Yesterday, I mentioned the E-word: evangelism.
That’s not a fun word in a lot of American Christian circles. In the secular world, the fear of speaking in front of a crowd of people scares the willies out of more people than anything else. Obviously, no one is polling Christians on fear of evangelism or else you’d see 90 percent of believers’ knees knocking together at the mere mention of the word.
In America at least, I see the issue of our lousy attitude toward evangelism breaking down into two camps, the Haves and Have Nots.
If you are a Have, then life treats you well. You applied your nose to the grindstone and not only came away with your nose intact, but a two-car garage full of nice things as well. You’re healthy and so are the rest of the people in your family. As they say, it goes well with you. People point to you and say, “There goes a success.” And you are a success, at least as far as the world goes. You have the material gain, the nice semi-upper-level job, and the 2.3 children in an exclusive private Christian school to prove it. Your money gets you out of every jam you might find yourself in. And some Sundays, when you remember, you thank God for all the stuff He has given you.
If you are a Have Not, you look at those who live in the tony Have planned community down the road and pray that, for your sake, they discover Freecycle—and soon.Your car is ten years old and visited the shop one time for each of its years last year, each visit bringing a different mechanical ailment. You suffer from a vague unease that perhaps you have hidden sin in your life that prevents you from being a Have, yet you can never discover what that sin might be. The bills never seem to stop piling up. When your family talks about its situation, the phrase “make do” comes up a lot. In church on Sunday, you worry that people are thinking your nice church clothes are looking a little threadbare.You sometimes wonder if God plays favorites.
For the Have and the Have Not, the mere mention of evangelism brings on an attack of hives.
In the case of the Have, evangelism forces reckoning. It brings to the surface the reality that you claim to follow an invisible god-man who died and rose from the grave. You talk to this god-man through something called prayer. You eat his body and drink his blood. You use lingo found only within that group of people who do the same. That god-man asks things of you that “normal” people aren’t required to do, like take care of the naked and the prisoner. Evangelism is the means by which you want others to live that same way and follow that same god-man.
When you’re a Have, doing just that is a little unnerving. Because it makes you look weird. It casts a pall over your otherwise normal American life. It reminds you that the things that god-man said make other people uncomfortable, people who can make or break your career, people who can send you back where you came from, and you just don’t want to go back there because it wasn’t even a shadow of the life you enjoy now. Losing your Have-ness would be the same as dying—or worse.
So you leave the evangelism to others.
In the case of the Have Not, evangelism reminds you of failure. How many have come to Jesus because of your direct involvement in their lives? Not many. And why would they? You don’t have much. You’re not the shining example of the American Dream. There’s a vague unease that perhaps God is not blessing you as much as He is blessing others. Your pastor tells you that evangelism is nothing more than telling someone else what Jesus has done for you. Yet by the normal American standard of blessing, you’re not doing that well. Your pagan neighbors are, so why would they want to come down in the world? Why would they want to be a Have Not when they may very well be a Have right now?
When you’re a Have Not, you sometimes feel like an embarrasment to the Kingdom of God, the red-headed stepchild, the third wheel. Your Have-Not-ness disqualifies you from evangelizing because who really wants to be like you? Why would someone want to follow a god who has such a mediocre disciple working for him? Who wants to tell prospective followers that they may come down in their station in life if they follow Jesus? Or that devils may try to attack them more fiercely so that they’ll face discouragement in a way they never have before, discouragement that threatens to send them back to where they were before coming to Jesus but with all of the former things of that life now lost.
So you leave the evangelism to others.
The funny thing about the Haves and Have Nots here in the American Church is that it’s the Have Nots that are the most deluded. Truth is, most everyone in America is a Have, while most of the rest of the world is a Have Not. And oddly enough, the greatest revivals and most effective evangelism are coming out of those places in the world that practically define what it means to be a Have Not. Except that those Have Not Christians in those Have Not countries could not have more joy because they are Haves in the one thing that truly matters, having Jesus.
For the Haves, there is one thing they lack. If they were to read their Bibles, they would know what that one thing is. The problem for the Haves is that they love their Having more than they love their own souls—or the One who can save those very souls. Evangelizing others reminds them of this truth. It’s why they avoid it like the plague.
Times are coming and may already be here when the Haves will find themselves having less. Maybe that will change their attitude toward evangelism. Or maybe it will just make them bitter. That’s hard to predict. Sliding into the Have Nots is a foreign feeling. The Haves won’t know the language or customs of what it means to dwell in the Land of Have Not. I suspect some may find God’s grace in that Land, though.
At least, that’s what I’m praying.
No matter which camp you fall into, it’s time to live differently. The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. And if you look closely enough, you can see that today is a shade darker than yesterday.
12 thoughts on “How the Haves and Have Not Evangelize—Or Don’t”
No comments yet? Hmm…
This post didn’t go up until a little after noon today, so many people have not seen it yet. We’ll see.
I read this last night and your post brought it to mind:
7 “Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD ?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
Proverbs 30:7-9 (NIV)
Timing is everything.
Just this morning, in our family devotional time, I read the account of manna in Exodus. The part that struck me was that each family got the exact amount they needed, not too much nor too little. That hit me so hard, and I’ve read that account countless times before.
If my experience is anything to go by, I think the same Lord is talking to more than one of us. About a year ago, I returned to the church where I was raised, after many years in other places. I’ve since shared several messages at the informal early service where this is accepted practice. I am currently working on a message that not only mentions the E-word, it’s the main focus. I’ve been seeing teeny little signs in some others that God is stirring them in this direction, also. This almost gives me some hope!
I just prayed for your effort in getting others to evangelize.
“Provided the thing is in itself right, the more one likes it and the less one has to †˜try to be good,’ the better. A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc…) can do the journey on their own!”
What I find fascinating is when the “Have Nots” reason that they should not evangelize because others would presumably take one look at their lives and say “nope, I don’t want a religion that makes life difficult”. I’ve challenged myself to question this logic because of the clear evidence presented wherever the church is persecuted–it grows. When Christians in China, or North Korea, or Nigeria evangelize, they’re literally inviting people to a life of certain suffering inflicted intentionally by others and possibly martyrdom, and everyone knows it. Those who are on the receiving end of such evangelism understand that this self-titled “Christian” is asking them to give up their very lives. By all worldly calculations, the church should shrink, because why would anyone join a “religion” if they knew it would strip them of almost everything they once held dear?
Just some interesting things to ponder.
I think if you look carefully at evangelism worldwide, most people don’t win others to Christ who are above their station in life. In other words, the rich, comfortable man may not pay much attention to a poor, oppressed man sharing the Gospel, though he might if the Gospel came from another rich, comfortable man.
I think that explains much.
That’s interesting; I hadn’t heard that before, though it sounds reasonable by American standards. I’ve read numerous accounts of prison guards and others who are in the “high position” over persecuted Christians becoming converts, even though they know it would cost them everything. How do you explain this?