Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Christianity Without "Hooks"

  • What if sharing Christianity came without hooks?
  • What if  "bait & switch" evangelistic tactics were scrapped all together?
  • How does one introduce another to the Life Christ brings if we aren't allowed to use a little well- intentioned manipulation occasionally?
A few days ago I wrote a post on Lady Gaga and some of the attention she got here in Asia with "the church."  A couple days later I was reading a thread on a friend's Facebook page and a girl I didn't know was quoting it in her post.  Ok, I was mildly proud as any writer will tell you that it feels good to have someone say they read your work...and having a stranger quote it feels REALLY good.

But she was taking issue with it.  She seemed to struggle with the idea that Jesus enjoyed being with sinners.  She said that Jesus of course hung out with them to see them saved but that was about it.  This, I believe, has been one of the central problems with the modern church for decades.  People are seen as objects to be "converted" rather than individuals to be loved, cared for, and enjoyed without condition!

People just wanted to "hang out" with Jesus...

And you know what, we're supposed to be Christ.  Now that he is dwelling in us and we're "his body" people are supposed to want to hang out with us.  We're supposed to have "living water" in us that people respond to naturally...

But many of our "living water" wells seem to be dry and people don't want to be around us much so we come up with evangelistic "strategies" covering everything from cool music bands to free pizza,  packaged as "four spiritual laws" to make up for the shortfall..  Particularly in the West, people are conditioned to expect that when a church group does something nice, they have an agenda. "You want the meal, you have to listen to Pastor Jones share how Jesus wants to come into your life."  And then once you accept Christ, guess what, you can go tell your friends about him.

We've reduced the Creator of the Universe and the Author of Life down to the level of a pitch for Amway!

Back when I leading a church in Lan Kwai Fong (the nightclub district in Hong Kong) I started running a Shakespeare discussion group on Thursday nights at the church's meeting location.  We'd discuss Shakespeare's plays which would lead often to talks on politics and religion mixed with generous amounts of wine.  Although we intended to do the meeting every other week the group really enjoyed being with each other so we made it a weekly event and surprisingly, almost everyone who came was not attending the church.

Anyhow I can't tell you how many times I was taken to the side by Christians and pastors outside our church to "help them understand" why I was doing it.  The South China Morning Post had done a story about us so everyone seemed to know about it.  At a church leaders breakfast one pastor cornered me and wanted to know more about "this Shakespeare Group".

"Well, its a bunch of people from the Lan Kwai Fong area who get together to discuss Shakespeare's plays." I answered

"But why do YOU do it?" he asked

Not knowing what else to say I responded, "Because I love Shakespeare and I like being with other people who do."

Genuinely perplexed he then asked, "But you do it at the church, is it a church function?  Is it pre-evangelism?"

Dear Lord, you give them eyes, yet they cannot see... 

To this pastor's credit, he liked me and really did want to understand...he just couldn't.  Too many years of hardened church leadership had taken its toll.  He could not conceive of an event (especially one held in a church building)  where you just enjoyed being with people with NO STRINGS ATTACHED. (And I still haven't figured out what "pre-evangelism" is)

The funny thing was I often was able to share Jesus at these meetings in the natural flow of discussion;  one guy even joined the church...and it all happened naturally.

I'll close by saying last week at our homegroup meeting we were deciding what kind of weekend activity we could do in the summer that we could invite people to.  One friend said something along the lines of, "well how do we bring the gospel into it because otherwise we just get a reputation for throwing good parties."

Funny, attending good parties seemed to be a reputation Jesus had and I'd welcome the reputation of being one who throws them.

What would happen if the church started throwing parties people outside the church wanted to come to?  What if our relationships with people came without agendas and "hooks"....mmm I wonder.


Unknown said...

I don't think that Jesus ever went anywhere with an agenda of 'conversion'. He simply wanted to meet people, where they needed to be met. And, if that meant that all he did was to contribute to the wine at the party, then that's what he did. That said, I'm sure that he would have also engaged one or two people in life-changing conversation whilst they were drinking it!

Steve H. said...

I have to be careful not to suggest that Jesus wasn't "intentional" or "missional". He even answered his critics by saying it is not the healthy that needed the doctor but the sick. I think what Jesus had though was a genuine love for people and that legitimized any "agenda" he had toward them.

Any doctor has an "agenda" but we all know the one who really cares and the one who is just going through the motions.

Bob said...

Steve, as is so often the case, I agree with you 100 percent. Jesus said the second greatest commandment, next to loving God with all our hearts, was to love our neighbor as ourselves. It stopped there. No strings attached. But that kind of love is so different and so radical that it inevitably transforms two lives -- the one doing the loving and the one being loved.

Steve H. said...

Absolutely Bob, And when I speak these things I speak squarely at myself. I am judgmental, I criticize the choice of others...I can be a real ..well you know what...but I am beginning to see people through Christ's eyes and that changes me and the way I relate to people around me

Logan said...

An independent thinker always Steve-love it!

Connie Mudore said...

I love what you wrote, too (and you can quote me :)

Steve H. said...

Thanks Connie & Logan!