Please invite people to the marriage supper of the lamb

The words evangelism and the gospel and where and how they are used frustrate me. They are frustrating not because what they mean in-and-of-themselves but rather the fact that they are associated –at least in my mind—with shallow, inauthentic recruiting.

Lamb wearing necklace and crown indoorsThe first word has come to mean ‘recruiting’ whilst the second has become a reduction of its full meaning, denoting far too little in the way of good news. By this I mean the words are usually used to convey an abstraction. They are intangible and lack descriptive value, conveying a minimalist sense of relationship or God’s creativity and don’t communicate what we mean when we say them, unless we are talking to each other, and even then they lack gravity. The words have come to mean something only in the context of salvation-from death, rather than salvation-for life (I mean real life now, cream cheese-salmon bagels and a glass of white wine type of life).

Telling people about the good news is more than the reselling fire insurance of the get-out-of-hell-free verity. It includes the fact that creation is good and the noahic covenant for all humankind bestows a God given dignity even to the most perverted. Yes of course the gospel includes the message that Jesus, the son of God, washed away your personal sinfulness, but it’s about so much more than that. The sooner we allow this to be a part of our message, the less introspective and narcissistic we ourselves will be. That might mean we can talk more honestly to people about our faith.

These words are also overused, especially among the faithful living tradition our family is a part of. This overuse causes the words to take on the form of cliché, which by definition denotes laziness and a lack of verbal creativity. In the Old Testament we are commanded (one of the first commandments found in Genesis) to be creative. So followers of the Lamb of God, lets be creative and use words that have more power to describe and convey the relationship we are talking about than when we use the words evangelism and the gospel. Alternatively let us imbue these words that have become lame with meaning and energy by couching them in relationship to a magnificent and holistic understanding of what the good news actually is (it’s not just about your hide, baby).

This challenge leads me to another problem, a frustration I have about the context in which the words are used and what we are inviting people to participate in when we use these words.

Invite people into a real relationship not just to an event

It is good that we are a church that takes its call to reach out and touch people who desperately need to come into a relationship with Jesus. This is why our family is still a part of the church we go to, but I want people to meet Jesus not be sold a product.

I think it was no coincidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams condemned evangelistic bullying the same week that ‘a passion for life’ got under way in earnest. While I am not exactly sure what he said, I am certain that what our church was doing had nothing to do with ‘bullying.’ Nevertheless, I feel that what we did during our mission, could have been unhelpful and was not the right thing for some.

Not the real thing

For those of you outside this peculiar concoction of group-think, mission is a time when we go all out, put on events every night and –to borrow a term used by a good friend of mine who isn’t a Christian—recruit for Jesus. A passion for life, rather nastily abbreviated to ‘ap4l’, was about inviting all our friends to events that might be suitable for them to come to and at which they would hear the gospel message, and hopefully be challenged, ‘turned around’ and become Christians.

Lots of people put in lots of work for these events. Some of the speakers travelled a long way to come, whilst still others felt a sense of guilt for not really wanting to invite any of their friends, I think partly because of their own fear, but perhaps also because they had a sense that ‘events’ might not be the right setting for their friends.

You see our generation craves authenticity. We are cynical and view much of what goes on in life, including our relationships, as a place where we are being sold something. We expect there to be a catch. We are perfectionists and so if you can’t present it well enough, why would I want to even consider your product? Hence I have a problem with such evangelistic events. Having alienated my friend, who rightly calls this sort of thing ‘recruiting,’ from church once, my scepticism is rooted not only in hearsay from trendy Christian trend-spotters, but also from painful personal experience. ‘Events’ tend to lack authenticity and with all the will in the world we will never be able to compete with the big, styled to perfection ad agency messages.

