And in the "I Can't Believe Someone Got Paid to Research This" Category, I present you this mind-boggling story. Was this ever in doubt? I think not.
And now for the real reason I am posting today... I figured I could win your favor with a humorous story and then really get up on my soapbox. Just a side explanation before I let loose: I love blogging. But there is always the fear that you are going to irritate the wrong person. I read about several people who have been fired for putting negative things in their blogs about their employers. I also know that a variety of people read this blog. And everyone will not agre with me. But that is kind of what you expect from a blog. Enough rambling and stalling.
I am not a big fan of traveling evangelists. I have had a problem with them ever since Cowboy Ken came to my elementary school, did some fancy lasso tricks, signed some Bibles, and told us all we weren't saved. Every year we had a Spiritual Emphasis Week, where we brought in some big name guy (big name to the teachers - the students didn't care) to tell us all about the horrors of Hell and to rant about how evil we all were. And every year, a bunch of kids would race down on the last day with tears streaming down their faces - trying to avoid the pitch blackness of Hell. It usually was the same kids too. One year I got so terrified I went down, even though I had gotten saved already. My brother told my mom about it, and she talked to me about it that night. As a kid, the graphic scenes and descriptions that are a part of the Bible are very hard to process. When it is coupled with the whole "you are going to hell" bit, it really can send you into a tailspin. I remember going to a musical about Daniel with my family. We all left because I got so scared during that part - mostly because my dad was not saved. They put a partial Passion Play on for us in Elementary school one year, and the visual of a person getting nails rammed through their hands (through stage tricks) made me sick. I guess that fear is a pretty good motivator for kids - and the religious community has figured that out.
Well, that scare tactic doesn't end with kids. Just about every Youth Camp, Disciple Now, youth rally ends with a sermon where emotional tricks and fear tactics are employed to get those students to race down the aisles. And with adults, the same methods are used. We have huge dramas re-inacting in gory detail the Easter story, ones where people are confronted by angry demons and dragged to hell, others where people are faced with a very disturbing and close-to-home tragedy via stage. Perhaps the most traumatizing of all are the traveling evangelists. They are almost like professional spiritual hitmen. They come to a church, accuse the members and guests of all kinds of sin and immorality. They tell them they aren't saved, that Satan has tricked them. They tell horrifying stories of death and eternal punishment. Then they have an altar call with more emotional manipulation. And at all these events people flood the stage and make commitments, get baptized, join the church. The members get thrilled about what "God just did." And it justifies all of what just happened.
But, really what happened? At the end of these events, revivials, dramas, sermons are things any different? Churches will take much offense at that and huff that, "Yes, things are different. Twenty people are going to Heaven that weren't before." That is the sticking point. Those people like me (and there are many) who have a problem with the way these traveling evangelism shows operate are always confronted with these "decisions" and told to stop causing trouble. However, there are some severe issues I have that are not answered by that response. In fact, my issues are compounded in that argument. Here are my arguments:
1 - Fear is a Terrible Way to Start Your Walk with God. That same fear that got you to run forward is now the foundation for your beliefs. If this angry and vengeful God was going to obliterate heathens everywhere, what is He going to do to you? I mean, you just got saved and should know better. Yes, a healthy fear of God is important - no, essential - to a legitimate spiritual walk. A huge problem in today's Church is that it bought a cheap grace from a sissy God - they don't take Him or His Word seriously. However, the kind of fear in these services is not a holy reverance of God. It is a terror attack on unsuspecting and troubled souls. And it is a shaky foundation.
