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Category: Evangelism

Rubber Bands

02

For hundreds of years, churches have been like rubber bands. Their focus has been on getting as many people as possible inside the circle (of tradition, of polity, of community, of doctrine). The bands only stretch so far, however, making it inevitable that a point will come at which some people will get squeezed out unless the old band is replaced with something newer, larger and less restrictive in each of the senses listed above.

This model isn’t working the way it used to. Southern Baptists—the nation’s largest protestant denomination—reported in April 2008 that new baptisms were down to the lowest level since 1987 and that membership had dropped by about 40,000 people that year. These numbers are generally in line with downward trends among all mainline protestant denominations.

How should Christians respond? Maybe it’s time to reconsider the model. Who says the world should be knocking on our door (let alone sitting in our pews)? After all, Jesus didn’t tell his followers to sit in an upstairs room—door locked—counting down the days to His return. He sent them out to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Who says the world should be knocking on our door (let alone sitting in our pews)?

Stranded

14

There’s a phone booth that used to stand in the Mojave Desert, 8 miles from the nearest paved road, 15 miles from the nearest numbered highway, miles and miles from any buildings. It’s telephone number was (714) 733-9969. The booth was eventually removed, but there had been a time in the 1990s in which a man, who claimed direction from the Holy Spirit, camped at the booth for more than a month, answering the calls that came in each day (more than 500 in all).

A movie was made, Mojave Phone Booth, one of the most tragically comic films I’ve ever seen. I sat for a screening at the Boise International Film Festival, a screening punctuated with loud laughter as audience members connected with the painfully funny moments of space-alien paranoia, a botched suicide, an out-of-work administrative assistant sucked into a lucrative ménage-a-trois, a desperate man who breaks into his girlfriend’s car and steals her stereo system (four times) in an attempt to convince her that she’ll be safer living with him.

It’s not that people in Boise, Idaho, are weird enough to have shared similar experiences. Instead, these impossibly strange scenarios perfectly illustrated the common American phenomenon in which we long for intimacy while resisting commitment. The phone booth in the desert – a kind of secular confessional – gave many of these characters their only meaningful (and vulnerable) human connection.

In the movie, there was a woman on the other end – an older, English-accented lady with a fondness for Canada – who several times a day placed calls to the booth and spoke with whoever answered. She listened to them. She asked questions. Sometimes she offered advice. In the movie, she had started calling the booth seven years earlier, seeking to connect with someone, anyone. Instead, she discovered a calling in listening to the problems of those on the other end.

While watching this film, I was overcome by the work of God reflected in the care offered by this woman, her continued calls, her endless patience with and for the pain of others, her love for a people stranded in the desert, looking for direction.

her love for a people stranded in the desert, looking for direction

Conversion Danger

04

Faith is fused with identity. I am what I believe. As a result, the discovery of a truth opens new worlds and changes my character.

What, then, is the danger of conversion, trying to bring others into truth? It is this. To convert is not to open up new worlds. Instead, its aim is to destroy old ones, leaving the converted in a land not their own and dependent on us, their human saviors.

Do you see that proselytizing is patronizing? That it is a way for us to lord over the less-enlightened? That it objectifies?

Too often, we seek to convince people that they must exchange their boxes for ours. This is sin. Our aim, instead, must be to help them tear holes in their boxes, to see the light of day, to enter this new world as free men and women.

But first, we must work on tearing down the walls of our own boxes. After all, the beam must be removed from your eye before you can take the speck of dust from your brother’s.

we seek to convince people that they must exchange their boxes for ours

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