Thursday, December 04, 2008

Weirded Out

While waiting for some friends to meet us the other night, my wife and I stopped in at C28. They bill themselves as a Christian store. Every item has a Scripture verse or some positively themed thing on it. Not bad.

To boot, they're located at the Short Pump Town Center, the hippest mall in Richmond, so they are keeping good company. Not bad either.

And at first glance, the designs are on par with what you'd see at a place like Express or Old Navy. Not bad at all...but then that's part of their strategy. They reel you in with design and then hit you over the head with their message.

The cheeriest store associate you've ever met asks if you've been in before. "No?", they ask, "well, it comes from Colossians 2:8, it's a verse in the Bible." And that's where the weirdness begins. You can feel them searching your face for any hint that you might not be "one of us."

Let me be clear. I have no problem with good art or design (love it), Scripture printed on a shirt (like John Wesley, I am a man of One Book), or talking about Jesus (to quote St. Paul, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ"), but I am not a fan of the "hit you over the head" method of evangelism. Just not.

After I bought a hoodie and pair of jeans, the very cheery associate asked me if there was anything he could pray with me about.

I'm sorry, come again??

Let me be clear again, I am all for praying with people (do it all the time as a pastor), but in a store, after I bought a pair of jeans and a hoodie? Just culturally weird.

But they are unabashed about it. Their website says they sell "bold Christian apparel." The sign out front says they are a "christian store." The sign behind the register says they exist to evangelize and make a profit so they can fund the spread of the gospel. Again, not bad in and of itself.

But I have a few questions:

  • Does this sort of approach reinforce pushy stereotypes about Christians as people who shove God down your throat?
  • Does it send a subtle message that Christians are only interested in getting people to think like them and not actually interested in making the world a better place?
  • Does this put a mark on Jesus' reputation in the broader community, leveraging short term results for long term damage?
  • Does it actually end up reinforcing the Christian bubble? Our own music, our own bookstores, our own fastfood (best chicken sandwich ever, btw), and now our own t-shirts, jeans and hoodies. As in, isn't it exciting that now we don't even have to interact with those heathens in the world?
  • Does this form of evangelism mistake words and ideas about Jesus for real trust in Jesus that results in a group of people living a new way of life that radically transforms the community?
  • Does this kind of approach actually confine Jesus to a little world of our own making, saying that there are some places he won't go because they are too dark or impure?
  • Does it misunderstand that "Christian" is a noun (who I am) and not an an adjective? The very store itself is Christian? How does that work exactly? Was Jesus' carpentry shop a "christian" carpentry shop that advertised in the Shepherd's Guide, or did I miss that part of the New Testament?

If you are a Christian, you might be thinking, 'yeah, but their website says 12,000+ people have been saved.' I would remind you that God loves people so much he'll even use our mixed up efforts to do it. He even used a donkey to deliver his message. I would counter the people saved are more about God's kindness, not necessarily C28's brilliant evangelism strategy.

I think the band Delirious gets it right. They refuse to be labeled a "Christian band" because they say their mission is not "to a market of believers," but to the whole world because that is the mission of Jesus.

What might that look like?

  • If you are a great retail sales associate who follows Jesus, go work at J. Crew or A&F (for example) where people generally don't care about Jesus live dark lives. Bring your radiance and kindness to bear on that situation.
  • If you do good design, do good design that the whole world will buy and enjoy. Bring beauty into the lives of people everywhere--not just Christians who already know Beauty.
  • If you want to evangelize, get to know your neighbor and care about them and their life. Go to all your work parties and become a real friend.
  • If you think the fashion industry is over-sexualized and impure, get into it and make killer design that isn't. Become friends with the people who do the opposite in the process.
  • And if you want to wear cool apparel with a message, try Jedidiah or Tom's Shoes or Bead for Life. Wear their products, then when someone asks you about it, tell their compelling story of righting the wrongs in the world and see where it goes from there. Jesus righted wrongs, right? And his actions to make people's lives better were the bigger part of his message and attraction, weren't they? In fact, it's why people crowded to hear what he had to say in the first place. His actions were so compelling, they had to know what he thought.

I'm just saying.


Dale Best said...

This may sound cliched and cheesy ... but hey! I'm Dale so what else do you expect?

Remember, the only thing in this world that can be "Christian" are people. Not stores. Not t-shirts. Not radio stations. Not music. Not chicken sandwiches.

Jesus didn't come to Earth to live and die for those things. He did all that so that we could be reconciled with him.

People are the only things that can rightly be labeled "Christian". Nothing else.

Justin Palmer - C28 Webmaster said...

Hey Scott,

I enjoyed reading about your experience at the C28 store. I'm sorry it left a bad taste in your mouth though.

Though I work for C28, I totally understand how this type of evangelism can be weird to some believers and unbelievers alike. Personally, I prefer using a more subtle approach, and do so in my own faith sharing opportunities.

However, I can't deny God's ability to use different styles of evangelism for different people, including very bold approach in the C28 stores. The stories that I witness on a daily basis of changed lives (not just shallow commitments) through the C28 ministry has greatly changed my perspective on evangelism over the last 3 years.

Like you said, God is so powerful that he can use us as tools, no matter what the style or motivation for sharing the gospel.

Yes, non-believers do enter our stores and sometimes leave weirded out. However, its amazing how many people come in with seeds already sown, totally eager to give their lives over to Christ. That is what our clothing is about, starting conversations with eternal significance, not making a profit off of evangelism.

Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Would you please keep us in prayer, that God would direct and use us for his glory?

Your Brother in Christ,

C28 Ecommerce Manager

Kahana Kalama said...

Nice post... I really enjoyed it, and I loved and completely agree with Dale's comment as well.

People respond to different types of ministry in different ways. I'm just glad that there are people committed to the sewing of seeds and the watering and nurturing as well... Keep it up.