Thursday, April 01, 2004

Evangelism Angst

So I'm standing outside after The Wild Zone - our weekly student service for Middle Schoolers. It's late, everyone's gone home but the janitors, me and three of the "bad" kids. They're outside skating (which is what bad kids do), and I go out to my car and I hear "It's Scott--keep skating." They then come over to me and say hi and what's up and hey man and all the usual Middle School greeting banter. A couple of slapped hands, some what's ups and with no prompting, I become the sarcedotal stand-in for their many unconfessed sins.

When I'm angry I drink--hey, it's better than going out and killing someone.
So you are angry enough to kill someone?
Yeah, but drinking is better I know it's bad, but I still do it.
So you're parents don't know about it?
Nah, there's so much alcohol in the fridge I could drink it down to the last one and they'd never know.

And so it went. One struggled with smoking, anger, drugs and was lamentful that he spent a month in juvey. He wasn't sure if he could say "piss", which pissed me off, didn't believe in God (or at least wasn't sure if he believed in anything. The devil he believed in "28" and God about "98", whatever that means. I told him that most people who don't believe in God don't not because of the fact of God's existence but because of the crap they'd been through in their lives. If my life sucks this bad, how can there be a God? A shrug of the shoulders, yup, that's me.
Then, hey, this feels good.
Me: What, talking about what's weighing on you?
Them: Yeah...

Which has given me pause on several issues. One, why did I feel this overwhelming urge to tell him/them that what he was experiencing was confession, and the history of the church and the teaching of Scripture all make clear that confession really is good for the soul? And why did I know that if I told them that, I would have immediately lost their vulnerability and trust?? Which gives me pause to ask where and why the idea that evangelism equals pounding Jesus/The Bible/The "TRUTH" into people germinated. Do we really have such a mechanistic view of people that they have become vending machines wanting our quarters of truth that will dispense the sinful product of their souls to be served up on the altar of evangelism?? Do we treat evangelism as nothing more than religious information, a sales presentation, memorized dogma to which we must get people to conform/buy/believe/accept/acknowledge/assent/ad nauseum??
And are we under the delusion that if we don't get them to this point, we have not properly "witnessed?" (And if I'm honest, the "we" is really my own internal struggle with my upbringing?)

Isn't evangelism helping people to encounter truth--or The truth (note: a person, not a proposition)? Isn't it a long process instead of an instantaneous decision? And why do so many persist in the "gospel presentation" mode--in effect filling our churches with people who are taught to believe that mental assent to propositions will somehow fix their lives and the lives of the people to whom they are obligated to witness--when the lived data is so plainly in the other direction?

I'm tired. Off to bed