I’m going through somewhat of a spiritual identity crisis these days.  All my life I’ve identified myself as being an Evangelical, but I don’t know what to think these days.


I was raised in a church with a strong evangelical focus.  From as early as I can remember, the main point of Christianity was this:  First you “get saved,” then it’s your responsibility to help others get saved.  This was assumed to be through the method of telling them about Jesus and trying to convince them to “accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.”


Disillusionment, Step 1:  The “I Found It” Campaign


In 1976, when I was 16 years old, there was a big national campaign underway (perhaps international; I don’t know) called the “I Found It!” campaign.  This was led by Bill Bright, who believed that using modern marketing methods would be a great way to obey the Great Commission, as Evangelicals call it, where Jesus said to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, making disciples.


As an enthusiastic teenager who wanted to fully obey Jesus, I saw this as a way I could do my part to obey the Great Commission.  The “I Found It!” campaign was a major undertaking involving many churches, the set-up of temporary phone banks, billboards, TV & radio spots, and of course, the Four Spiritual Laws booklets.  As I recall, the goal was to reach every household with the Gospel through these combined means.


My role as the common Evangelical Christian was to make telemarketing calls, the content of which I don’t remember, except that if someone showed interest in what we presented, we were to try to make an appointment to visit them, or if they wouldn’t agree to that, at least send them some materials, and then do follow-up calls.


I hate talking on the phone, so this telemarketing bit was torture to me, yet I was also excited to be a part of this huge evangelizing campaign.


What completely changed my tune about all this was one visit in particular that I made, although I know I went on more than one visit.  We had been trained to go over the Four Spiritual Laws with people to try to “lead them to Christ.”  But what I found when I began talking to this woman was that she was already a Christian.  The way the wording was in the telemarketing script was something like, “Would you like to learn more about this?”  She did, so I went to her house, but it turned out that the Four Spiritual Laws didn’t fit her situation at all.  I don’t remember the details beyond that.   I only remember being very shaken by how I had become a part of a cookie-cutter operation in a world where people didn’t fit such strictly defined cubbyholes.


It was all too cut-and-dried; it was oversimplified.  You are either completely lost, somebody who clearly does not identify as being a Christian, or you are a born-again Evangelical.  In my limited experience at that time, I hadn’t considered other possibilities; this was how the world existed as I was taught.  In our church, if one of us teens dared to date a Baptist or a Nazarene, the peer group and youth leaders would warn against “dating someone from another religion,” which seemed rather odd to me (and some of my fellow youth), since the Baptists and Nazarenes were very close to our beliefs in the Church Of God other than end times and membership beliefs.  Mainline churches were even worse.  The Baptists, Nazarenes, and similar groups were viewed as good Christians although mistaken in their beliefs; the mainliners, such as the Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, and other such groups, were viewed as not quite Christian.  They were Christian in form but not in heart; they were “not saved” because they didn’t believe in being born again. 


My experience with “I Found It!” was my first exposure to someone’s Christian faith that didn’t fit in my black-and-white world of born-again/saved or not born-again/saved.  It was also my first serious experience of disillusionment to evangelicalism.


Disillusionment, Step 2:  L.E.A.P.


My second experience came in a much smaller scale operation.  I think that I considered the “I Found It!” experience a valiant but misguided idea, and I still was looking to be obedient to Christ in spreading the Gospel, so I joined a class at our church that would not only teach how to evangelize, but would give you real practice at doing so.  It was called L.E.A.P., but I don’t remember what the letters of the acronym stood for.


This was a six-week training program.  I faintly remember being at somebody’s home as part of this program--somebody that we were visiting as part of our evangelism effort.  I remember feeling extremely awkward and uncomfortable there (at least this time I didn’t go alone like I did for my “I Found It!” visits).  There’s one other thing I remember from this experience, and this was the last straw for me.  Part of the instructions we were given were to be sure to look around the home we were visiting to find things we could compliment the people on, the motivation being that compliments like that will warm them up to you and make them more receptive to your message.


NO!!  That was it!!  I could not do it.  That REEKED of PHONINESS!!!!  No way.  I wanted no part of such manipulation.  This wasn’t spreading the Gospel; this was salesmanship tactics with religious trappings put onto it.


