The Beauty of Being Irrelevant


True story from seminary days:

I stick a Tootsie Roll in my lip,” he said. 

“A what where why?” I said. 

“Well, the guys in my community all chew tobacco, and I don’t. So the Tootsie Roll turns my spit brown. I can relate to them better that way,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

He was a young pastor in rural upstate New York — to a redneck tribe of pickup trucks and flannel shirts. And chewing tobacco. In the spirit of becoming “all things to all people,” my seminary roommate took up the Tootsie Roll habit, that he might better relate to the men he wanted to reach.

I love that spirit.

But I’m not so sure about that practice.

Aside from the risk of getting busted, “Hey Jimmy-Bob, got a plug of chew I could have?” “Nah, just Tootsie Rolls…” there’s a flaw in the thinking. Being relevant does not mean coloring your spit, faux-hawking what’s left of your hair, or sporting hipster glasses. It does not require LL Cool J on your iPod or misspelled Hebrew tatted on your forearm.

Being relevant means BEING YOURSELF, connecting with a tribe different than yours, and offering hope for a way out. If God has called you to cross cultural barriers (age, language, ethnicity, nationality, religion, education, social status) for the sake of the gospel, then the people you’re reaching need three gifts from you: Continue reading

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).