Saturday, October 29, 2005

Don't Sell Me Your Christianity

When I was in grade school I hated when we were supposed to sell stuff. My parents hated it too. I hated the way I felt like I was manipulating people into buying overpriced things they didn’t need. I hated feeling like a failure because I didn’t sell enough cheese and sausages. I hate when people try and sell me stuff too – I don’t like to feel manipulated, and I don’t like the guilty feeling when I’ve obviously disappointed someone. When I see people selling things aggressively, I try and avoid them.

Last night I was downtown, and somebody tried to sell me Christianity. Which is a nice enough thing to be offering, but you see, I already have one. I don’t mean to sound arrogant here – I know that I am not the perfect Christian by any means. But this person made me feel uncomfortable immediately with her aggressive style and the way she didn’t give up. And she also made me feel looked down upon, as though she was better than me because she was proselytizing on the street, while I was looking for a fun place to hang out with my friends for a few hours. Even though I answered all her questions in the affirmative (yes I have a church home, yes I have a personal realitionship with Jesus), she still yelled something derogatory after us about “walking away from other Christians.” We avoided that corner after that.

The encounter bothered me, and continues to bother me. I was so turned off by these people who were trying to invite people to their church and share their faith. Even though I am already predisposed to like Christianity, even though I have a home church already. And part of it, I’m sure, was that I knew this girl wasn’t going to get what she wanted out of me. Maybe I should have challenged her to a Bible Knowledge contest or something. But really I just wanted to spend some time with my friends and not be bothered. And the thing that really bothers me about the whole situation is that if MY reaction was so negative, what must it be like for the people they were actually targeting? Is “street witnessing” really an effective witness at all? Can you hand out invitations to religion on a street corner like invitations to try a new restaurant? It seems to me that Christianity is about a lot more than anything you can commodify and advertise one evening on the street. But if Christians are behaving like this, how are other people to know that it isn’t?


kristen said...

Interesting post...
People like her turn skeptical people OFF of Christianity

But I will say that I wish I knew more Christians like you, Bethany!

Bob K said...

I agree, Bethany. I think that what particularly bugs me about this is that we're on the same team, so to speak. When it comes down to it, you and I and the wacko on the street are really all about the same thing. So why do we feel so different about it?

Sometimes I find myself wondering if all this redeeming culture stuff that we do is really redeeming culture or is it merely an excuse to not have to give up the things of culture that we like even if we shouldn't. (But since that might mean giving up the Beatles, Alias and West Wing I don't want to go too far down that path.)

But this person was going too far the other way - she was harassing you and wouldn't listen to who you are - thta's the problem. When Jesus saw Bartimaeus on the side of the road he said "what do you want me to do for you?" He didn't just say - "Hey! Follow me!" The following part came after the hearing and the healing.

I think that above all, Christians ought to be expert listeners.

citystreams said...

Great post! I agree with both of the previous posts. The thing is as much as I don't like "street-witnessing" (having experienced both ends of it)I wonder what would be more effective. Jesus was so good at noticing the people on the street who wanted to know Him, but how do I do that? Let me know if you have any ideas. :o) Enjoy your fall break. ~Cin~

bethany said...

Cindy, I think the street is a different thing now than it was then. And I think that Jesus did very little yelling at people, and an awful lot of talking to them and listening to them and caring about them. I think the way to evangelize is to be in relationships with people, and let your joy and love shine in your life. It's not easy and it's not flashy, but nobody ever said Christianity was supposed to be.

Ron Rienstra said...


I'm sorry for that encounter you had. Interesting that you used typical mission language -- terms like "invite" and "share," but it doesn't seem she was doing either.

This makes me wonder what the undergirding theology of missions is for the "Thug with a Bible" type of encounter you describe. It obviously isn't so concerned with efficacy. In fact, I think people who do this type of missions believe that "communications" issues are superfluous. The only important thing is the clear delcaration of the Word, which will have whatever effect God intends it to have; if the soil/soul? is receptive, fine; if it is not, that's God's judgement. It emphasizes Sovereignty, and forgets the Incarnation.

However, I think the more pressing motivation isn't theological, it's phychological: fear. Fear that others' souls are being lost, fear that I'm not doing enough to preach the word that can save them. It's not an "invitation" into or a "sharing" of something that produces life, and life in abundance, it's a threat of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness.

And fear, I fear, is a poor long-term motivator. What we need, as the Beatles said, is Love.

Bob K said...

Extra props (whatever they are) to Ron for his Beatles reference!

Marty said...

you hate to say that people like this give Christians a bad name, but its basically true. I know that i'm not the greatest Christian in the world, but i have a hard time listening to people preach this whole "holier than thou" message to people walking down the street.

There was a kid that used to "preach" right on the path near johnnys, and the more that i heard him preach the more i wanted to jus throw a baseball at him b/c he was starting to annoy me. I know that it was wrong to think like that, but i never thought that what he was doing was the best way to spread Christianity.

Brooks Lampe said...

Do evangelization methods like this still exist? I thought (wishfully) that they were a thing of the past.

Why does it keep coming back? I think there is a Matthew 28 tension in a Christian, and since (in my opinion) we haven't come up with any alternatives, it re-emerges as the better-than-nothing option. But it is quickly killed off again, for reasons made clear in this post and comments. It has an overall negative effect. And so we're handcuffed.

I think one of the biggest challenges of Christianity in Postmodernity (Post-postmodernity?) is finding a *meaningful* and just not product-oriented way of evangelizing.

The typical answer given is the personal relationship approach(i.e.-"friendship/acquaintence" conversion), but this approach is, by nature, void of any methodology. Maybe this is the way it must be. Maybe we have to work harder at understanding how to understand.

I think Ron is correct to say that Christians have had a tendency to rely on the promise that the "Word will not come back void" as a catch-all for our blindness to our communication dificiencies.

But that suggests the other potential trap: we should be careful not to turn merely into advertising experts. This temptation that grows stronger in the global, internet age.

The road ahead of us is a bleak one.