Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pyramid Evangelism

First of all I want to thank everyone for their comments about mentoring. This is something I'm very passionate and convicted about in God's Kingdom, and I think it is grossly overlooked. I'm really praying that God helps me to have a character worth imitating, because putting yourself out there for someone to follow is risky. But I also realize that people follow our examples whether we ask them to or not, the real question is what example are we giving?

On to my actual post...

Have you ever been exposed to a pyramid scheme?

I remember when they were all the rage while I was in high school. My stepmother got involved in one. Basically here's the principle. Under the guise of some business (like selling chocolates or something), you try to sign people up to buy into the business (say, $50 to get in). By selling chocolates you make money, but not much. The real money comes in when you sign other people up into this business, too. So, when they sign up with their $50, the company will give you say $30 of that money. And if THEY sign people up, you even get a portion of that money, too.

It's complicated.

The idea is to sign people up, who will sign people up, who will sign people up. The more people underneath you the more money you make (much like the Vampires application that was all the rage on Facebook for a while).

The problem with these schemes is that money isn't made from the actual product. It's made from signing people up, which is illegal... which is why they use the guise of some product like selling chocolates.

But isn't this a little bit like how we do evangelism today?

According to Pagan Christianity the Church made a major shift in thinking and practice around the 1700s. Whereas beforehand the focus was on being the Church of Jesus Christ, that focus shifted into bringing others into that Church.

Before I continue, please don't misunderstand me and think I am against evangelism, or that I do not think it should be a priority. However, I do think that making it the priority is both unbiblical and dangerous.

Let me explain. Charles Finney, the man who invented "praying Jesus into your heart," was also the one who set up winning converts as the Church's ultimate goal. Look at many churches today and you can see that is still the current trend. Churches have done all they can to make the assembly convenient, entertaining, emotional, and individualistic in focus. This is to appeal to others, so we get more through the door.

Common church practice today preaches this message loud and clear:

Church attendance = Church growth

Or does it?

The problem about making evangelism our main priority is that we place more emphasis on winning converts than what it is they're being converted to. Like pyramid schemes, we're guilty of doing nothing more than spreading spreadness. The focus isn't on the actual product, but just getting more people in on it.

It is possible to "respond" to the gospel by belief and baptism yet have a completely untransformed life. This is a problem. We have millions in the United States who claim to believe in Jesus in one way or another, yet their lives mirror that belief in no visible way.

Could this be because we have so elevated becoming converted that we have left out emphasizing what they're being converted to, namely, the Gospel?

This summer I worked with a man, who, when he baptized people into Christ did not take the typical confession. Instead of asking, "do you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God?" he would ask, "will you follow Jesus for the rest of your life?"

It's a different emphasis, isn't it?

Jesus didn't just ask for us to go out and make converts. He asked us to make disciples, people who would try to pattern absolutely every aspect of their lives after Himself. Regardless of what I'm ever paid for, my full-time job is to be more like Christ. Not just believe in Him.

The idea that "as long as it converts people let's do it" is a scary one. Just look at everything we do. Begin to question why a church would spend $5 million on a building and people are up in arms. "We use this building to reach more people! If we didn't have this building we might not have as many people." My blunt question in response is this:

So what?

We have made evangelism priority number one. By the way, when I say "evangelism" I don't mean Biblical evangelism. I mean calling people to an emotional and impulsive response to have a religious experience and ascribe to a set of beliefs. This is not Biblical, but evangelical.

In making it number one, we have justified using God's money for plenty of things that really have nothing to do with the Kingdom of Christ. Big bands, lights, dynamic preachers, expensive church buildings, the "health and wealth" gospel and a myriad of other things are all focused on one thing: bringing in more people.

But this is all so contrary to Jesus' example. I don't think He was much concerned with converting everyone He saw. Jesus was concerned with the Kingdom, and bringing those who were willing into it. But He never pressured people into it. When the rich man went away sad because Jesus told him to sell everything, Jesus never went after him. When Jesus talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, lots of people left Him. We never see Him running after them saying, "Wait a minute, I just meant what's going to happen at the cross! And oh yeah, in my Kingdom you'll have lots of blessings and you won't go to Hell!"

He just let them go.

Instead, Jesus focused on training 12 men to be under God's Kingdom in every aspect of their lives.

Jesus' focus was quality, not quantity. Yet, common church practice does not follow His example. In fact, it's opposite.Could it be that we're spreading spreadness, instead of Christ's Gospel? And could it be that we have left out the serious implications this Gospel gives in daily life?

We need to examine why we do what we do and not just blindly follow common church tradition.



Like a Mustard Seed said...

You've hit another nail right on the head here, "spreading spreadness", what a perfect description of the modern concept of evangelism.

It is so true, that making disciples is a radically different thing than getting people to "make decisions" for Christ. The church-business has forgotten that being a disciple simply means being in right relationship with God through Jesus, and was never meant to be defined by having your name on a list somewhere, or your rump in a seat on a weekly basis.

Some people might flinch at the idea of the modern church being equated with a pyramid scheme, but it is closer to the truth than most are willing to admit. We've had churches in our area do things like have a drawing to give away a new car to try and entice new visitors...

In my old church, every Christmas they would put on an elaborate production, with over a dozen performances, where church goers could invite their "un-churched" friends, to come see a show, be served dessert, and hear a "gospel message". I got to the point where being involved in such gimmicks just felt wrong, because it just felt that we, as the people of God, we're supposed to be a living picture of the Gospel itself, and shouldn't need to borrow from places like Broadway into order to make the message of Jesus appeal to people....

