You travel over land and sea to make one single convert. And when you have done so, you make that person twice as fit for hell as you yourself are!Jesus (Matthew 23:15)
Christian communities and Christian individuals often give two different unattracting views: universalism – all is fine, whatever one does (there’s no urgency to follow Jesus); or at the other end of the spectrum: a God who sends (most/nearly all) people to hell as well expressed by the following meme and often articulated in the not-found-in-the-Bible-injunction that one should “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour”.
If evangelism is to mean anything, we have to find a way significantly different to those two positions. As well as these two repellant perspectives, other things put people off Christianity: the dysfunctionality of so many Christian communities, and the abuse (sexual, emotional, spiritual, financial,…) by people in positions of leadership and others in the Christian community.
Quite some time ago now, the wonderful theologian Karl Rahner said it well:
The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths and deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.
Another factor, increasingly, is simply the diminishing size of the Christian community. This increases the dysfunctionality of a community – one person described it to me with the metaphor of rats increasingly eating each other as the cage gets smaller. Shrinking congregational size also often raises the ratio of dysfunctional people to a point where the community ceases to function in a healthy way. [To be clear: there is nothing wrong with the acknowledgement that we all have unwell areas in our lives, and a Christian community is healthy when it can accept within it individuals who have particularly broken aspects to their personality].
Declining church attendance regularly changes the motivation of evangelism to being to keep this religious club going. Younger people (in church-speak, that’s anyone under 50 years) tell me that if they visit a church community, they are immediately leapt upon to contribute and to help with any number of tasks. That has been their welcome, discouraging from even exploring a Christian community.
I don’t know who first said the following often quoted statement, but I find it begins to express something of my own experience:
I’m not a Christian because I want the reward of heaven. I’m not a Christian because I’m running from hell.I am a Christian because the character of Jesus Christ is so compelling to me that I want to spend my life chasing it, embodying it, and sharing it.
The Hound of Heaven has certainly captured me. “You have seduced me, O GOD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed,” (Jeremiah 20:7). I cannot visualise my life apart from being plunged into and growing into the inner life of the Trinity that is the heart, meaning, and purpose of reality. Seeking to share that is like letting others know about a great movie. The urgency in the Gospels to following Jesus is no less today with climate change, poverty, injustice, war…
I think all this is better expressed by Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). I would encourage you and your community to start there. That may lead back to other wonderful insights in Vatican II documents.
What do you think?
First and third images used after asking Naked Pastor