Luke Norsworthy is the founding pastor of the Venture Community, an inter-denominational church in the Dallas suburb of Corinth, TX. Luke hosts the Newsworthy with Norsworthy Podcast, a weekly podcast discussing spirituality, Christianity, and anything else that seems Newsworthy. I am a weekly listener of the show and would highly recommend that you subscribe to his podcast on iTunes.
If we fight a war and win it with H-bombs, what history will remember is not the ideals we were fighting for but the methods we used to accomplish them. These methods will be compared to the warfare of Genghis Khan who ruthlessly killed every last inhabitant of Persia. -Hans Bethe (the nuclear physicist who during World War II was head of the Theoretical Division at the secret Los Alamos laboratory which developed the first atomic bombs)
A few months ago I was struggling to finish my work out at my gym when a guy in his forties walks over to me to strike up a conversation. He doesn’t seem to notice or care that I’m in the middle of my workout. I’m fine with his interruption because I try to make people more important than workouts. Or at least I do on a good day. And this was one of those good days.
The conversation quickly devolves into a monologue and the preacher isn’t the one giving the speech. The guy starts telling me a story about how he’s gotten in the best shape of his life. I am hearing the story because of my ears, but I am having trouble believing the story because of my eyes. Then he tells me the magic shortcut to how he’s gotten to this current level of fitness, some new health product.
And guess what? It’s my lucky day because he just so happens to sell that very product. And double guess what? He’s got samples in his bag right here. He will even give a sample to me, and all he wants in return is my phone number.
With all due respect to Dickinson, I don’t like a sales pitch on slant.
A few weeks later, my workout partner, also named Luke, had just informed me that the older gentleman walking over to talk coached him in junior high. And he wasn’t just any coach, but his favorite coach. He hadn’t seen him for years and Luke was noticeably excited to reconnect with him.
Luke took a few steps towards him, so I wasn’t in the whole conversation, but I did hear his coach say,
“I’ve got something I really want to tell you about Luke. It’s an easy way to make some money. Easy money my man.”
From a few feet away I could see the feelings of excitement of reconnecting sour.
I’m a church planter and I don’t like evangelism. That’s like a beach town police chief being scared of the water.
But I’m really not afraid of evangelism, as in the Biblical version of it. You know, telling the Good News. What I’m really afraid of is the commodification of relationships caused by “friendship evangelism.” I love the desire to tell your friends about Jesus, but what concerns me is the dark side of using your friendships for evangelism. When your friendships become used as a place to sell people, no matter how good the product is, there is a problem.
When you steer conversations so blatantly to make a pitch for your church or your religion that you make people feel like you only care for them if they come to your church, there is a problem. And the problem is with you.
In his book Money, Possessions, and Eternity Randy Alcorn tells the story of a couple having dinner with some longstanding Christian friends when the host “accidentally” spills some gravy on the table clothe. While cleaning the stain he began a pitch describing the cleaning product along with the company that sells the cleaning solution. That sales pitch ended and so did the longstanding relationship, not because they tried to sell them on a product, but how they did.
Ruth Carter, in Amway Motivational Organizations: Behind the Smoke and Mirrors, argues that of the 45 million who have been involved in multi-level marketing, only 1% have made a profit with only 1/10 of that 1% making the large profit. The few who succeed, which included Ruth Carter, often pay a terrible personal and relational price. If we are going to use similar methods of selling Christianity, should we expect any different results?
So am I saying you shouldn’t evangelize with your friends? No.
Our church has half a dozen families that have at some point or another gotten connected from that same gym. So on first glance it might appear that I’m a hypocrite, but I think what I do is different.
And I think there is a way to tell if it is different: How you treat people. If you treat people better if they come to your church or cut off the relationship because they don’t come to your church, there’s a problem.
I’m obviously assuming people have a spirituality that’s deep enough to be discussed naturally in conversation and I’m assuming people are committed to creating a community worth inviting people to join. If neither of those are the case, then you probably need to go back to Evangelism 101 because you have to be smoking what you are selling.
Jesus once said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If our evangelistic approach doesn’t pass that rule, then as my more rural friends would say, “That dog just don’t hunt.” We communicate our message in the way that we communicate it. If we befriend people just to build a relationship to convert them, then our message is that you aren’t worth being a friend without converting. When we treat people with dignity, respect ,and compassion, then we have a message worth proclaiming that doesn’t require sales pitches and guided conversations.
And that’s some good news.