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Why We Can't Do Evangelism in the South

Paul Dean
Paul Dean
2013 2 Oct

At the risk of being overly hyperbolic, I do want to make a valid point. To say we have a big problem doing evangelism in the “Bible Belt” is an understatement. It’s also a problem of our own making.

I spend a lot of time building relationships to point people to Christ. I participate in community activities; serve my neighbors in different ways; invite others to dinner and spend time with them in varying social settings; seek to be kind; and in general do all I do in the name of Jesus. People know I’m a sincere follower of Christ. I’m intentional about engaging others in gospel conversations. Of course these things are not the problem.

The problem is that just about everyone I talk to is a member of a church. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re saved: far from it if lack of love for and commitment to Christ or lack of spiritual fruit are any indicators. They’re not saved but they think they are because they’re on a church roll. And when I’m a good guy to them, they don’t chalk it up to me being a Christ-follower (like I do), they chalk it up to me being – well – a good guy. They do that because they don’t really know the difference Christ makes in a person’s life because they’ve never experienced it. They see good Christians and bad Christians and it never occurs to them they might be seeing Christians and non-Christians because the church is filled with both. In their minds I’m a good Christian and not a – you know – regular Christian – like them.

Certainly much has been written on this issue and a watered-down gospel of easy-believism. So yes, we have a bad view of salvation and the gospel message. But I want to highlight something else (not that others haven’t done so; but it’s on my mind). We have a bad ecclesiology: a bad view of the church. When we focus on “going to church” instead of “being the church” we’ve already messed up. People go to church to fulfill their religious duty or get their religious fix. They don’t live like the church the rest of the week. They have no notion that they are the church and have a responsibility as such.

Add to that our rejection of the necessity of a regenerate church membership, our failure to exercise biblical church discipline, and our love affair with attendance over discipleship, and we ourselves – the church – have created an inability to do evangelism in our culture. You can’t evangelize people who do their religious duty and go to church occasionally.

So we can lament all we want about all the bad ideas in our culture; all the bad people coming against the church; and all the bad times ahead for our country; but it won’t do any good. What we need to do is clean up our act (and our rolls). That will probably make a lot of people mad and it might even cost some of us pastors our jobs. But it also might enable someone to evangelize some of them.

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