After reading Matthew Paul Turner's book Churched, I am thankful that my church experience growing up was not filled with the confusion and frustration that he experienced. His book is not mean-spirited. Indeed, he makes many of the stories funny. But it is a thoughtful look at what the church can be, should be, and often isn't.
I've also been listening to Turner's podcast, That God Show, co-hosted with Benjamin L. Corey. I like exposing myself to a variety of voices and perspectives. This helps me evaluate where I am and where I am going spiritually, and it reminds me that other people can still be following God even if their faith journey looks different from mine.
Turner describes the Independent Fundamental Baptist altar calls that include the preacher instructing everyone to close their eyes and bow their heads. Potential converts are then invited to raise their hands if they want to make a commitment to Christ. Turner said his pastor would over-count the number of raised hands, a practice I found corroborated by other sources.
The modern altar call or invitation, even when well-intentioned, seems to be largely a form of psychological manipulation. Music, lighting, peer pressure, and either whispered or shouted instructions from the pastor may generate responses, but that is not the same as making disciples.
Regular assemblies of the church are for Christians, not unbelievers. If unbelievers want to come, that's fine, but the focus should be on feeding and encouraging the saints. If an unbeliever is truly convicted of his need for Jesus, then he will ask what he must do to be saved.
Public preaching of the gospel in the New Testament did not consist of emotional appeals to anonymous people who had expressed no interest in the message. The closest I see to an "invitation" in Acts is Peter's statement, "Be saved from this perverse generation," which accompanied many other words (Acts 2:40). In the context, Peter is talking to people who have already recognized their need to repent after hearing him explain who Jesus is--Lord and Christ.
Many of the examples of public preaching in Acts were preceded by signs and wonders, which demonstrated God's power and drew a crowd. Other examples, some public and some private, involved unbelievers who initiated the conversation by word or deed (Acts 8:26-40, 16:25-34, 17:16-33). Jesus did not pressure anyone to follow him. He invited and he welcomed, but he did not demand or cajole. I see the early disciples following his example.
I've read and listened to tips and tricks for personal evangelism, but I've struggled with how to apply them. I've gone door-to-door a couple of times. I've handed out tracts that I wrote myself. I've approached a handful of strangers in public and tried to initiate a spiritual conversation. I've never seen immediate results. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being bolder. But I also have a problem with barging into someone's life uninvited and asking that person to listen to me without any context or relationship.
Sharing the gospel does require the use of words. It's not just about our actions. But there are several passages in the Bible that emphasize how our good deeds, motivated by love, open a door for speaking truth to people who are ready to hear it.
"To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. . . . But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:8-9, 14-15).
"Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast [or, forth] the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain" (Philippians 2:14-16).
"Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect" (Titus 2:9-10).
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
I'm still trying to figure all this out, but here are a few things I know:
- Being a follower of Christ does not make me better or smarter than anyone else in the world. I am called to be humble, compassionate, and generous toward everyone, regardless of his or her age, ethnic background, national origin, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status, or socioeconomic status.
- I want to use my life and teach my sons to use their lives to serve and bless others, without expecting anything in return--recognition, appreciation, remuneration, or conversion.
- When I have an opportunity to speak truth into someone else's life, I should do so as one beggar helping another beggar find bread.
What are your thoughts on how Christians should or shouldn't reach out with the gospel?