Manipulation In Evangelism


Those two experiences so close together, at 16 years old, did much damage to my evangelical outlook.  The methods in both experiences seemed dehumanizing to me.  They consisted of marketing tricks, salesman-style manipulation, that came off to me as nothing more than trying to “win souls for Christ” as a way of getting a bigger prize in heaven.  But I Corinthians 13 says that whatever is done without the motivation of love is worth nothing.


I’m not saying any of the people involved in these operations did not have love.  I’m only saying that these methods were not something I could feel comfortable with.  I felt cheap, sneaky, and manipulative using such methods.  Jesus was never manipulative.


In college, I began to read the writings of Keith Green, someone who was fervently evangelical yet who validated many of my views about the methods of evangelism being used at the time.  One thing he criticized was the Altar Call, the popular method used in Evangelical churches to cajole people into coming forward to “receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.”  Keith Green pointed out that when Jesus told would-be disciples the cost of following him, and they turned and walked away, he didn’t go after them saying, “Wait!  Wait a minute!  Let me reconsider my offer.  Perhaps I was too demanding of you.  Let’s talk this over.”  No, he let them walk away.  He told it like it is, and hoped they would join him, but if they didn’t want to, that was their choice.  This was such a different approach from the Altar Call, where the hymn is sung over and over, and between each verse persuasive pleas are made, sometimes heart-wrenching stories are told, in order to stir up the emotions of people and bring them down to the altar.  A successful church service was seen as one where scores of people would come down to the altar.  If few or, horror of all horrors, no one came down to the altar at the end of the service, it was considered to be a failure of a worship service (or sermon).


These views of Keith Green were expressed in his two-part article, “What’s Wrong with the Gospel?”  I ate up every word of this, for it was the first time I had read anything from an Evangelical that expressed the same views I had regarding the dreadful salesmanesque tactics used by Evangelicals in that era (the 1970s were the worst).


So by this point, which was the early 1980s, when I was in my 20s, I had formally written off the salesmanesque methods of evangelism I had been taught in the 1970s.  I still was strong in my belief that Christians are called to be evangelical.  I just wasn’t sure how to go about evangelizing.  I only knew what ways were clearly not going to work for me.


The Next Evangelism Fad


In the 1990s, a new fad of evangelism reigned.  It existed well before the nineties, but it reached its height during that decade.  This method was called Friendship Evangelism.  Evangelicals, finally realizing how manipulative and degrading the sales tactics of previous years had been, latched onto a method that was more natural.  In the Friendship Evangelism method, you make friends with people, and as they get to know you, and you eventually talk about more personal things, you gradually bring up things about your faith, as seems natural to the situation.  I liked this method much better; it seemed more the style Jesus used:  He met people in various situations, brought up topics relevant to the person at the moment, and connected the topics to his kingdom in natural ways.


In the late 1990s, I began attending a Willow Creek church that was just starting.  I was excited about this new church because its original goal was to focus on the arts (we are located in an artistic community), attracting people from the arts community through its drama, music, and artwork.


Unfortunately, the people who became a part of the startup church, including me, were not part of the secular arts community, so there were no connections to them.  Over time, the church drifted from its arts focus to address the people who were actually showing up at the door, which turned out to be a rather politically conservative crowd in a very liberal town.


The focus of this church was:  Sundays were for “seekers,” so everything was geared toward presenting the themes of the Kingdom of God in very topical, “relevant” forms.  Wednesday nights were for the believers to grow in their faith.  Nice idea.  But as time went on, the Wednesday night services developed a single-minded focus in which everything revolved around the idea of Friendship Evangelism.  Instead of being a broad-based Biblical focus and time of growing in relationship to God, I felt that everything that was covered in the Bible was done to rev up the believers to go make friends with people so you could bring them to church.


After awhile, I could not ignore this anymore, and I left the church.  This had become as disingenuous as the 1970s sales tactics, only in a more subtle way.  For me to go and try to make friends with someone so that I could invite them to church was an ulterior motive, as far as I was concerned.  True, if someone I made friends with became a Christian, it would be a great thing for that person, them receiving eternal salvation and all.  But I could not go into such a relationship knowing the reason I was pursuing it.  It seemed so dishonest to me.  If I didn’t want to be friends with someone just because I liked them and wanted to be friends with them, then it was not a true friendship from my perspective; it was a false one, based on a kind of lie.