2 - Discipleship is Sacrificed for Decisions. Churches love Matthew 28:19-20. That is the Great Commission - the order from Christ that led to missions efforts and evangelism everywhere. However, most churches don't read that passage. It says, "Go ye therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations." That is not the same thing as "Go and get decisions from all nations." It means to find people who need Christ, lead them to Him, and then walk with them to help them understand what it means to follow Him. Salvation is the first step. We have it all backwards. We try to build a relationship so that we can one day lead that person to Christ. We are supposed to continue that relationship after that. Pushing for a decision is like delivering a baby and then leaving it there on the steps. But churches and evangelism shows do that all the time. There is no discipleship. And when the people who make decsions through these tactics don't follow Christ right, we tell them that their decision wasn't good because they didn't mean it. Does a baby know how to eat on its own, or how to clean itself up, or how to function in this world? No, it takes training and years of teaching - and then they become teenagers who STILL don't know how to eat healthy or how to clean or how to function (though they think they do). Spiritual babies are the same way. But the evangelist doesn't have an investment in making sure those people are followed up with. He's back at his headquarters in Nashville getting ready for the next cruise.
3 - There is No Biblical Precedent for This Position - Some will argue this by pointing out that Paul went all over the place. Yes, he did - and he spent 18 months to multiple years at each location - training pastors and people. And he continued to write those churches and check up on them. He never disconnected with those churches. These modern evangelists come flying in to a church, at great financial gain to themselves, throw a few grenades around, and then leave the church to pick up the pieces. They are located in Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas in a office building. They never have to disciple anyone. They never have to deal with broken people left by their whirlwinds. They make between $2000 and $10,000 PER APPEARANCE. Take a moment to think about that! If they speak 40 Sundays a year, they would make $80,000 to $400,000 just on speaking fees. But most of these people have figured out how to maximize their earnings. They do weekends and cruises and revivals - multiple day events where they can double and triple their fees. They sometimes get a part-time job at a local church doing a mid-week service or rally. So now, they pull in a salary from that church, plus all the speaking gigs. And, of course, they have books and cds and dvds and mp3s for sale at every location. Where in the Bible do you find this? People will hold up the spiritual gift of evangelism, and how Paul talked about how some are called to be evangelists. Do you honestly believe this is what Paul meant? He and Peter were the two biggest bigshots in the Early Church. Wouldn't they have modeled this kind of behavior?
4 - Most Evangelists are Mean Spirited. - Yes, this is a generalization. But it is one with good backing. I have worked at churches for close to ten years. I have gone to church since I was five. I went to a Christian school for six years. I have gone to state conferences, and national conferences. I have heard dozens of evangelists and "guest speakers." And one characteristic of just about all of them is a bitting view of people. They make fun of "weirdos" - which could be people with tattoos or earrings or weight problems or breath problems. They throw around insulting names and categorizations like a whip. The say everyone is involved in every kind of sin imaginable. And if you dare confront them, they hide behind churchy sounding comments like "the Word of God is offensive, get over it" or "people with the spiritual gift of evangelism just call it like it is" or "that is just conviction." Or they cloak their viciousness with humor, so that their saracsm is just part of their delivery. How is this allowing every word to be seasoned with grace? The reality is that they are angry and judgmental, and they like to take it out on people. The only evangelist who I have heard who is not like that is Billy Graham. But he also tries to get people to disciple people making decisions, doesn't resort to fear tactics, and still has some humility.
5 - Most Evangelists are Egomaniacs - They tell all the places they have talked, how many people have heard them, how many have gotten saved. It is like they have their own resume always ready to give as an answer to someone who questions them. They are trying to use their own credentials as why you should book them and use them and believe them. However, they miss out on the point of why we are doing all of this. This is all supposed to bring God glory and advance His Kingdom, right? We are supposed to be less so that He can be greater. How does that match with pounding your chest about how great you are?
This is a hard place for me. I am about to begin a ministry that travels around and works with churches - and then goes back home. We are trying to work out our fee schedule and how to present ourselves. So I don't want to go throwing stones and rocks and then end up hitting myself. But I also hope that we point people to Jesus instead of ourselves. I want our ministry to leave people better off than when we found them, and I want to give them tools to continue making progress. I know that I just sound like a bitter little twit. I just am tired of these guys who bring doubt and fear instead of bringing hope and love. I am sick of hearing about how great they are instead of how great God is. Obviously, I had a wonderful encounter with another one of these on Sunday, which began all of this rant. And I was once again left with the aching feeling that this is not right - this is not how God wanted His Church to operate.