 AM and meets you at the door in his underwear could care less about sitting through an E.E. presentation.Just sayin’.
Since most, if not all, of the people we were supposed to visit were never around on Saturday mornings for us to present our evangelistic outline, guess where our lady teacher thought the best evangelism fodder existed? We made a bee line to the laundry mat.
Moreover, our outreach pastors were always trying to find inventive ways to inject the E.E. presentation into a conversation. During the spring of 91, after the start of Desert Storm, one of our clever pastors put together a faux-survey that started out asking the person his opinion about war and international politics, but then moved to abruptly introducing the two E.E. questions. Most folks would hang with you if you stuck with the war and politics portion of the survey, but immediately shut down as soon as you turned to “religion.” I hated those surveys because I felt they were outright dishonest and painted the person presenting it as a liar. In fact, I had some guy call me dishonest to my face and I believe he was right to say so.
Churches in my college community had similar outreach/evangelism programs. Many of them would have folks going door-to-door in the neighborhood evangelizing Christians who just returned from their own evangelism efforts. One church in my area had the manager of the Kroger grocery store as a member. He allowed a group of young musicians from his church to set up a rock and roll stage on a tractor trailer flatbed and play loud, cacophonous music with the name Jesus sprinkled through out the lyrics way into the late hours on Friday and Saturdays in order to reach out to the high schoolers driving up and down the main drag.
Other churches took to what they called “street preaching.” That “street preaching” was a far cry from the excellent efforts of such current ministries like Way of the Master and Tony Miano. The “street preaching” I witnessed was a guy or two with bull horns or some other public address system who would bombard the shopping public by shouting at them to repent from the cultural ills of our society, while holding crudely made signs with Bible verses scrawled across them, or hideous picture of Jesus, or the Pope, or maybe Joseph Smith.
Even though they may be unique to myself, those personal anecdotes were how I understood evangelism in the early days of my Christian walk. I imagine other readers may have similar experiences. Thus, I had an aversion toward what I thought was hit-and-run evangelism: Hit the person with a canned gospel presentation or a tract and then run off to hit still another person with the same canned material. Sadly, those methods are how many Christians today view evangelism and apologetics and they call it “soul winning.”
But that hit-and-run “soul winning” is the very method we should seek to avoid for at least four reasons:
Hit and Run soul winning is built upon shallow theology. Rarely does the presentation or the tract handed to the person fully explain the need and purpose of the gospel. All that is shared is how a person is a sinner, God loves him or her, and he or she needs to pray a prayer asking Jesus into his or her heart. For the scrawny, red-neck guy wearing the devil horns hat that I presented a hit-and-run style message to one night in that Kroger grocery store parking lot, being a sinner is a fun thing, because it means beer and women. Going to church is not only boring, but it makes him have to give up his beer and women.
Rarely do those hit-and-run presentations explain fully WHY a person is a sinner, WHY being a sinner offends God, and WHAT it was exactly that Christ accomplished on the cross. Unless a Christian is firmly grounded in the theology of redemption so as to expand upon the presentation, the person never fully knows WHY it is exactly the gospel is truly a life and death proposition.
Hit and Run soul winning is designed to illicit only a response, not develop disciples. The end goal of the presentation is to get the person to “pray the prayer.” Never has the Christian giving the presentation thought beyond what happens AFTER the person really prays the prayer. That is a vital question, because Matthew 28 says to go into all the world an “make disciples” not “get people to pray a prayer.”
The true end goal of apologetics and evangelism is to bring the person to the Lordship of Christ. However, that will be most effectively accomplished if the one who led him to Christ now gets involved in his life to help him live out his new faith. Sadly, most “soul winners” don’t have this in mind when they “soul win” nor are they trained to think in terms of discipling new converts.
Hit and Run soul winning is concerned with numbers over people. Expanding upon the last point, the emphasis placed upon “soul winning” is getting a significant cache of people to pray after the end of the presentation. In other words, it is only gathering numbers.
For instance, after our E.E. teams returned from the “field” everyone gave a report. There was a competition of sorts as to who could one up the other by telling how many people heard the entire presentation and a super bonus if someone prayed the prayer. I can recall a guy from another church in town bragging about how he had won twenty souls during a particular week. But that is a numbers game, not a genuine concern for the “souls” of those people. After that fellow boasted about his “trophies,” a thoughtful friend of mine had the wisdom to ask him, “So you have twenty people to disciple now?” The guy’s response was “That’s the churches duty, I just win’em.” People are not trophies to be earned in large quantities.
Hit and Run soul winning presents the gospel in a frivolous manner. Cheap, manipulative gimmicks, rock and roll bands on the back of flatbeds, crudely made signs, and hollering at the public from a bull horn can quickly cheapen the savior who gave His life as a ransom for many. Christians must be honoring to their Lord when they present the gospel and that is accomplished by handling accurately the gospel message. We cannot be presenting a partial gospel message; it must be the full doctrinal content of why Christ had to die. Nor do we hand out tracts that give a theological incorrect presentation of salvation, and we certainly must respect those to whom we are sharing our faith.
I am not opposed to E.E. or the handing out of tracts to the lost, or even street preaching done by biblically sound men. They can all be effective tools for the Christian. I believe, however, that Christians need to keep in mind the gravity of the message they are presenting. It must be presented clearly, concisely and with an attitude honoring to God, and I think those are qualities lacking in many evangelistic encounters.