Since I don’t really have any friends I hang out with and don’t really have an interest in having such friends, I had no use for that church.  It also meant Friendship Evangelism wasn’t going to work for me either.


“I Found It!”   L.E.A.P.  Friendship Evangelism.  Every evangelistic method I’ve encountered has left me cold.  In fact, the whole idea of “method” leaves me cold.  Which then makes me begin to wonder:  Can I even really be an Evangelical if I find every method of evangelism to reek of phoniness?


(Continued in part 2....)

Pondering God & Church is a sub-website of J Lee Harshbarger’s personal website.  To visit other sub-websites, click the links below.

MUSIC CENTRAL
All about music!  My Annual Music Awards, my music Hall Of Fame, and other writings about music and musicians I like are found here.../Music_Central/Welcome.html
J LEE THE 
MEDIA CRITIC
An index to my writings about movies, books, and the media in general, such as news coverage and media biashttp://www.jleeharshbarger.me/J_Lee_The_Media_Critic/J_Lee_The_Media_Critic_Index.html
SOCIETY CENTRAL


My political and religious beliefs, and my commentary
 on society and politics.http://www.jleeharshbarger.me/Society_Central/Society_Central_Index.html

J LEE THE TRAVELER
Photo albums from some of my travels outside of Michigan.  Eventually I hope to include travelogues too.http://www.jleeharshbarger.me/J_Lee_The_Traveler/Welcome.html

                   
                     Various photos
                           I’ve taken
                     not connected
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                            my web-
                            site pages.http://gallery.mac.com/catservants

PONDERING GOD & CHURCH
What does it mean to follow God?  What should the church be like?Statement_Of_My_Religious_Beliefs.html
CHURCHES I’VE REGULARLY ATTENDED

A list of all the churches I’ve attended, plus full stories about some of them. http://www.jleeharshbarger.me/Churches_Ive_Regularly_Attended/Churches,_Part_1.html

CHURCHES I’VE VISITED

Stories about churches I’ve visitedhttp://www.jleeharshbarger.me/Churches_Ive_Visited/Churches,_Part_2.html
BANANALEAF CENTRAL
The “Home” section: my front page, the descriptions for each of my sub-websites, and the descriptions of all the places where I hang out on the web.../Bananaleaf_Central/Front_Page.html
  1. Bullet Waking The Dead by John Eldredge

  2. Bullet The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

  3. Bullet Creative Prayer by Chris Tiegreen

  4. Bullet The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins

  1. Bullet Bruce Almighty

  2. Bullet Dogma

  1. Bullet Good News Translation (formerly known as Today’s English Version)

  2. Bullet

  1. Bullet Kings

  1. Bullet Revelation

  1. Bullet Jeremiah

  1. Bullet Jonah

  1. Bullet Luke


My Blog

J Lee’s Soapbox is my “official” blog, where I post my latest thoughts on various topics.


Web  Communities

You can find me camping out at the web communities listed below.  If you are a part of any of these communities, please let me know.


Currently where I’m most active, since many members of my extended family, my friends from church, and some old college classmates are all         on here.


This has been my major blogging community since October 2004.  Most of my online-only friends are here.





My Amazon.com Home Page

I have written reviews for over 100 CDs and books at Amazon. You can find these plus my Listmania lists and Wish Lists at this page.



Twitter

My Twitter ID is “songsequencer.” I only tweet about music, mostly what I’m listening to at the moment.


I’m only here so people can find me.    And somewhat for the underground music.


A community for alumni of Anderson University.  Includes reminiscing of college days and current discussions.



E-pinions

This is a place where you post your opinions about different products.  See my reviews here!




Trip Advisor

A place for travelers to review hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing attractions.  I plan to add my own reviews as I have time.




Yahoo

There’s not much to see here; this is just where I’ve posted my profile at Yahoo.com.



Gather.com

I joined this when I worked at Borders because they have a presence there.  I intended to make it
a place I’d chatter about books, but now I’m out of the book industry and my page is dormant.  It’s billed as a “MySpace for adults,” but I don’t like the community atmosphere there very well--people are too sensitive.
 
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