who moved the goalpost?

Today i was asked the question “what are the evangelistic highlights of your year?” This is a normal and legitimate question in my slightly obscure job.  But i have to be honest with you this question drives me crazy.  The process of answering a question like this basically involves me sifting my brain to think of a story where i or someone else (preferably someone i have influenced) has had a significant conversation about Jesus with another person who does not yet call themselves a Christian.  I will score extra credit if that conversation has involved a clear explanation of sin (theirs) and the cross.  It will be even better if that conversation has happened with someone who really hates all the Jesus stuff.  In my head a story like this is the ultimate evangelistic encounter.  This is the kind of juicy stuff my friend is looking for (at least that’s what i imagine).  This is the kind of story that gets the ‘amen’s’ and the nodding heads of approval.  BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY?! i seriously struggle with this and I’m asking for your input into my more than likely poor theology.  The reason i struggle with this question is because it puts pressure on us to have a good story, and the need to have a good story makes us shitty lovers of people.  I guess my question is ‘what really is evangelism?’  because if it’s no more than simply talking to people about Jesus then i give up.  If we make this kind of evangelism the goal then we’ve missed the point of evangelism itself.  I want people to become fully themselves, fully who they are created by God to be.  People will flourish in such ways under nothing less than love.  Sincere love.  Jesus said the greatest command is love.  Why do we make the greatest command ‘to talk about sin and the cross to as many people as possible and quickly?’  Who changed the goal?  The truth is there are many stories of love that i think are impacting people in a way that is drawing them into the kingdom life they were made for.  Can i tell these stories in answer to my friend’s question? Don’t get me wrong, i love nothing more than to have conversations with friends about God.  I really love it.  But these conversations can never be my goal otherwise it wouldn’t really be one of those conversations at all.  My goal must never be anything more or less that to love sincerely from my heart.  I want the question to be not “what is your evangelistic encounter?” but rather “how are you loving the people around you?”   I am angry, i am sorry for the long rant!  I would love to hear your thoughts though!

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15 Comments on “who moved the goalpost?”

  1. zoomtard Says:

    We should really work together.

    The greatest thrill in my life is to see people realise that there is a God, that he loves them deeply and that he has mind-blowing, challenging, creative, enjoyable, glorious work for them to do that matters eternally. Put it another way, I could stand up in a strip-light-lit room with a cup of bad coffee in my hand and say, “I am Zoomtard. I am an evangelist”.

    But the way we evangelise is not to tell people about the Good News. It’s to incarnate the Good News. Then, like in the Acts, people will come from far and near and ask us what the deal is. Naturally. Organically. Holistically. Lovingly.

    I agree with you Transfarmer. The goal is love- love for God and his glorious love reflected to everyone and everything else. Tell that guy about how you are reaching out to a prominent Dublin blogger and missionary with a foul mouth and a disturbing tolerance, nay, even appreciation of Roman Catholic theology. 😉

  2. transfarmer Says:

    Thanks zoomtard, that helps, i like that phrase to incarnate the good news, i’d have said embody or something waffly like that! incarnate is much better!

  3. soapbox Says:

    I came home after that chat to look at my latest edition of leadership magazine – cover title – Is our gospel too small? I hear you…

  4. jaybercrow Says:

    I have serious issues with this post. I’m not sure how to put it so I’ll just be blunt – have you ever heard of paragraphs??!

    Other than that, this is pure, unadulterated genius and goodness. You need to stop apologising for your allegedly poor theology. Your theological instincts are deeply, deeply wise. “People will flourish in such ways under nothing less than love.” I plan to go and write it on my fridge right now…


  5. alip1 Says:

    People want to see a response to the Gospel, they want to hear encouraging stories of people being reached and touched and changed (which of course that is what we all want)… Especially if these are people who are faithfully praying for and supporting Christian work, so we mustn’t be too hard on them!
    But I know that there is a worrying tendancy to keep count, to score people on their evangelistic encounters and how many conversions they have under their belt, which of course is wrong, and something that I also have found hurtful and difficult to deal with in the past. Because we can live a life completely faithful to God’s calling, but see little in the way of obvious “fruit”… Think of Jeremiah. I know an extremely godly, faithful, wise and loving pastor in Spain, who, after years, has seen very little growth (numerically) in the church he was called to lead. Jeremiah is his favorite book in the Bible, because of the parellels he can draw from it to his own situation. But the fact it that this pastor has had and continues to have an impact on the people he meets daily, although we may not be able to quantify that impact.
    Sadly, people will not necessarily come from far and wide in response to our evangelism (sorry, Zoomtard!) Different things happen in different times – both the Bible and church history prove that. But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t “done it right”. We are called to be faithful, no matter what – to love God first, others second. To live to glorify God regardless of whether anyone is looking or not, and to love whether or not that has an visible impact on anyone’s life.
    Ok, this has gone off on a rather long tangent from your point, but I hope you see where I’m going with it… 🙂

  6. mark Says:

    Totally agree with the goal that is being set forward here However I wonder about Zoomtard’s comment about incarnating rather than telling the gospel, and how that is backed up from Acts.