It’s a sales pitch right? Its two ways to live and the formula fits. You present somebody with a great new opportunity to take on “fire insurance” for free, or next to nothing, except sort of having to leave behind some things, passing the maelstrom of hell (fire insurance covered) and worshiping God for the rest of eternity. Spank me that sound’s like an amazing deal! Only it misses two key points. The first is that ultimately reality isn’t about you, and the pitch doesn’t necessarily tell you what you are saved for, but rather it focuses on what you are saved from, namely sin and eternal damnation. However, many of our generation don’t even have the category ‘sin’ any more, so not only does the pitch not sell the ‘what for’, it doesn’t even address a felt need that previous generations may have felt.

Well, let’s give a bit of context to the last paragraphal diatribe. Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine, who has a chunk of responsibility at our church. His background is in sales, but he has since then moved on to a different sort of job working for the church. I like the guy a lot. He has a great sense of humour, he loves the people that he works with and cares a lot about Jesus. He is also authentic, which is existentially commendable.

He mentioned to me the other day that he had invited one of his friends to come to an event. The friend came and afterwards said that the event was basically a ‘sales pitch.’ Why would we want to continue in a manner that would in any way equate our faith with sales? [edit: please see Pete’s post at the end of this article, he clarifies that his friend was using language which related to his job (as a salesman) because it was terminology he was comfortable with. However, I think my point on this issue still stands.] As Skunk Anansie said: “Their selling Jesus again,” and she is quite right, at least in that part of the song.

Pragmatically speaking we cannot compete with the world of sales. People don’t like in-authenticity and if the feedback we are getting is that we ‘recruit’ and if we are in any way in-authentic because our event was seens as a “sales pitch” then what ever we are doing isn’t appealing to the demographic I am a part of. The biggest danger is that our message is perceived as a falsehood because of style.

We don’t have a product to flog.  Jesus is not a product.

End notes

I doubt our church will stop having events because we are used to them, and they work for some people. Curry nights and talks by eminent thinkers are not bad in and of themselves; I just hope that the right people are invited to these things, just so the reek of in-authenticity (for those who care about that sort of thing) does not make anybody retch.

Also, not to be only critical, I will blog a review of some talks we where at recently, where Jerram Barrs spoke on evangelism (he also wrote a book on the subject). He looked at how Jesus went about ‘recruiting,’ with particular emphasis on John’s account of Jesus’ meeting the Samaritan woman a the well. There is an audio and slides to go with the sessions, and I will link to those also.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in church, culture, God, Observations and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Please invite people to the marriage supper of the lamb

  1. Phil C says:

    There are lots of great points in this post!

    If your account is right, I want to know how to move forward from this. To be clear: your points are (a) how we present the good news makes it seem like we have ulterior motives (I’m trying to work out what “inauthentic” means here), and (b) we don’t present the good news in its entirety anyway?

    So it seems that you’re saying we need to present the whole gospel in a way (or ways) that mean people will trust us. How do we do that? Your subtitle is “Invite people into a real relationship not just to an event”. How?

  2. Lauri Moyle says:

    Thanks Phil. Very possitive of you 🙂 (a) and (b) are what I was trying to get across in the second part. The first part is about the use and abuse of words and how our corporate identity has become shaped by those words, to the point where evangelism (and to some extent discipleship) has become about recruiting and then helping others to recruit, rather than looking at our lives as a whole and acknowledging that the good news is that I am awake this morning and that God has given me a commanded to be creative and multiply and love my neighbour as myself in short to be truly human and inviting others to the party.

    Inauthentic also means less than human, or an abstracted intangibility. I am using the word in shorthand for something unappealing, unreal a pipe dream what the advertisement promised but what the product didn’t deliver.

    I will be a bit more constructive in my next post. But just to be clear, in many ways we are already doing a lot of authentic relationship building. I think having dinner or a pint is about that…

  3. Pete Matthew says:

    Lauri,

    I’ll re-read this post in more depth soon, when the babies give me a chance (may be a week or two), but a couple of quick thoughts.

