I had an interesting conversation over the weekend. A kind and respectable young man did some cleaning at my house on Saturday. After I paid him, he picked up his supplies and headed to his truck. A minute later he was back, eager to talk with me about the Book of Mormon. Living in the Pacific Northwest, this is something I’m getting used to. I kindly shared with him that I had read the Book of Mormon, had studied the faith, and had found it lacking and out of sync with the Old and New Testament.
Our conversation continued for a few minutes, with the young man respectfully and persistently pushing the issue. As we were talking, the thought crossed my mind, “Why does he care so much whether I accept or reject his message and his belief system?” I don’t know this young man’s heart or intention, but the conversation touched on a topic to which I have been giving much thought over the past few months: why do we (as Christians) evangelize?
I believe there are positive and poor motivations for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. In this post, I want focus on four poor reasons that might stir us to share our faith. I’m sure none of the readers of this blog are motivated by such selfish reasons, but it might be good to use the list to check your own motives.
Insecurity. When my wife and I had our first child, several mothers from the church descended upon us with all sorts of “wisdom.” One advised us that to formula feed our daughter (as opposed to breast feed) was tantamount to child abuse. Another had similar instruction regarding immunization. A third was on the warpath when it came to “the family bed.” I came to realize that each of them was motivated, not out of concern for our daughter, but out of insecurity. If someone disagreed with their way of parenting, then they could be (must be?) wrong. But if someone agreed, that would reinforce and substantiate their own position, making them feel more secure.
Similarly, some Christians are motivated to share the gospel because they are insecure. If only they could get someone else to go along with the gospel, then that would provide them with a bit more certainty and comfort. Shoring up our lack of security is a poor reason to evangelize.
Arrogance. Will Farrell once quipped that he loves playing characters who exhibit “unearned confidence.” Too many evangelical Christians fit this description. A person inflicted with arrogance overestimates his/her own competence, ability, or value. An arrogant evangelist assumes that he or she has considered everything worth considering, has formed the only opinion worth forming, and has reached the only conclusion worth reaching. Such a person confuses Christ and His gospel (which are perfect) with his or her understanding, comprehension and acceptance of the gospel (which is imperfect). Unfortunately, the Christian groupthink that occurs in some churches, blogs, and fellowships fans the flame of such hubris by causing some to believe that they have it all figured (since everyone “here” agrees).
The opposite of arrogance is humility, a willingness to admit that we do not have all the answers, that we have defects, and that we are a work in progress. I think our efforts at evangelism would be greatly served with a stout dose of humility.
Narcissism. You know the story: handsome young Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and could look at nothing else. The modern narcissist looks at others, but can only see himself. In fact, the rest of the world must reflect his image; anything else does not compute.
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber famously wrote in “I and Thou” that we moderns suffer the temptation to make other human beings into objects. When we objectify another person, he or she becomes a means to some other end that meets our own interest. I know far too many evangelicals who see other people only as possible converts—objects in the evangelist’s quest to do something grand for God.
What do all of these poor motivations have in common? Each one places the needs and interests of the evangelist ahead of the needs and interests of the other. Evangelism should always be provoked by a sincere love of the other and by a servant-like attitude.
What about you? When have you been motivated to share the gospel for less-than-noble reasons? When have you been on the receiving end of such efforts?