Witnessing in Modern America

More questions than answers... 

 

Our Seventh-day Adventist church is an evangelical church even though we may usually prefer to avoid the popular grouping as evangelical. We prefer to not be associated with the focus on nationwide evangelical political sensationalism. As a church we focus more on separation of church and state than do most other evangelicals.

 

I believe in sharing my faith. However, I hold reservations about the traditional evangelism practiced by my church. This generally takes one of three forms:

 

 

Often we perform door to door cold calling in association with literature distribution to drive attendance in evangelistic meetings.

 

I very occasionally participate in this door to door visitation and literature distribution. When I was a teen I partially financed my education at Mt. Pisgah Academy and Southern University. I also attempt to attend at least some evangelistic meetings of each series. Since I drive 90+ minutes to work and the same minutes home each day, and because I live 35 miles from the church I attend, I can seldom attend any but the weekend meetings.

 

We live nearer other SDA churches but seldom learn of any schedules of activities closer to us. In 2002 we did attend each meeting of a nearby series timed to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11. Dr. Kelly Kinsley teamed with Dr. Robert Houghtaling and preached the message of Jesusí love without seeming to focus on prophesy, although after returning home one realized that prophesy had been taught.

 

My wife had invited our neighbor Isabella to come with us. She declined, saying that the pictures of the beasts on the handbill frightened her. The handbills were standard issue from the Michigan conference and had nothing to do with this lay speaker ministry except for the titles of the initial sermons. She couldnít know that and we didnít know it either. For once, our message wasnít presented sensationally. Unfortunately, sensationalism in advertising prevented our neighbor from feeling safe to come.

 

I realize that the beasts of Daniel and Revelation give imagery to biblical prophecies. And of course prophesy fulfilled accurately and on time provides a substantial reason to believe the bible. But should a three week series focus continually on this reference point? And should we rely on this sensational imagery to advertise the love and salvation of Jesus Christ. I find it no wonder that Seventh-day Adventists are thought to ignore Jesus in the bibleÖ That SDAís ignore Jesus love and compassion, ignore his forgiveness and grace, ignore his salvation.

 

Unintentionally we preach fear of beasts, fear of punishment, fear of an end-time. And fear clouds the understanding of love and grace. We preach ďGet ready or die!Ē when we could be pointing friends to the tears and compassion of Jesus.

 

SDAís, I believe, are prone to preach our differences, though few, instead of preaching the friendship of Jesus and God our Father. We preach the need to live right, eat and drink right, and worship right because of the law and the frightful last days of earthís history. And instead we could preach the privilege of obeying God because He loves us and reaches out to draw us to Himself, to adopt us and His children. We miss the mark horribly!

 

I wonít further belabor the preaching blunders. Instead, Iíll move on to cold calling and literature evangelism.

 

Few of us attempt either form of evangelism. Usually our rejection of cold calling results from feelings of rejection. Although sales enables great wealth few people earn a living through sales other than as clerks in retail stores. It is generally accepted by successful sales persons that 1 in 10 contacts generates an opportunity to present a product or service. And that only 1 in 10 presentations results in a sale. Some persons have the thick hide necessary to persevere through these odds and succeed. Jesus does tell us to shake the dust from our heels and proceed to others more interested. But these disciples sent were a minority of the believers even then. Most of us have thinner hides and in fact as humans have relatively thin skin.

 

From another perspective, how do we respond when others try to evangelize us at our homes? Do we welcome religious teachings different from our own? If we even listen to others, do we argue our facts against theirs? Should we expect other people to respond more positively to us when usually we respond negatively to hearing out persons who believe differently from us?

 

Do we read biblical literature from others with an unbiased mind? Do we at most glance and toss? Why should we expect others to respond differently?

 

Beyond our response to door to door peddlers, whether religious or commercial, do we even know our neighbors? Often neighbors no longer even wish to experience intrusions from nearby neighbors. We live in isolated communities even in tightly packed communities. I currently live in a community where neighbors at least wave as we drive by. But by and large todayís neighborhoods often donít wish to interact.