    My mate who thought some of the talks he heard were good pitches and some less good. talks he appreciated he would still say they were a sales pitch becuase he too is a salesman he was using categories and words that meant somethign to him which were not always necessarily negative. He’s been to several ‘events’ and the ones he disliked where the ones when the ‘pitch’ came out of the blue. Others when the ‘pitch’ was presented as coming out of an exposition he didn’t mind. Basically he knew I wanted him to hear about Jesus and that ultimately I woudl love him to become a Christian. As a salesman to a salesman the categories we’d use to describe something would of course be sales related. His issue was always when he felt that the ‘pitch’ was OTT, inauthentic or manipulative. And he’d have the same issue with a poor salesman who was selling a PC.

    My point is that when you describe to me how you share/tell/present/discuss the gospel with your friends I would use sales terminology to describe what you are doing. Why? Firstly, because that is how I think about lots (possibly most) of things. Secondly, because presumably you are sharing the gospel with people because you want God to open their eyes to the truth about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and return. And therefore you are hoping for a response of repentance and faith. To my salesman way of thinking you are hoping for a ‘sale’. Now before I’m accused of being faecaetious I realise it is the most valuable, wonderful, amazing thing for God to have mercy on someone and open their eyes to the truth, but we want a response and therefore my mond thinks of things like that as a sale. therefore I don;t apologise for thinking like that, I think we want the same thing but use different terminology most suited to oursleves.

    On a separate note, the women at the well is one of my favourite passages in John, the Samiratans believed because of what Jesus said, where as immediately Jesus returns to the Jews they demand a sign. Brilliant contrast between the two races. I think Jesus example of sitting down and talking one to one is brilliant and we absoltely don;t do enough, (think Nicodemeus as well). But Jesus also went big style into events and called on huge crowds of people to repent and avoid the judgement to come. Yes, to live the life now as his disciple, but to be ready for the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus’ focus is mainly on the kingdom to come, think of the subject of most of his parables, ‘the Kingdom will be like…” So, I agree we need to do more of Samaritan at well, but we all need to be careful to pick examples of Jesus to suit what we think is the best model for ‘evangelism’ and ignore the other models presented by Jesus.

    On a separate note Nicki has just shouted up could she have your recipe for that amazing risotto you cooked us. I’m sure that will last into the new creation!!

  4. krishk says:

    well done lauri
    thanks for raising this
    blessings
    krish

  5. Lauri Moyle says:

    Thanks for taking this post seriously Pete, and thanks for the comments about the Risotto. I am afraid I don’t have a recipe. I cook from the Gut.

    I think we might disagree significantly on what the Kingdom of God/Heaven is and what it looks like, that is if I am to take what you said about Jesus teaching crowds at face value. It is also quite likely that this disagreement goes back to a real difference we have in our view of unsaved human beings (the worm saga).

    The kingdom has come (and is coming). The cosmic event of the cross and the resurrection established the King. We, the Church, are to witness to that fact. Evangelicals don’t tend to understand what that means and the implications that has for what salvation is. This must change. That’s what this post is about and it relates specifically to the way we use the words evangelism and the gospel. The post is absolutely not about “technique” (though how we do things matters to the discussion.)

    You mention that Jesus talked to crowds. You’re quite right. However that is categorically different to what we get up to during missions week. Seriously, it’s categorically different. I would compare his teaching more to a Sunday sermon. He described the Kingdom of God (in parables no less), to multitudes who wanted to have a relationship with him “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” I mean take the Sermon on the Mount. It’s talking about a Kingdom and what kingdom living should looks like now. That is tasty, people are drawn to that. We didn’t talk about a kingdom during mission’s week did we?

    I am not against events. I said as much at the end of the blog post. Also, I misunderstood what you said in relation to your friend, sorry for that. You quite rightly point out the difference between a good and bad “sales pitch”… and a good pitch includes authenticity. Tbh though, that is beside the main point.

