Evangelism is a Dirty Word

The “E-word.” Really?

A friend used this phrase a little over a year ago while we were talking about a church event he was putting on, that was focused on helping Christians share their faith in Jesus – a term coined “evangelism.”

I had an issue with the way he was using “E-word” as a bit of a scapegoat for why attendance had proven slow and difficult for his conference. Attendance had been slow and difficult probably more because of laziness than lingo.

I guess it’s true that talking about religion has become a bad word for many Americans. The two things we are told never to talk about: religion and politics.

Probably in part because of situations like the guy my wife, Michelle, and I ran into in San Francisco two years back.

If you’ve never been to San Fran, it is quite a treat. Michelle and I flew in for work in the fall, and spent a few days traveling up and down the Pacific Coast Highway – US Highway 1.

A buddy of mine named Mark and I first traveled the Pacific Coast Highway years before, and we affectionately dubbed it “Pch” (without spelling out the individual letters, trying to say it all as if it were one word that sound more like you are trying to cut someone off for saying something stupid).

Michelle and I picked up a rental car at the airport, and found out that in California you can pick out whatever car model you want, so we went with a bright red Dodge Challenger. I felt like a balla’ all weekend long. We whisked along the winding roads, heading south, away from the city, to a small delightful town called Carmel by the Sea. We grabbed a quick bite at an Italian restaurant, and by the stares we were getting, I’m pretty sure we were underdressed … it’s kind of a fancy little town.

The next day, we walked from our hotel over to the convention center where we were working during the Oracle Conference. I noticed a short, stalky gentleman on the street corner in the midst of all the passerby’s and the hustle and bustle anyone would expect on the morning of a large conference (I think 30,000 people were in attendance that year).

Suddenly, the man on the street corner began to scream!

It was not your average yip or yell, this was a high pitched, throaty kind of scream that you’d assume would cause just about anyone to lose their voice within a few minutes of unleashing it. He began to wave his Bible back and forth in the air, and from the small bits and bumbles I could make out between his gasps for breath, and relief for his throat. I could tell he was saying something about Jesus … and repentance … and God.

Passerby’s quickly skirted around him and crossed the street as fast as they could, and I can only imagine adding one more notch to their belt of reasons not to use the “E-word.”

As I’ve gone back over this experience, and also reminisced about much I want to go back and visit San Fran with Michelle again, and watch the seals bark on the pier again, my main deduction is that this stalky street preacher was using the wrong bait.

Jesus talked to his first followers about “fishing for men.” I’m not much of a fisherman myself, aside from the occasional sunnie (we have 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, so it’s almost a sin not to do all that fun lake stuff). If fishing has anything to do with the “E-word,” we can easily assume that “different strokes work for different folks,” and it doesn’t take a brain scientist to discover that screaming at a businessman (or 30,000 of them) is going to be among the most unsuccessful sales pitches in the history of the world.

A girl name Addie wrote recently on her blog about the experience of guest blogging for a ministry site on the “E-word”:

“I’m blogging today over at Cru. The cool thing about this is that Crusade was hugely significant in my mom’s life. It was through them that she discovered the depths of God’s love for her and was changed by it. It’s a unique piece of my spiritual heritage, one that I haven’t spent much time thinking about or exploring.

In my post-Super-Christian life, I have found that I have a sort of a knee-jerk reaction to words like “witness” and “evangelize.” They instantly raise my stress level and my defenses, and I’m not sure how to navigate the choppy waters of speaking my faith out loud anymore.

Still, the fact remains: my mom knows this Love because someone told her about it. And for me, a generation later, that fact changed everything.”

I love that. All I know is that while evangelism has become a dirty word, I want to believe God can do something different with it through my life, if I can only care about people more authentically, and love people more unconditionally … and if I don’t scream.

[Photo credit: Z and S Photography]

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    Great post Matt. I remember seeing something like that in Washington, D.C. before I became a Christian. It certainly didn’t do anything to draw me closer to God. He’ll have to answer for his ways someday, just as I will mine. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://www.Thinke.org Matt Brown

      Sundi Jo, thanks, I’m sure God has used a street preacher here or there, but we should do whatever we can to communicate the most important story in the world in ways that people will hear, receive, love and obey God’s Word. Blessings!

      • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

        Agreed. :)

  • Liz B.

    I appeciate this post a great deal. I am one of a handful of Christians at my secular and increasingly liberal university. The university is situated in a rural region full of “holy rollers” and VERY conservative and judgemental Anabaptist groups. Instead of reaching out to college students with love, these hyper-conservative groups come and “protest”– I mean yell, and make condemnatory statements at students in the name of “evangelism.” When the “yellers” aren’t there condemning everyone in sight– the Mennonite groups are “singing” 100 plus year old hymns. When they aren’t singing the men “preach” in King James English while they recruit their small children to hand out materials that are made for yesteryear– completely out of touch with the needs of 21st century college kids. (There is clear sex based discrimination in their evangelism style– women sit off to the side, largely out of sight unless they are singing). It is almost embaressing for me– how do I witness and show love in the name of Christ, when the “Christians” my fellow students come in contact with are not kind people annd who show more anger and malice than “speaking the truth in love?” It breaks my heart. I cringe everytime I see these groups out on our quad. My heart sinks as I hear kids making fun of these “Christians.” I feel like I have to do damage control after they leave if I want to have any credibility in sharing my faith. It’s hard–but I’m not giving up my mission because some other people don’t understand how to properly articulate God’s love.

    • http://www.Thinke.org Matt Brown

      Liz, it breaks my heart too. It’s not enough to know the Bible. No missionary would be successful unless they first learned the language and lifestyle of the people and brought the Gospel in a way that people would understand and receive. It’s no different in America. I think it’s important that we turn the tide by our example, and have grace on people that don’t get it yet. Prayers are with you!

  • http://www.spiritualglasses.me/ Jennifer Upton

    I wasn’t sure where your words were leading, but I am glad they landed where they did- the loving of people in real ways. My Covenant Love and I have also rented a car zipping up and around the “Pch” so I thank you for giving me a sense of being there again. Now I am surely itching to go back. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.Thinke.org Matt Brown

      Jennifer, for sure. Love the Pch, and that whole area! God, by His grace and power is still using people to bring His message to the earth!

  • http://twitter.com/OrganicChrist12 Donald Borsch Jr.

    Interestingly enough, based on the mindset of many religious people today, John the Baptist would have been viewed as judgmental and rude, much like the fella described in this post. Yet, talk about an evangelist! Who besides him could have ushered in the ministry of Christ, complete with commands to repent, what with his locust-eating, and camel hair-wearing self?


    Now, is this to defend or justify the street-corner screamers? Nah. I wasn’t called by The Spirit and brought into my Father’s Kingdom through efforts as those kinds. But who can say what is and isn’t of The Spirit? Is it maturity, or is it fruit that should be the measuring stick?

    Jim and Tammy Bakker. Awful. Corrupt. Shamed. Yet did not our Father reach out to The World still, through Jim and Tammy, despite them being who they are? Paul said that he was aware of folks preaching Christ out of selfish ambition, and he didn’t care. As long as Christ was preached.

    Just some passing thoughts from a prophet. I am not an evangelist at all, save for the common style of evangelism which is, oddly enough, being friends with the friendless.

    • http://Thinke.org Matt Brown

      Donald, God uses street preachers too, but the majority of the people who follow Christ came because of a friend or family member who told them – exactly like you mentioned “being a friend.”

      Thank God he uses all of us as imperfect people to spread His glory!