 

As I walk my dog I occasionally speak with a neighbor. A couple of years ago one neighbor told me that they used to know everyone in the neighborhood. But the neighborhood changed, he said and neighbors no longer want to visit. Unfortunately, he died over the following winter. So visiting with this neighbor is no longer an option. Another neighbor who walks his dog actually turns around when he sees my dog and me walking toward him. Thereís never been a conversation religious or otherwise to upset him. At the moment, waving and an occasional few words are all that seem welcome.

Today we entertain ourselves with television, an ipod, or the internet and with our cell phones. Modern Americans donít seek new friends. We donít need the stories or music from people. We have our electronic friends. I read new research which says that mechanical pets satisfy us as well as breathing dogs and cats. We often know television characters better than we know each other. And most moderns believe they prefer it that way.

 

Email spam generates the axiom that we should opt in rather than have to opt out. If I want your friendship Iíll invite it. If I want your literature Iíll order it. Never mind that I may be unaware of your literature. Itís my right to opt in and not your right to force me to opt out. I once sent literature to a person who figured out that I might have sent it and who told me that he had written the publisher to stop the subscription. He said it often did that. He saw to need to waste a tree for a magazine that he had not chosen to subscribe to. He said he did the same with un-requested catalogs.

 

We live in a new generation. Iím not sure I believe in associating the message of Godís grace as something unwanted. Iíve never minded people tossing literature I give them. Once itís theirs they can do with it want they want. But todayís rules of civility combine the opt-in lifestyle with the environmental concerned citizen response to associate evil with anything that is not personally requested.

 

I think the time may be here when internet and television is the only real avenue to approach people with Godís message. I believe that we should come up with avenues for people in our church who yearn to witness following todayís rules, to witness in ways that permit recipients to opt-in like they think society should function.

 

Research seems necessary to reach people in a non-threatening way that follows the new norms of society. Maybe we need to operate restaurants where people can hear spiritual music or participate in Christian karaoke.

 

Make literature available from which people can opt in to. Create websites about your hobbies or work interests and place a single link on this special interest website where you can share you experience with Christ and share links with more information. Just be sure this special interest website does not scream religious or witnessing. People come for the special interest information and few will choose to opt in to your small witnessing section. Compelling special interest content that you update frequently will gain regular visitors and sooner or later some may choose to take an interest into that spiritual interest link. Remember that two or more off-topic links will appear as preaching and shut doors rather than open doors.

 

Do you repair things that people usually replace with new when broken? Put up a sign and when you bill the person, have a printing of something spiritual on the back of the bill or receipt. Think creatively about how you can turn something secular into an opt-in spiritual opportunity. Just donít expected most people to actively opt-in.

 

Learn to use the word Sabbath in place of Saturday whenever you speak of your Sabbath activities with non-member friends. Continue to use Saturday in conversation regarding work or secular events. Sabbath should be your calling card for your spiritual beliefs and should not be confused with secular activities around you. Learn to communicate your excitement about your church and convictions without making others think that you wish to convert them. Become the person that other people around you talk to when they have religious or spiritual questions. But answer their questions without trying to turn the conversation into a bible study. Give a bible study when it is requested. But inquires about religious events or concerns or about world events that provide opportunities for Christian sharing seldom come from any wish to open the bible. Answer simply and personally without feeling a responsibility to push for more than the inquirer seems to want.

 

Volunteering to provide studies from television ministry inquiries may be appropriate for someone seeking to do serious bible studies. But remember that initial inquires are normally responded to with very simple, pre-supplied questionnaires. Theyíre probably meet and exchange experiences at the door. They are no longer sit and show filmstrips or videos. Perhaps they will lead to that eventually. But again, the 1 in 10 principle comes into play. This is the one who shows some interest. It is not necessarily the 1 in 100 who buys (or comes to church and converts). Be accessible and not threatening.

 

Maybe you have modern methods of evangelism to contribute. Is so, please comment below. Or you may disagree with me completely. Perhaps activities that I perceive as kicking down you perceive as kicking up. I know that until our Seventh-day Adventist church devises newer, proven methods of personal evangelism that the old methods may seem to many as better than nothing. Most of us canít afford to establish a restaurant and most of us think we canít produce a website (although many Americans do create websites). Perhaps our churches ought to find someone willing to teach website design. Itís not as hard as one might imagine. There are easy to use programs.