Thursday, 22 July 2010

Why we should ban evangelism

My turn to do a month's worth of opinion pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. To check out the Baptist Times as a whole click here.
I’m really pleased that Chris Duffet is going to become president of the Baptist Union.  Chris is an evangelist.  His love for Jesus and his love for other people are truly infectious. He’s also an innovative thinker and a bold practitioner.  Those of you who know him will agree that he doesn’t need any advice from me when it comes to evangelism.  Those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I’m going to give him some anyway.

I think Chris should use his presidential year to promote a total ban on evangelism, a moratorium of at least five years. Let’s see if he can’t get us to cancel our Alpha courses, tear up our Back to Church Sunday leaflets, forget all about friendship evangelism (please God let’s forget about friendship evangelism) and call off the search for the next Billy Graham immediately – there isn’t one.

Evangelising is so central to following Christ that we have to ban evangelism.  Unless we do we will never learn what it’s all about.  You see we have a problem.  Evangelism has become something it was never meant to be.  It’s become a thing.  Worse than that it’s become a particular thing. A special thing.  Something that requires a method (preferably one that “works”) and ideally a programme (the very latest if at all possible).

Over the years since big Billy Graham style rallies became unfashionable and unworkable I’ve lost count of the various projects and schemes that have been heralded as the next big thing: JiM, Minus to Plus, Power Evangelism, Challenge 2000, Alpha, Fresh Expressions.  Each one was seen as the answer. None of them “worked” – not really.  And in the process we’ve lost sight of something truly precious:  the idea that all of us are called to bear witness to the good news every day of our lives. 

Evangelism has come to be seen (first and foremost) as the domain of the specialist organisation and the uniquely gifted individual.  Something they do and which from time to time the enthusiastic among us get to join in, for a while.  It’s nothing of the sort. 

Each and every follower of Christ is called to bear witness.  The things we say, the stuff we do and the way we are, these are the beating heart of goodnewsing, helping people to hear, see and experience gospel for themselves.  It’s meant to be a part of who are, our very identity: witnesses of Christ.

We could learn a thing or two here from our cousins, Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Not only is the word in their name, it’s how they see themselves, it’s written right through their sense of who they are, it’s why they draw breath.

As Baptists with our rightful insistence on the Priesthood Of All Believers we should be the first to champion that  other great reformation doctrine, the Evangelisthood Of All Believers. 

OK, so I made that last bit up.  And yes, it will never catch on as a title.  But I still think I’m right.  This is too important to be left to the experts.  It’s a job for amateurs – literally those who do it out of love, even if they are not especially skilful.

And no, of course evangelistic programmes and special events are not ultimately incompatible with personal witness but I am serious in my belief that our obsession with method has ripped the heart out of goodnewsing.  And my tongue is poised but certainly not fully planted in my cheek when I suggest that a moratorium would be good for us.

So, how about it Mr. President?


Revsimmy said...

I like your new verb, to goodnews.

Not so sure about your JW analogy. Yes, witness is part of their identity, but it seems to me that even (or especially) they do it as a "thing" - organised door-to-door visiting, two by two, and, if reports are to be believed, time-sheets to be filled in to show how much has been done in the past month. Not a good model for the Church, I feel.

Glen Marshall said...


I'm sure that's right. Like all illustrations it doesn't apply at every point and therefore breaks down.

I have know one or two JW's though whose sense of identity as witnesses is so deeply ingrained that that they seek to witness whenever possible outside the formal structures of visitation. It has to be said though that their understanding of witness is so dominated by the verbal that that too is not to my mind a good example.

Anonymous said...

Lots of deliciously provocative stuff here. Thanks. Like all calls for moratoriums (or is that moratoria) it'll almost certainly be ignored though!
However, it gives me an excuse to reflect on what Baptists in the UK are calling 'bi-vocational' ministry. Good from a (well, mine, at least) missiological point of view as it encourages stipended ministers to share in the common calling of all God's people to bi-vocational ministry/mission.
If the de-professionalising of ministry increases amateurism of the sort championed by Glen(!) I'll be among the first to write and teach a programme on 'amateurs in goodnewsing'. We could probably have it validated to at at least Master's Level.

Anonymous said...

I agree Glen, but the difficulty is that our lives need to demonstrate a way of being that is salt anf light. A way of life that is abundant and excellent and most importanly desirable. Very few seem to achieve that and therefore "Goodnewsing" (I like that)does not take place.

Jonathan Robinson said...

good post, sounds alot like some of the stuff that is coming out of the whole "missional" movement, that mission shouldn't be a thing we do but a characteristic of who we are and how we do everything. you may already know that, but i'm new to the blog so don't know which barrow you are pushing yet :-)

kia ora!

Glen Marshall said...


I like to think that when others are saying similar things to me it's a sign that they're catching up ;-)

Theakston's bitter!

Simon Hall said...

Hi Glen!

Isn't this a bit like the Tories cutting services and waiting for the 'Big Society' to fill the gap? I wasn't around before Billy Graham but nobody's told me of a great golden age of everyone witnessing all over the place. Before Billy, Christendom was a great cover for being a bad neighbour: they were already a Christian, so why bother? After Billy we now have multiculturalism as a brilliant excuse to watch telly.

Like the public sector, there are terrible corruptions and perversions within organised religious marketing (often called mission or evangelism). But the corruptions and perversions of doing nothing are worse.

Or something.



Glen Marshall said...

Don't tell anyone but I think the Tories (whatever their motivation, which I deeply suspect) do have a little bit of a point. One of the best bits of the NHS is the blood doner set up - gift socialism, sort of.

More importantly though, I do hope you are not suggesting that I AM old enough to remember pre Billy G days.

I'm sure you're right though, there probably wasn't a genuine golden age of widespread, informal, spontaneous mass witnessing. However I do think that there have probably been a lot of ages that were quite bit shinier than ours in this regard.

I detect a massive loss of confidence among regular/proper/normal Christians (choose your own adjective) and I reckon the professionalisation and reification of evangelism which has developed a pace down the line of Finney, Moody, Billy Sunday, Billy G and and beyond must bear a big chunk of the blame.

I certainly think, looking ahead, that we would be better advised concentrating our efforts on helping each other to reconceive evangelism and to recover confidence rather than looking for the next programme that will provide us with the answer to our woes.

brian said...

A ban on evangelism is a great idea, but Baptist churches need to replace it with training in witnessing and sharing the gospel.

My local Baptist church hasn't trained anyone in either for the past 7 years at least and we wonder why people aren't being brought in.

For help in witnessing see:

this webpage and for hwelp inunderstanding what the gospel message is see:

this page

Glen Marshall said...

Brian, yep, we should definitely be helping each find our voice. Thanks for the links. Some good stuff on the two web pages but to my mind perhaps a bit too formulaic. Good to see people working away at this though, I'm convinced it's crucial.

Craig Gardiner said...

Very much agree, although i know lots who won't. I have been preaching this through the sermon on the Mount series i am doing.

Bonhoeffer said the very same thing about the post war church in Germany, the church having evacutated words like reconcilation of all meaning by their actions it was time to say nothing, commit to prayer and social action, until a new and legitimate language was allowed to be birthed.

Most churches can't fear the birth pains far too much

Mike Lowe said...

As I enter my fourth year of being a minister in training I can’t recall a time when I have used the term ‘evangelism’ at church. I wouldn’t touch Alpha or any other course with a barge pole. The next ‘big thing’ is each Christian just telling people in an honest, genuine way what life is like for them with God in it and doing that sympathetic to the context they are in. No theological rhetoric, stages to work through or Bible verses to memorise. It’s going to take some time though for everyone to wake up to that.