    Also to be clear, I am talking about evangelical culture in general. I have this frustration every time I read a tweet which shallows the gospel. This is not only about our church, though the manifestations of the evangelical subculture happen in our community as well. It’s a critique of Evangelicalism and I am sure I am not the first to voice it.

    Finally I think it’s slightly funny that you pre-empt my next blog post by agreeing with what Jesus was doing with the Samaritans and assume that I will be talking about “one to one” evangelism. That’s a part of it, just because it happened to be when Jesus was alone with her, but it’s not exactly what I will be blogging about.

  6. Lauri Moyle says:

    I cook from the Gut: gutblog.com

  7. Tom Stanbury says:

    What I am about to say is not directly related to your post which I hope you will excuse but it gives me the opportunity to get something off my chest! Authenticity seems to be the trump card, the ultimate test.
    What actually is this authenticity that we all crave? Is it possible to be 100% authentic?
    I only speak for myself but I have excused some of my worst failings/sins on being authentic when in reality I was being unkind, selfish, rebellious.

  8. Lauri Moyle says:

    “I only speak for myself but I have excused some of my worst failings/sins on being authentic when in reality I was being unkind, selfish, rebellious.”

    Well I guess that depends on your measure of reality, truth and authenicity.

    Cravings are not bad… “I have a lot of love to give, I just dont know where to put it.” Comes to mind as a quote from Magnolia.

  9. Tom Stanbury says:

    I guess I hear lots of claims of things, being ‘really authentic’. A lot of romance and emotion is given as being authentic but it just isn’t. Hopefully this observation doesn’t make me emotionally stunted (I suspect I am) and may explain my single status!
    My comment was not really in the light of the mission more me thinking about am I authentic? Often I am a fake but sometimes the things I have learnt about how to live as a christian shine through. With ‘the things’ I mean what we technically call fruits of the spirit.

    My sentence about my authentic excuse was really my way of explaining that I am learning that I don’t need to go with my feelings to be authentic.

    My questions were me thinking out loud.
    Your right cravings are not all bad I think people are yearning for an ultimate reality you and me are christians and know this is God in Jesus. He is 100% authentic. Now that would sound cheesy as a sales pitch. 100% true and real not like me the fake.

  10. Lauri Moyle says:

    Tom, thanks for explaining, I was a bit confused.

    I really like the last part of your comment. That sums up the relationship between autheniticity and Jesus. Real authenticity I think means to be authentically who Jesus wants me to be. And I think people are drawn to people who are like that. And then people realize that its not something in the person that they like, its Jesus that they like and want to be like.

  11. Lauri Moyle says:

    but be themselves… at the same time.

    That is the wonder of the Trinity. There is perfect unity, and perfect diversity, absolute authenticity, safety and trust. The Father trusts the son so much that he sends him to earth as a man and does not disapoint. Jesus trusts the father so much that he is willing to die and wait for the father to bring him back to life. The Spirit is trusted with the growth of the body (bride) of Christ on earth before his ultimate return.

  12. Tom Stanbury says:

    From your intial post is your point that form matters because it does communicate?
    It is not purely the content.

  13. Lauri Moyle says:

    That too yes.

  14. Phil C says:

    Lauri, are people as cynical as you take them to be? You talk about “our generation”, and how “we” want authenticity. But isn’t this just a snapshot of a pretty tiny intellectual, middle-class, postmodern set of which you and I happen to be a part?

  15. Lauri Moyle says:

    Not really Phil, because are asked to bring friend, neighbors and colleges to these events and given that we live, work and hang out with people roughly our age and with similar sorts of backgrounds I don’t think so. Especially in London. I don’t think its a small snapshot either.

    The issue is how we approach skeptics and that our tradition does not do that well. if you need prof of skepticism all you have to do is look at how many books Dawkins sells. What type of humour most of use and engage with and what our personal credit card dept looks like… All we have is now…

  16. Pingback: Lead us into the world « Fiction and the Reading Public

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s