Pardon me for intruding…

People who study evangelism often classify it as a) relational/lifestyle, b) mass evangelism, like Billy Graham or Luis Palau, or a pastor who gives an invitation, c) power evangelism, with signs and wonders, or d) confrontational/intrusional, in which we approach a stranger with a tract, Bible, or “survey.” 

I grew up on a diet of intrusional evangelism. We went to O’Hare Airport to pass out tracts. We knocked on doors to engage in dialogue. We learned Evangelism Explosion’s key questions. We learned Evangelism Encounter’s excellent definitions: “Saving faith is claiming by personal choice, and relying exclusively upon the finished work of Christ as my hope for eternity” (thanks, Dick Sisson).

I was mortified the whole time. As a Meiers-Briggs moderate introvert, the idea of engaging total strangers in conversations about Jesus terrified me. It still does, and I’m a career minister!

What a great relief when Lifestyle/Relational evangelism swept the country, and I no longer had to knock on doors! Whew! I’m off the hook. All I have to do is step through doors that God opens first, right? I don’t have to actually INITIATE anything, do I? That’s God’s job, or else, I’m “cramming Jesus down somebody’s throat” right? 

Not so fast.

Check out this video in which Penn Jillette, the magician, and a convinced atheist, describes receiving a Bible from a Gideon.

That would be classified as confrontational/intrusional evangelism, but was it? Did Penn feel intruded upon? A Gideon took the initiative and, in a gracious way, handed out a Bible. I like that a lot.

Could it be that relational evangelism has become non-evangelism?

kungfuevangelistWhen I first arrived at Neighborhood Church, I gave each pastor a couple of Bibles, and we split into groups of 2 and 3 to knock on doors in local trailer parks and neighborhoods. We said, “Hi, I’m pastor Bill. We’re going to have a prayer meeting in a while, and I was wondering if there were any needs you have our team could pray for.”  Then we offered them the Bible, wrote down their needs, prayed on the spot–which everyone wanted–and went our way.

Only one pastor had a bad experience, when the door was slammed in his face. The rest of us found a great openness to this kind of initiative.

For the record, I’m pro-evangelism. All kinds, as long as it’s honest and doesn’t demean people.

  • To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22, NKJV).
  • What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:18, NKJV).
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7 thoughts on “Pardon me for intruding…

  1. Wow… you can see this man was visably moved when he described this situation about the guy giving him a bible. It was evident that God’s spirit was dealing with him. All his protests about still not believing in God, etc. was not very convincing to me. What I perceived was another step or seed that God is using in this man’s life to hopefully bring him to Himself. I don’t even think Penn was aware of how the Lord was dealing with him, but it’s obvious that something was happening in this man’s heart – he even seemed to be wiping a tear away as he spoke. The key to this is that the guy who shared the bible with him was genuinely concerned about Penn, he was respectful and gracious and THAT was what impressed this guy. It still comes down to where people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care…. and Penn could tell how much this guy cared and that made an indelible impression on him.

  2. This topic has been much in my thoughts lately as my children are college age…that time when one searches for answers to life’s biggest questions. My own life was influenced at this very age by a certain middle-aged, dangly earring-wearing mom named Lois, whose own kids were used to influence a new crop of believers. Her invitation to dinner always included confrontational dessert topped with the gospel.

    More recently, my thinking has been influenced by Kinnamon and Lyons book Unchristian, particularly the perception that Christians are insincere and interested only in converting others. I used to fantasize about having a ministry like the one that influenced me. Those saved under my teaching would be akin to feathers in the warriors headdress that I could then parade around for everyone to see. Do we really care about lost PEOPLE or do we care more about how others admire our spirituality and service?

    Instead, God has brought INDIVIDUALS to me that I have cared for and loved one-on-one. The fruit grows ever so slowly!

    Like one kid who once showed up at our door at 1 AM to wash off the blood from the fight he got in before going home. I think he really just wanted someone to care. That was almost two years ago. He got baptized last month.

    Or the other one, now 19….who lived with us for a year before we kicked him out for marijuana use. Now in his own place, I have to dust my feet off when I leave his apartment so not to track weed back to my car. He was over last night cuz he wants our help to get his life back. As I write this, my husband is at the bank with him figuring out a plan for him to survive as his Starbuck’s work hours are being slashed. I wish there was a success story at the end of this, but there’s not. Just alot more time and care as I know he’s going to crash many more times. Drug addiction is a hard thing…..with slow results.

