The commercialization of contemporary evangelism

I tread lightly in this post, because it is a mixture of thoughts from my mental interaction with teaching from Len Sweet, which may be part of a new book he is writing. I don’t want to spoil that, but I do want to think aloud about an idea. And this is out loud thinking, which means that the ideas are not developed well, but are cursory thoughts which need to be fleshed out.

This will precede a possible post on dark and light that will go into greater detail about a topic I will simply introduce in this one, that being the idea of two lights within the scripture.

Jesus is the light of the world. Let your light so shine… There are positive expressions of light within the scripture. The gospel of John, possibly dealing with an early form of gnosticism deals with a dualism, states light is good and dark is evil. But negative views of life also exist. Lucifer is called the “angel of light.” It could be stated, then, that there is lucifer’s light and Christ’s light.

The scriptures are filled with examples of Lucifer’s light. Listen to it careful, it just may shine from you. Lucifer says that you can be God. Lucifer says you can do what you want. Lucifer says take. Lucifer says consume.

Now think of how we speak of evangelism: “Win the lost”. “How many have you won?”

Think of our measuring rods: numbers of members, budgets, how many baptisms, how big…All of this is the language of the consumer.

Could it be that we are focused on the light of lucifer? Success is measured by the fruit of the spirit, not the numbers. Success isn’t measured by how much we consume, but by what is born out of us. Fruit is an expression of death.

Contemporary evangelism has gone commercial and we are reaping the consequences of it. We have truncated the great commission by neglecting the after-effects of Christ conceived within a person. And it is all for the sake of being successful.

What were to happen were the SBC reach it’s goal of 1 million baptisms? Utter chaos! Our churches could not handle the development of the Christ birthed within those people. Nelson Searcy said, as it was told to me, God will not give you what you cannot handle. Why would God bring to your church his most precious creation if you cannot handle them, care for them, love them, and see to their development in faith?

The audit for the church should be the fruit of the spirit and the fruit of faith. It is not numbers.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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  • Excellent thoughts! Thank you for sharing them.
    Richard Owen Roberts spoke to a large gathering of Baptist pastors a few years back. I can still quote verbatim what he said to us: “I don’t know why you Baptist associate numbers of baptisms with success in evangelism. I can tell you that you are the first generation of Baptists to have such a silly, stupid notion.”
    When I approached our state denom leader to ask him what changes we were going to make in response, he said, “Jason, Richard Owen Roberts is like an Old Testament prophet. You have to take him with a grain of salt.” I never forgot that quote either.
    Thanks again for sharing such a valid point.

  • Here is my .02: I like telling people about Jesus. I like showing them how much Jesus loves them by loving them. I like showing them Jesus cares for their needs by caring for their needs.

    We are commanded to tell “as many as possible” about Jesus. I couldn’t care less what number the baptists or any other denominations count for baptisms or salvations commitments.

    What I care about is whether Jesus looks at me with disgust in Heaven for not telling “as many as possible” about Him while I am here on His earth. “Why did you keep Me a secret when so many needed to hear?”

    The thief was on the cross next to Jesus, the only commonality they shared was the fact that they both were in pain, bleeding, and would soon die. The thief did not have the time to show the fruit of his salvation experience, yet grace was extended to him by our awesome Jesus.

    On the flip, we are not excused from the responsibility of discipling people once they see Jesus, embrace Jesus, accept Jesus. We have to teach them how to follow Jesus. In order to do that we need to know how to follow Jesus. It starts with simple foot-steps, left foot, right foot, one right after the other… We learn on the way, on the journey.

    To quote Bob Carlisle, “We fall down, We get up. The saints are just sinners who fall down…… and get up.” I’ve fallen down so many times my knees ought to be bloody by now. Thank God someone told me about Jesus, thanks Mom.

  • This comment came via email from someone I know…

    Your concept is thought-provoking. I certainly think that Satan has succeded in influencing the church to become too commercialized and in some quarters “consumer-driven.” I think there are pastors who are beguiled by that old Serpent, who once was indeed an angel of light.

    His darkness appearing like light to consumer-driven churches is a most arresting thought!

    But I don’t think ‘winning souls’ HAS to become a worldly measurement of success for a church–or an individual Christian. After all, the OT does say that “he that wins souls is wise.” And Daniel wrote that “they who turn many from darkness will shine as the stars…”

    So~for what it’s worth~I think it’s not a matter of either/or. It’s both/and. We ARE commissioned to win others to Christ. Paul certainly talked about winning, and urged us to follow our call to press toward the mark. Yet he clearly taught us to seek the better way, the way of love…and to NOT produce the works of the FLESH but as you say, the fruit of the SPIRIT.

    I think true believers (fruit-bearing, Christ-like believers) WILL have people drawn to Christ by their life and their words. And baptisms will result. And even budgets–because if people are growing more Christ-like, they’ll become more generous and there’ll be more funding available for Kingdom causes, etc etc…and buildings–if they are used simply as tools to help people find Christ, and not as “showplaces” for egos!…can all be part of the healthy, productive congregations.

    So anyway~my thoughts are YES! You’re right on target! And NO! The Big “B’s” (buildings, baptisms, budgets, etc) are not ALWAYS marks of giving in to the consumer culture. But we DO have to always be checking our motives. Always! So keep us on the alert, David!

  • David,
    Sorry it has taken me a while to read this and respond. Overall, these are good thoughts. I would echo the thoughts of the email you received, in that “soul-winning” is in fact a Biblical concept equated with Biblical wisdom (Proverbs 11:30 is the textual reference, I think), meaning that all other foci in the church should connect to this passion: glorifying God by bringing as many as possible to him.

    So for what its worth, I think our problem isn’t too much emphasis on “evangelism” and too little on “discipleship.” Our problem as Baptists is that we have seen these as two different things. The Great Commission makes no such distinction. In my mind, we teach the whole counsel of God (a duty in which, by and large, Southern Baptists have failed at miserably) to ALL people: if they are lost, then what we are doing is evangelism. If they are saved, then we are doing discipleship.

    Next time we are together, let’s talk about Lucifer. That discussion doesn’t really relate to the subject of your post, but the theologue in me is having some trouble with the way Sweet is making application here. (I know, I can be a ‘neat-nik’ sometimes)

  • Joel,

    i agree with you about the “winning” aspect. I need to go back and make an adjustment on this, but I’m too tired from flying to think about it! I’m still processing so much of what was said, and how Sweet said it. I do want to talk about several things…I need the theologue in you to help me process some of this stuff. Of course, it could just be the way I presented it…

    hope you’re well man!



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