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Marketing Rep?

This past weekend my brother's wedding took place in the church that I grew up in. I loved this church. This church laid a significant portion of my personal foundation. I worked for this church at one point. I still value so much of what this church did and still does in the lives of many people. I don't have much of an association with this church anymore, for many reasons, one being the evolution of my faith and my closer association with those who have a different worlview than this church proclaims. Nevertheless, I still love and value the people as much as I ever did.

I was with my brother and the other groomsman last Saturday while we all changed clothes in the library of this church. As I usually do, I dug around in the books and materials lying around because I love to looking through things out of curiosity. One thing I found was a big notebook that was used in an Ambassadors for Christ evangelism training course. When I was a kid this was the huge thing that this church and many others like it were into. The basic principle of this course was approaching people who were not members of the Church of Christ (I mean, church of Christ) and creating conversations that forced people to answer a set of questions that you would propose to them. Based on these answers you would then attempt to get them into a series of Bible studies that stepped them through several hundred yes or no questions until they reached the logical conclusion that they must be baptized and then place membership in your church of Christ. Completing the course was contingent on earning a total of "points" every week. For every person with whom you had such a conversation, you earned a certain amount of points, for every contact you made and the answer to the opening question you knew their answer to, a certain amount of points, and so on. You could not "graduate" until you had some grand total of points, which were really an indicator of how many people you managed to ask a certain question to in the grocery check out line. Tons of points were awarded if you managed to steer them into an Ambassadors for Christ Bible study. 100,000 points if they were Baptist. Just kidding. I think.

I have no intentions on bad-mouthing or belittling such a program. For many it did much perceived good. I know some strong Christians today who were reached through such a system. But as I thumb through the pages of the notebook, I see over and over again "AN EXAMPLE CONVERSATION" with a typical duo of characters who meet each other on the street, one armed with the truth and the other "lost." The one fortunate enough to be in a church of Christ quickly dispenses with the how-do-you-dos and jumps quickly to that opening question that, if worked right, will ultimately get them through the studies, into the baptistry and onto heaven (as long as they do church right, of course). For this interaction, the participant will earn something like 500 points.

I really don't want to judge these things, but I can't help but feel my heart sinking as I look through these kinds of things and then wonder if this was actually meant to be serious. My heart hurts even more when I realize - oh yes, yes it was. People as objects. People as targets for your simple system of yes and no. People as a homework assignment in which to score points. People whose names are slapped on a list of "non church of Christ" members, each one getting you closer to your certificate of completion as a trained "evangelist." People who are obviously wandering around in darkness and ignorance because you have not stepped them through the right statements in your New American Standard Bible. You, who are so lucky - blessed? - to have seen the light of pure truth and must heed the call to a proclaim it systematically from some tri-fold brochures to a starving populace. If you are truly an Ambassador for Christ, everyone in your eyesight is a target for this mission that has been given to you. No one will get to the gates of heaven and say that they were not warned by you!

Donald Miller, who is now a popular author, grew up in the conservative evangelical world of southern Texas and now lives in the near-godless region of Portland, Oregon, having wound his way through America and through the foundations of his faith inbetween. In the midst of this process he has developed what he calls his "13 Paradigm Shifts." I want to share these with you.

  1. Other People Exist: Simply coming to the understanding that the world does not revolve around “me” but that everybody is having an experience, created by God, loved by God, and that we needed to repent of showing partiality…

  2. Nobody will listen to you unless they know you like them: We began to understand that people, subconsciously, merit a religious or philosophical idea not on logical conclusions, but on whether or not the idea creates a “good person”…the definition of a good person being whether or not a person is kind to them, tolerant and understanding, able to listen without arguing and so on.

  3. Nobody will listen to God unless they know God loves them: We came to believe there was usually a hidden pain behind hostility, that many people have been hurt by the church, or people or perspectives they believed to represent God. Many times its as simple as an interview they saw on CNN, but an apology and kindness went a long way in helping people understand God was loving.

  4. Other people have morality and values: We came to understand that Christians do not own morality, that everybody lives by a moral code, not always informed by an ancient text, and yet it is there. Calling people or even thinking of them as immoral was, then, inappropriate. In fact, we often found that people who did not know Christ lived a morality close to his heart in many areas we had ignored, ie; community, tolerance, social justice, fairness and equality, freedom, beauty and so on and so on.

  5. Find common ground: Often the morality of others overlapped Christian morality, and we came to understand that in these cases, we would focus on the overlapping issues. We came to see this as kindness, just as though we were on a date or making friends, we did not focus on what we didn’t have in common, but rather on mutual feelings about life. We would not say or do anything to combat people unless they knew we loved them, and this takes a great deal of time.

  6. Define terms in their language: We were careful about Christian sayings and phrases that might be offensive: Crusade, sin, immorality….we came to understand that concepts were more sacred than terms…

  7. Telling somebody about the gospel is about them, not us: We were careful not to try to “build our organization” and respected peoples freedom and space. Sharing the gospel became an exercise in friendship, rather than an attempt to grow a machine. Often, people feel used if they feel they are being recruited. The gospel, we learned, is really about them, their feelings about God and truth, about sin, about life.

  8. Don’t let spreading the gospel feel any different than telling somebody about a love in your life, about your children or a great memory: We realized that in telling somebody about Jesus, we were telling them about somebody we have come to love and need, and about something that had happened to us, an encounter. This keeps us from sounding preachy, and allows us to share part of ourselves in a friendship.

  9. Include lost People in Your Community: Our organization was not exclusive. We invited non-believers into the community if they wanted to be invited. We were careful not to not be ourselves with them, but they were certainly invited and enjoyed being a part of the group. We explained terms that we used, what we believed, but other than that, continued as normal.

  10. Apologize for what you represent: We discovered that many people have been offended or hurt by what they perceive Christianity to be. We allowed ourselves to stand in the place of “Christianity” and apologize whenever necessary.

  11. Be authentic: We discovered the need to be as honest about our lives as possible. We did not feel the need to sale Jesus, as much as share what He has done in our broken lives. We had no problem sharing our doubts and fears about faith, along with our commitment and appreciation for what God had done.

  12. Pray for the Salvation of others: We discovered the need to pray for others. This would insure God was working in peoples lives, as we asked Him to. We discovered the work of evangelism is something God lets us watch, but very little of it is what we manipulate. We repented of not believing evangelism was a spiritual exchange between a lost person and God, rather than believing it was a series of ideas we were supposed to convince others of.

  13. Ask people if they would like to know Christ: We decided to initiate, whenever the relationship called for it. We were not afraid to ask people if they would like to know God.

Please note the extra bold on #12.

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