I once heard about an outreach that a popular campus ministry used to do during Spring Break. They'd go down to beaches and evangelize the collegians reveling in that yearly bacchanal. For a week, it was God's work for those young people sharing their faith in Christ. They'd hand out tracts, pray with folks, and for those few who did make a commitment to Christ, try to point them in the right direction for the few days the ministry ran.
We've all heard of (or participated in) short-term mission trips like this, whether in-country or out. Usually, it's a spiritual high for the participants that may just last a lifetime, or result in the kind of life-altering event that leads someone to go on to long-term missions work.
But then you start hearing the horror stories and you start to wonder.
I knew someone who used to do that Spring Break ministry, but who encountered something he never thought would be the fruit of that labor.
After several years of participation, he ran across a past convert from an earlier Spring Break outreach (I'll call that convert "Stu".) My friend encountered Stu back on the beach and asked him how his walk with the Lord was going since Stu's conversion the previous spring. Stu shared the following:
1. He was glad to be a Christian now because his guilt was gone.
2. He'd hung out a church for a little bit, but it didn't take, so he stopped going.
3. The drinking had stopped for a little while, but now he didn't feel so bad about getting hammered all the time because he was forgiven.
4. Same for the promiscuity. Stopped for a while, but a party's a party, right?
5. He still had the Bible he'd received, but he never really read it.
6. When asked what he believed, he heartily told everyone he was a Christian and proud of it.
Whatever we think about Stu's "conversion," one truth remains: he's doing more damage now than if he'd never encountered those eager Christian collegians on the shores of Spring Break.
Stu's become something worse than unregenerate; he's now an antiwitness.
Antiwitnesses are those poor souls who taste the goodness of Christ, but are never encouraged to grow deeper in Christ. They tend to comprehend just enough of the Gospel to be able to enunciate a few Christian truths, but they've ultimately been inoculated against any deeper life. They live exactly like the world—or worse—but continue to cling to some idea that they are real Christians.
The true devastation wrought by antiwitnesses comes through their ability to witness to their supposed conversion while acting out every conceivable witness against that reality. Theirs is the unique dysfunction of being the lone "Christian" many people know, but they project a halo so tarnished that most people are forever put off Christianity after encountering them.
Male antiwitnesses soon learn they can use their newfound spirituality as leverage to bed even more impressionable young things than before. Said young things wind up with the impression that all Christians are hyprocrites in the wake of a tryst that lasts for a week before the antiwitness moves on to another conquest. I've heard so many of these accounts over the years I've lost track.
What creates an antiwitness?
While many will say that we Christians aren't nearly as zealous for evangelism as we once were, we must look beyond the shallowness of numbers. Too many times we think about the "spiritual brownie points" we get from being "soulwinners," but we fail to take into account the consequences of our discipleship deficiencies.
At its core, Christianity is a relational, community faith. But as self-actualized Americans who have lived under the shadow of rugged individualism and bootstrapping, we tend to forget that discipleship is not handing someone a Bible and pointing them to a church with a hearty "Go get 'em, Tiger!" pat on the back. Many religions are like that, but Christ did not come to establish a loose affiliation of believing loners.
Over at Paradoxology, a blog I recommend for the tough questions Chris Monroe asks, he wonders about the validity of door-to-door evangelism. Sadly, I have to question that evangelistic method in light of our tendency toward spawning antiwitnesses. Not because it doesn't reap rewards, but because we too often forget that we have a relational responsibility to people we evangelize. Selling ourselves as friendly people who care about someone's eternal state is only effective if that's what we truly believe.
We should ever go into every evangelistic situation with the understanding that we're personally responsible to pour our own lives into the lives of whatever converts we make by the grace of God. What message are we inadvertently sending to a new convert if we bail the second they say, "I believe"? We tend to want to make converts, but the actual interpersonal discipling that happens afterward becomes some other church's, pastor's, or discipler's responsibility.
I've seen or heard of too many people left to their own devices after a supposed conversion and more often than not those abandoned folks turn into antiwitnesses. We may think they're in God's care and protection, but the truth is that we left them to be sifted by Satan. God gave them to us and we tossed them aside to get torn apart by the Enemy.
Satan loves it when we go for numbers and not for depth of discipleship. He'll gladly take those folks and syncretize whatever primitive Christian belief system they received with the best he has to offer them. Sadly, one of his protegés, like Stu, has a half-baked experience that vaccinates everyone he meets against the real Gospel. We can work for years to make five disciples, but a guy like Stu can make a thousand naysayers in his travels.
I fully realize that we can't ensure genuine discipleship in people. But our "instant discipleship" ideas heightened by the general impatience we have with true relationship and real spiritual growth only make our evangelistic efforts fruitless, no matter how many notches we may claim to have in our soulwinner belt.
Having visited a self-described "soulwinning church" that baptized enormous numbers of people it picked up off the street, I was left with a curious question. Why was it that those being baptized were primarily black and Hispanic, but the church itself was whiter than a warehouse of marshmallows? What happened to all those people the church picked up off the streets and evangelized, resulting in the stream of baptizees I witnessed? I suspect they were never heard from again. That well-known church was probably making five antiwitnesses to every one real disciple.
Honestly, I don't think any of us should be sharing the Gospel with anyone unless we're also willing to be the ones doing the follow-up. Our problem is that this asks for a great deal of time and effort. I also suspect it's the main reason that the American Church isn't growing. We do lip service to evangelism, and either avoid it altogether because we know the cost to us is great, or we do the kind of "just add water" evangelism that makes nothing but antiwitnesses.
But it's not just the underdeveloped converts that can become antiwitnesses. Sometimes, the "overdeveloped" disciples that are impressed with their own righteous, the Superspiritual as I've called them, can be antiwitnesses.
Catez Stevens of Allthings2all tells of her pre-Christian days an her encounter with this second kind of antiwitness. Her cautionary true tale of The Merciful Stripper shows that we can be antiwitnesses when we overspiritualize things and miss the true heart of Christ's Gospel. Please read her story; I promise you that, sadly, it's not unique.
Laziness on our part only makes for an antiwitness. In the end, if we are to make real disciples, we need to love people—and not just mouth loving platitudes, either. We've got to look at every person not as a notch in our soulwinning belt but as someone for whom Christ died and whom He calls us to partner with so they grow deeply and radically in love with Him. That requires time.
More than that, it requires that we die to self so that someone else might live.