    The gospel does caues huge ractions in Acts, there is even a claim that the Apostles have ‘upset the world.’ Yet I think the reactions are caused largely by the proclamation of the gospel. This proclamation happens when the apostles and disciples went out, even if it did take some persecution to get them moving…. note the comment in Acts 8:4 ‘those scattered preached the word wherever they went.’

    I’m guessing most reading this blog wouldn’t disagree with that. And from looking at the Soapbox’s recent blogging, I think there is just a frustration at evangelicalism for not seeing the bigger picture by looking at peoples souls and ignoring the rest of them. I’m just slightly concerned in seeking to redress the balance that we don’t tip it too far in the other direction. Incarnation must go hand in hand with proclamation. We must both live and teach the gospel.

  7. Rach and Leah Says:

    Trust you to start a debate wylie!!

    We love this blog but its not the one you promised us(you know what we mean!!).

  8. transfarmer Says:

    I’ll let zoomtard answer for himself he’ll do a much better job, but i dont think he is denying the need to speak. i just think our words should flow out of our incarnation. Sometimes when i look at the chruch i wonder if people are actually really rejecting the gospel, or if they’re rejecting a poor version of it. if we’re teaching something that we dont live are we really teaching it at all? Mark, i’d love to hear what you mean by ‘tiping it too far in the other direction’? Thanks for all your comments everyone (even the ones about paragraphs!!) each of you are stirring my mind and heart.

  9. mark Says:

    This is abit engineering like and geeky – but here goes. I was picturing a sliding scale or a see saw basically. At one end we have speaking the gospel, the other end we have living the gospel – in the middle we have balance of both speaking and living the gospel.

    It is probably fair to say in evangelicism we have been unbalanced to the speaking side. If I am picking things up right this unbalance is being redressed, people realise the need to live the gospel – ‘incarnation’ is becoming a buzz word. However the danger is that we tip the balance in the other direction – we go to far in emphasising incarnation and people forget the speaking, we are unbalanced to the other side of the see-saw.

    Does that explain it?

  10. davem Says:

    Alright Lorrs, great piece, really really great. Just love and live. Love people and live god. Making disciples is not about making converts, it’s totally about unleashing people from the shackles (of life, religion, whatever it is that holds them), to fulfil their potential, their true, god-potential.

    Jesus just did it. Just naturally. Wherever he was he brought a glimpse of heaven to earth.

    Woman at the well. He spoke into her life in a supernatural way, and she was changed forever, he released her from the shackles of her own guilt and shame and released her to a life of freedom. The point was not “the chat” he had with her. The point was him loving her into a free, god-filled life.

    On the point of the gospel drawing crowds. I personally think that if we truly live the gospel, if we heal the sick, and the lame walk in the name of Jesus, if we bring a glimpse of heaven to earth, then there is no way it will be done quietly. How do we ever expect our message not to get out when we truly live the life we’re called to walking in the footsteps of Jesus?

  11. zoomtard Says:

    “Incarnation” is not a buzz word. It’s actually the missiological method that the Logos chose when he began his mission. So forgive us trendy Dubliners for being thoroughly Biblical. 😉

    There is no intention, or indeed possibility, of failing to proclaim the Gospel when we are living it. Evangelical Christianity has a disturbing habit of engaging in false dichotomies, none more damaging than the either/ors of mission/evangelism and incarnation/proclamation.

    What both Transformer and I feel very strongly (I know cos I talked to her about it last night as she drank a luridly coloured concoction), is that communities of Christians must be living the Gospel before they can actually proclaim truthfully. There is no “balance”. One lives inside the other. They must come together, or they never exist in the first place.

    I totally agree that “Sadly, people will not necessarily come from far and wide in response to our evangelism”. That’s cause our evangelism, and I speak as a full-time evangelist, is largely motivated by our guilt and driven by a church-market mentality grounded in “results”, not in Biblical principles. People will come from far and wide in response to authentic Jesus-following community however. Authentic evangelism focused on sharing the Good News clearly will result from that discipled living, not the “shamgelism” concerned with impressing other Christians and ticking the doctrinal boxes that we often settle with today.

    Provocatively yours,

    Mr. Zoom

  12. alip1 Says:

    Ok, another long comment coming right up… 🙂

    While I agree with a lot of what is said in the comments above, especially that we must both live and proclaim the Gospel, and that it can’t truthfully be one without the other, I again have to take issue with the idea that people will definitely come from far and wide in response to our evangelism, when it’s authentic, loving, Jesus-following. Of course, our lives and our churches should be all of those things, and it is truly wonderful when people respond to that. It does happen, and praise God for it.

