You should be ashamed of yourself, Evangelist-to-be

"Go to hell, Carolina, go to hell!"

Yeah, I'm ashamed to say I chanted that. At Cameron Indoor Stadium, the whole wild pack of Cameron Crazies got whipped into a frenzy chanting that. Everyone at Duke, at one point or another probably chanted that. It's not one of the unofficial graduation requirements, but it's expected.

I stopped chanting "Go to hell" at some point and switched to other, less-theological cheers. Something about wishing someone to "Go to hell," even in jest, made me uncomfortable.

The sounds of hell echo through evangelism series. To quote an old theologian:
Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen.

And we love some of these "unconverted men". And this is where the shame and manipulation come barrelling into my life. If we don't share the gospel (remember, we're cool with bad theology, so long as we're in an evangelism series), our unconverted loved ones will end up in hell.

That's motivation.

The day I became a Christian, a day full of fear-filled stories of hellfire and brimstone, I rode my bike to my best friend's house to warn him. I thought I was warning him about hell. It turned out that I was warning him that, if he wouldn't become a Christian, he and I couldn't be friends. I couldn't handle the tension.

Despite the violence of my youth, I had a soft heart. When EJ wouldn't respond to my attempts to share the gospel, I was filled with shame. Why couldn't I rescue my friend, convince him, save him? What was wrong with me? Rather than face the tension, shame and pain, I stopped spending time with EJ.

As folks preaching, we are severely tempted to use shame to get people to do things they're supposed to do. Shame is so powerful. People respond to shame. Shame is so destructive. People respond to shame.

When we attempt to shame people into sharing the gospel, a few things happen:
1) We share the Good News as bad news (we pass on our shame)
2) We distance ourselves from people who are not easily converted
3) We associate evangelism with shame and wisely avoid it

Now, I don't want any of that to happen, so why do shaming elements creep into my sermons?

One of the reasons it's so difficult to speak on evangelism without provoking shame in my hearers is because I am so wrapped up in shame myself. Sometimes, I feel like I'm a sick doctor. I cough and sneeze on my patients and they catch whatever it is I have. My disease is shame. If I am not cautious and God is not gracious, you will catch it - this shame - if you listen to me long enough and digest my teaching. Thank God, he's gracious!

We share out of an overflow of love, out of excitement, out of our joy. We share hopefully and expectantly. We share freely, grateful to be included in the sharing of the news about Jesus. Sometimes, we share fearfully, reluctantly, timidly, poorly, weakly. We never share the gospel out of shame. What gets shared when I've been shamed is never the gospel. It may sound like the gospel, feel like the gospel, quack like the gospel, but it is not the gospel.

The gospel is that, in Christ, God has taken away our shame, along with our alienation, guilt and bondage. God has adopted us and placed his claim on us, united himself to us and set us free. God does not motivate by shame. Why do I?

4 comments:

  1. steve! this is sara from uncw (the one you blobbed =)!) and i've been reading your blog since after urbana and i am loving it. i don't know if i (or alicia) ever told you, but i lead our evangelism team and reading these blogs has been so amazing. so thanks for the insight and encouragement and truth. =)

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  2. Sara,

    Thanks for the encouragement. :)

    Alicia did mention that you two are on the evangelism team and that you're helping your community grow in that way. I'm interested to hear what you do and how you lead your chapter. It's one thing to engage in evangelism, it's another thing altogether to help a community step forward to share the gospel.

    Thanks for reading!

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  3. Anonymous11:44 PM

    I can never tell when you're being sarcastic and when you're being straight . . . .

    Are you saying that if we're sharing the gospel out of a sense of shame, the remedy is to just stop sharing with people?

    Paul says, "Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached and I therein do rejoice." (Phillipians 1)

    In other words, even if your motive isn't pure, sharing the gospel is the right thing to do. Our motives will NEVER be completely pure, because we are broken sinful beings.

    A sense of shame is often a very healthy thing . . . it's a way the Holy Spirit speaks to us through our conscience about what we're doing or not doing. It's when we stop being ashamed of our failures that we should worry -- when our hearts become so hard that we no longer care.

    Pascal's quote, "The only shame is to have none", captures this pretty well.

    Of course, there's a place where shame turns into self-pity and that's not healthy. But a good healthy dose of shame can be some of the best motivators of real change in our lives. In a society that says, "I'm okay, you're okay, we're all okay", a sermon that says, "You're not okay. You need to get out of your comfort zone and share the gospel more" can be a very effective wake-up call.

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  4. Never, Anonymous? :) There was a lot of sarcasm in that one post a while back (the one which sounded really ridiculous...hopefully, there's just one of those).

    I certainly didn't mean that we should stop sharing the gospel because our motives are impure. Thanks for asking me to clarify.

    What I meant around that point was this: If our motives are impure, we do stop sharing the gospel. Let me emphasize a couple of words that don't seem important, but really say a lot: "do" and "the".

    There's a huge difference between "should" and "do". I should have kept sharing the gospel with EJ, even though I wasn't experiencing "success" and even though I was feeling more and more shame. But I didn't. [The "wisely" in my post was sarcastic and unclear...I shouldn't have put that in there].

    This observation around the "do" is a personal observation of the way things are, not of the way things should be. I have found that the more I try to shame people into sharing the gospel, the quieter they become.

    Secondly, the "the" before the gospel is important. There is only one real gospel, one true story about God and his redemptive activity. In the Gospels we see that it can be told different ways, in different depth, but there's only one gospel.

    Over time, as we are motivated by shame (or any other impure motivation), our communication of the gospel is corrupted. We leave out parts. We add our own bits. We tweak and twist. And I think that this is very dangerous.

    I don't want to speak untruthfully about Jesus. Millstones make horrible necklaces and I don't like holding my breath. If I swap the Jesus gospel for the Sales gospel or the Theraputic gospel or the Health-and-Wealth gospel in order to get quicker "results", I might ease the tension created by my shame, but I lay crack-filled foundations in people's faith. Shame motivation increases this tension and, thereby, this temptation.

    Does this make any more sense?

    As for the "healthy shame" idea, I think we're in some linguistic mish-mash here. Perhaps we could break "shame" up into "conviction" and "condemnation", one of which is from God and the other of which is demonic (that's CJ Mahaney's technique). It's more complex than that, but that's one way of agreeing with you and claiming that I still stand by my point (without providing a lot of elaboration...it's 12:30, but I do love thinking about this).

    Thanks so much for sharing. If you want to keep discussing this, hit me back and I can write more when I'm more awake.

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