Dear Greg (or Gary, sorry I can’t remember) and others,
I met you briefly at Peavey Park in South Minneapolis last Wednesday. I was hanging out with some punk-rocker anarchist folk, eating dinner with homeless and having an all-around good time. You came by and politely offered us flyers to an event for youth you were having in October. You were kind and cordial and I appreciated listening to the conversation between some church-goers and anarchist, two groups I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with that tend to have some nearly polar opposite values.
The flyer you handed out was impressive. Glossy on both sides and well designed, it advertised a big event for middle school kids and their parents. If the gloss wasn’t enough, the flyer was even more enticing by offering free hoodie sweatshirts for every kid that came and $6 for every parent that brought their kid. Free money and clothes, my initial thought was it’s brilliant marketing. Credit card companies offer free stuff all the time to get people signed up, and you were giving the exact types of things the people your targeting actually want. I was impressed because you had said you surveyed people in the neighborhood and the largest response you had was that people wanted something safe and fun for their children. Your are meeting a need of the community. Meeting the communities needs with brilliant marketing and large events, I have to say I was impressed. But, then I started getting uncomfortable.
I wasn’t quite sure what this discomfort was, until you left and the folks I was hanging with started talking. They were on to your scheme, they were skeptical of your ‘evangelism’ and ‘preaching’ tactics, and they hadn’t even been to your event, just had seen many others like them. That’s when it occurred to me, you weren’t sharing the ‘gospel,’ rather you were treating Jesus like a commodity, you were in a business venture.
Someone once said, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” The means (your party) are inextricably tied up in the ends (believing in Jesus) that you hope to accomplish. Your desire to have this event and ‘win people to Jesus’ will more then likely win them to a Jesus other then the Jesus I see plainly in the bible. If someone chooses to sign-up at your event, they are more then likely going to be choosing to follow the ‘jesus’ you’ve displayed to them. They’ll choose to follow the Jesus of free hoodies and free money. Jesus, from what I can tell, never enticed people to follow him. It wasn’t ‘come follow me, and I’ll give you a free pair of sandals.’
I worry that those you entice to following ‘Jesus’ at your event, will start off with such a skewed picture of what this ‘Jesus’ character is about that they will never really be able to see clearly the real Jesus we meet in the gospels. I worry that when the free money and clothes stops coming, they’ll get tired of following this ‘Jesus.’ They’ll stop following your Jesus, which I don’t think is the same as the real Jesus we encounter in Scripture; and my fear is that if they stop following that Jesus, like so many, they’ll stop looking for or considering Jesus all together.
Please consider your event, your marketing, and your Bible, I think you’ll find there is some tension there that needs to be reconciled. I think you all are doing a great thing, listening to the community, trying to meet the needs of the community, pointing to Jesus as a source of hope and truth; I think your hearts are in the right place, which is why I felt it was worth the time to encourage you to think hard about how your are bringing people to the faith. May God be with you and may your efforts be blessed.
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