    But as far as I can see, looking at the Bible and at the history of the church, we must understand that often the response to faithful, godly, authentic living may be quite the opposite.
    God works in different ways in different places at different times, for His own purposes. Very often down through the years, there was only a tiny remnant of Christians left in the world, and they were hated and persecuted or else ignored by everyone else around them. Does that mean that they weren’t faithful or living “authentic” Christlike lives? Not necessarily. The Bible tells us that we can expect to be like a foul odour to many who don’t believe. We’re told to expect heartache and persecution in response to our message. Look at Jesus himself – yes, he often drew a crowd. But there were many other times where he was alone. Where he was hated and persecuted by the people he came into contact with. And you can’t get more authentic than Jesus!!

    I think again we just need to be careful not to focus so much on quantifying the results of our evangelism, incarnated or proclaimed or, hopefully, both!! 🙂 Rather, let’s focus on ensuring that we, as individuals, simply remain faithful to whatever God has called us. That is each person’s individual responsibility – to seek to know God better, to live for Him, to enjoy Him. And yes, we can hope and pray that we see people respond positively to our evangelism, and rejoice when we do – it is proper that we do so.

    On the other hand, however…

    I know that what I’m about to say may sound overly defensive, but I say it with a heart that is very full tonight for the people who I know who might find some of the above comments discouraging, maybe even hurtful… We must never ever suggest that the reason a person or a church or a Christian group isn’t seeing great “results”, isn’t impacting the local community, and hasn’t had people coming from far and wide attracted to them, must be because they are not faithful or authentic in their Christian living and teaching. Of course it is true that we Christians often aren’t – and obviously it is important that we ensure that we are firmly grounded in Biblical principles, as Zoomtard says, and that our motivations in life and evangelism are as right as our human, flawed motivations can ever be – but we must be careful about the judgements we make about others. There are many believers, scattered right across the world and right throughout history, who have been faithful and authentic followers of God for years, but people have not come from far and wide to them. Again, think of Jeremiah. Think of pastors and Christians living very difficult and lonely yet extremely real, godly lives across materialistic, aetheistic, uninterested Europe; think of tiny churches struggling to survive in Asia; of wonderful Christian people trying to cope in and longing to change some of the largely dead churches in our own country. I know these people. I’m sure many of you do too. They don’t stay where they are because others are coming from far and wide to them – that’s not happening. And they don’t stay where they are because they’re lazy, or because they don’t care, or because they’re not seeking to live and proclaim the Gospel correctly. They’re there because that’s where God has put them for now. And they’re being faithful and obedient to Him.
    For these people, we need to pray and encourage.
    And neither must we assume that, if we have seen people attracted to our community, interested in the difference in us, and perhaps even coming to know Christ through our influence, that this means that we are somehow more godly, and better at this than others.

    Let’s be careful to not generalise and thus tear each other down, but rather to encourage and bless each other, and seek to be faithful wherever God has placed us, no matter what “results” we see or don’t see. Remember, God our Father in heaven seea what we do, and will reward us.

  13. zoomy Says:

    Flip me! My pc only has a 7″ screen. I can’t read all that in a comment. Stop hijacking the Transfarmer and write in your own blog Ali! 😉

    I tried to clarify in my previous comment that I do not expect people to come for our “evangelism”. Why would they? But they will come when the God we proclaim is worshipped authentically, his Scriptures listened to with fresh ears and his Grace reflected back into the world. To qualify or underwrite or diminish that claim is to show a pretty fatal lack of confidence in the so called Good News. (I don’t for a moment think you suffer from it by the way! But church generally, in Ireland, sometimes looks this way to me)

    I don’t think there has ever been a time, after Pentecost at least, when Christian believers were a small and huddled number as you represent. I think when Christians live out their call they will be persecuted, (JC might have said something about that but everyone knows my real authority is Bonhoeffer and he said persecution was the mark of the true church!) but I wasn’t arguing that authentic faith leads to popularity or comfort. I said it leads to growth- holistic fully orbed growth, not bums-in-the-pews growth.

    I said that because I convinced you can not proclaim the Gospel without being the Gospel.

    Ali, I appreciate how full your heart may be for people who aren’t seeing fruit from their sincere labour but the point of Wylie’s initial post was that the market-preoccupation of Evangelical Christianity causes the despair you fear in the first place. I actually am a full time missionary in a frontier setting. I am one of those people you list. My job is not to please my “prayer supporters” with true tales of Cat’licks Saved! [sic]. It’s to lead an authentic life as a Christian and help my congregation do the same. Your very fear, well placed, is what I am treating.

    Christianity in the Western world is pretty sick. The ship is sinking. Maybe a little more holy discomfort is what we need?

    With sacred discontent, (NO PEACE YET JM!)



  14. meinmysmallcorner Says:

    “There is no “balance”. One lives inside the other.” Uh-oh… there goes MY thinking for the past 18 months. And I DO so like to have things neatly tied up as to what I should be aiming for.

    Back to the drawing board…

    (I didn’t even make it to reading the last two mammoth posts!)

  15. irememberdayswheniwouldsleepintheditch Says:

    i can already see the day when future mentors are asking young christians “what was the most lovingest thing you have done this year”

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