    There’s the other girl who calls me Mom who shows no interest in spiritual things. She’s 20 and we chat often about random things.

    After watching this video of the atheist, I’m going back to Zumiez at the mall to take a NT to Ryan….the gauge wearing store manager. While shopping for my son at Christmas, I struck up a conversation with him about the new skater brand, Ezekiel. I listenend to him for 15 minutes and then gave him my email address and invited him to church. The kid on marijuana, who talks about God on a regular basis, says I should go back to the store on a regular basis to engage in conversation.

    I’m not much into tattoos, but it would be a great reminder if I could have “God gives the growth” (I cor. 3:7) forever on my hand as a reminder.

  3. How “intrusional” was the young evangelist in Jerusalem who invited the son of a Hamas leader to a Bible study? This act of caring for a lost soul was the seed that sprouted into a conversion for the son and a tremendous (and incredible!) witness to the world for Christianity and faith in the Risen Saviour! Praise God for that loving evangelist who had the courage to reach out and touch! Does God do the work? You betcha! But He uses US too!

    Penn mentioned how important it is to warn of the oncoming truck to someone in denial it is coming. What a picture for us as Christians to inspire us to be bolder in our witness for Jesus.

  4. That video is amazing…just amazing.

    I think there is something interesting that happened in that interaction. The goodness of the evangelizer was percieved by the evangelizee. It moved him. He took it into himself through the interaction. Now, I hope Penn will read his New Testament, but I doubt he will. But lets say he does. The caring, kind act of this evangelizer can, in the realm of implicit, felt experience (if not explicitly) contextualize the content of the scriptures. The goodness felt in that exchange can then recognized in the scriptures that inspired it.

    In this way, the sincere, gentle, loving evangelizer can participate in the preparation of the heart of the evangelizee, so that the seed might fall on rich soil. It can help the evangelizee read the Bible…better.

    I wonder if the converse is true?

  5. I pray that I remember this video the next time I hear someone disparage the faith. I have emotionally responded with literal hatred for people like Mr. Jillette, or Richard Dawkins, et al. If Jesus did not respond in kind, who am I to do so? Everyone responds to love.

  6. First of all I think the video was very interesting and the man seemed sincerely moved. I was moved as well, hearing an Atheists response, but mostly having a sense of guilt come over me. I am also Pro-evangelism, but on the other hand hate evangelizing (meaning going up to strangers and striking up a conversation). Thinking about having to do it and even watching others do it puts a knot in my stomach and makes me physically ill. What does this say about the kind of Christian I am? Am I so infused with the values of culture that my faith always gets dragged behind? Or is it a character issue concerning my shyness and the fact that I’ve never liked it even as a little girl? These are questions I’ve always struggled with and never know an answer. I love the Lord and I want others to know Him and spend eternity with Him. But how true am I to that statement if I can’t evangelize? Is this something I should just overcome, even though I might never actually overcome it?

  7. In a weird way, though, wasn’t this man approaching (Penn) Gillette NOT as a stranger, but as already in a sort of relationship. They weren’t waiting at a bus stop or even sitting next to each other on a crashing airplane. He had come to see Gilette’s show. Obviously, he enjoyed his work. He had real, complimentary things to share with him.

    Now, the lessons here are two fold, I reckon:
    1) Faith and religion (or lack thereof) are emotionally potent things and like any emotionally potent subject, its probably rude (and maybe even unkind) to engage them at an inappropriate…let’s say “intensity” for the sort of relationship one has with the other person. The level of the discourse should be appropriate (which is not to say always “comfortable”).

    2) Its remarkable the breadth of KINDS of relationships one can share one’s faith within. This man was effectively a customer and a fan of Gillette’s and was able to share is faith in a way appropriate to that sort of relationship, which clearly had some remarkable effect on Gillette, if not some immediate conversion. It probably ought to make us look around at our different kinds and types of relationships.

    We needn’t make this big, giant gap between two extreme alternatives:
    either only talking about my faith with my closest, safest friends or knocking on doors and approaching strangers.

    Our lives are full of a whole spectrum of relationships. I believe if we’re indwelling in our faith…faithfully (duh…) I think we’ll find that the Holy Spirit will give us eyes for when and how much to share is needed in God’s work of the moment.

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