Keep asking the tough questions, and challenging the Body of Christ!

Jennie said...

You are right. i am happy I read this post. It seems to be a think I think and pray about often. Trying to decide how and where to emphasize. I never want to water down the gospel so much that it becomes something I have created and it isn't the joy of Christ and his sacrifice and what He did for us. We can get so caught up about the # that we forget to actually care for Christ's bride.

Thanks for telling me to read this one. I will probably read it a few more times, you pack so much in.

oh also. I really miss the e-mails you used to send out to the AIMers, they really helped me. So, if you feel they were written in vain, they were not. But, if you don't want to do that anyone I would at least appreciate it if you would send some of those thoughts my way.

Daniel Coutinho said...

Man this hits the Church the Wenners go to here in Florida right in the face. When you were describing the things people do with God's money in the name of evangelism all that came to mind was images of the building here, the preacher speaking, and worship minister leading the band.

After this butt load of money began to be used in the name of evangelism the change in the church's focus was visibly changed. People began acting different, it's ridiculous dude.

The idea of being a house church planter in religiously pure (a.k.a. unchurched) regions makes me excited about doing it. However I still am thinking about how one could manage having a full time job to support a family and dedicate himself to house church planting from scratch, in unchurched areas. One would need to for discipleship, which can be time consuming as the community grows.

Overall these words needed to be read in many many churches yesterday. The pit just gets deeper. Like we talked about, I guess that in many cases we just need to watch these churches crumble in their own mistakes, and when they finally wake up to reality we can take them in with open arms.

Thanks for the thoughts. Love you brother.

Daniel Coutinho

Jilliefl1 said...

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I appreciate what you said about the Church being a "living picture of the gospel", rather than succumbing to the latest scheme designed to "bring them in". Also, thought you might be interested in the sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” that's out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org .
It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://www.frankviola.wordpress.com .

Terry said...

I appreciated this post. I have been guilty of trying too hard to persuade people who were not interested. In the process, I'm sure I've pushed them further away and wasted my time. This was very convicting, but I appreciate it.

David Creek said...

Very good thoughts once again, brother.

That's absolutely true - church attendance doesn't automatically equal church growth! Church growth happens when a lost soul believes and repents of their sin, is immersed into the possession of Christ and ESPECIALLY, lives a faithful life of Christian service from that point on.

I've really grown weary of all the tricks and gimmicks we see and as you said so well, the philosophy of "As long as it brings them in."

One of the things that concerns me is that the confidence of many in the Church has shifted towards anything other than the Gospel.

Gyms...services that are geared to being entertaining...coffee shops...churches bringing instruments in since it packs them in...

If the Gospel isn't good enough what WILL work? If the Gospel doesn't work anymore nothing will.

In other places they're saying, "Let's bring them in without baptizing them."

The only thing I'm against is avoiding to tell people the Truth and to entertain them and then sneak a little bit of the Truth to them in ways that that will be more convenient for them.

I just want to love them and give them the Truth in love...and then we'll go to the gym or whatever!

If the first century saints proclaimed the Gospel as of first importance and shared the message of Christ dying for our sins and arising from the dead, making it possible for people as sinful and as wicked as us to be forgiven and redeemed (and souls were being added day by day), why would we want to do anything other than that?

I mean, i understand they had the ability to do miracles and to speak in tongues and all that stuff but that wasn't their message. It started and it ended with Christ! :)

I'd rather boldly and lovingly share the Gospel and have 2 disciples made than use tricks and gimmicks to bring in 5,000 people and have a lot of superficial disciples.

Yet even when we do that, at times it can even be possible to be half-hearted if you really aren't serious about it, can't it?

This is a very important thing to consider and to spend our time discussing and so i thank you for taking the time to do so.

Love you brother.

Joshua Tucker said...

Hey all, sorry I haven't been able to respond. I've been traveling a lot for the holidays and haven't really been able to. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. As usual, I'll try to respond to each one.

LikeAMustardSeed - Thanks for dropping by again. I've been to similar meetings where such great lengths were taken to entertain the audience. I remember feeling guilty for thinking how backwards it all seemed. But you're right, we shouldn't steal Hollywood's entertainment methods to make Jesus seem appealing. He already is.

Jennie - Thanks for writing girl! I will definitely try to write more emails since you said that. I have been meaning to, but the end of the term was just hectic. Plus I feel like I've been having writer's block on what would be encouraging. Got any ideas?

Daniel - Hey dude I'm looking forward to seeing you. I know what you're talking about. I've thought the same thing. I really believe we need full-time church planters. Can't wait to talk to you about some books I've been reading. Love you man.

Jillie - Thanks for dropping by. I'm actually about to start reading Reimagining Church and I've been reading Frank's blog. Thanks for the heads up though.

David - I'm with you bro. I love some basketball and a good cup of coffee any day, but we're fooling ourselves if we think offering those things will make Jesus more appealing. Jesus, The Gospel and those affected by the Gospel (the Church) are what appeals. I'm afraid most of the time coffee and basketball are thought of as helps, but when we aren't actually using them to meet people and teach Jesus, what have we become but another social club? Thanks for the thoughtful comment once again, brother.

Doug said...


You are on to something here. I have thought similarly, but what you have offered has, in a sense, exposed some flaws in my own work.

Thanks for getting to the heart of this matter!

Joshua Tucker said...

Doug - As always thanks for dropping by. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this, so if you blog about it or anything be sure to send me a link.