But I mean Who’s Counting?
A while back I wrote an essay about the different ways that other Christians push-back on me when it comes to evangelism. Of course, these folks tend to be really into lifestyle evangelism and only consider evangelism a success when the set about the task of counting all of their converts.
However, there is another group of people in evangelicalism that I would like to discuss. These folks are the well-meaning active evangelist that hit the streets and by-ways on a regular basis. You know the types, the ones that can’t leave home without a pocket full of Gospel tracts.
If you have to emulate one over the other, I would rather you emulate the latter over the former. However, there is a danger in both, and today I want to address the latter.
Some Recent Encounters That Got Me Counting My Blessings
Over the last three years I have met so many fellow Christians. From my now beloved brother Ezra and his wife Chelsea (and of course Bubba), and their entire network of friends in the Cedar Falls area. To some folks that I met over the last two weeks, Tara (and her family) and still others.
Each Christian that I meet, who seems to truly love the God of Scripture, has been a blessing worth counting in my book. To say that they each come from a somewhat different perspective would be the greatest of understatements. But, then again, who’s counting?
The great takeaway for me in each of these meetings, is the expansion of my circle of Christian friends. I have even met some that have provided me the opportunity to sharpen my theological discernment tools. In a time when more and more Christians require marching in theological lockstep to call you brother, these folks are all refreshing.
Consequently, each of these meetings has provoked me to think deeply about my affiliations. Moreover, I have been compelled to rest even more completely in my doctrinal position because of many of these interactions.
Troubling Trends That Aren’t New
One of the things that seems to have become normative for modern street evangelist is counting converts during each outreach event. Just recently I met a wonderful man who has been a believer for quite some time. During our conversation he told me that he had already led no less than ten people “to the Lord” in just a couple of hours.
Accordingly, I was skeptical. This is not to claim that he did not see any conversions in that time. But it is to say that skepticism, or more accurately, guarded discernment, is needed. Having heard only the briefest of clips of his gospel presentation, I cannot say that he preaches a complete Gospel message. Nor can I say that he doesn’t. But having engaged in an incredibly brief conversation with him, I could hear that he was passionate about conversions. So-much-so, that he told me he will pray for a set number of salvations before he heads out. Consequently, the Lord miraculously provides that number almost every time.
Sadly, this is normative for many modern street evangelists. Just as the Relationship Only evangelism types define successful evangelism outings as seeing converts. The passionate street evangelist will also think that success is based on conversions.
Yet, here I sit in the middle of these two types, trying to be the moderate centrist. Trying desperately to stay out of the ditch on either side of me. The Lord knows that early in my walk and passionate embrace of public evangelism I would come home dejected if no one bowed the knee to Christ ala Romans 10!
But Todd, why is Counting Heads Problematic?
My argument against keeping a running count of the number of people that you see converted during an evangelism outreach is multi-fold.
Counting converts after the fact almost always starts with lowering Gospel standards. The person who does this may not commit the Galatian heresy, but they certainly can preach a truncated Gospel message. Indeed, their intentions may be good, but they may miss preaching repentance. They miss the call to obey the command of the Gospel. Perhaps they will soften the explanation of sin out of fear that touching on a particular sin may cause an offense.
Perhaps the person who is consistently observed counting their converts brings high pressure pragmatic tactics to bear on their interlocutor.
“Don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?”
“You don’t want to go to hell, do you?”
My argument is one that has been made before, and it has been done so very eloquently by Ray Comfort. In his sermon, True and False Conversions, Ray highlights the dangers of giving people a false sense of security when we witness to them.
Paul Washer once pointedly called out the act of “pope-ishly declaring people saved because they said a prayer with us.”
Todd, Are You Arguing That No One Gets Saved During Public Evangelism?
Not in the least. I am arguing that we should set out with the mindset that our mission is to preach the Gospel to all creation. We do this to the glory of God. To magnify His name. To make Christ famous if you will.
Our desire should be to preach the Gospel faithfully. This means that there will be moments where the only thing we are counting on is persecution and rejection. There are examples throughout the early days of the Church in the New Testament where we see massive amounts of conversions in single days. There are still others where the preacher is taken in violence and executed. This is modeled throughout the history of the Church.
When we approach our foray into the public realm to proclaim the Gospel “believing for” any number of converts we will inevitably find a way to produce that number. Instead we should set our minds on Isaiah 55:11, and trust that God will see His will accomplished in the preaching of His Word. Even if we do not get our expected outcome.
Sowing Seed Over Counting Heads
I used to really abuse the parable of the sower. I grew up in an agrarian culture. Consequently, I used to speak about the parable in terms of modern agricultural practices. I would talk about plowing and disking the field and preparing the soil for receiving seed.
This was not at all what Christ had in mind. What I would do with that parable was akin to understanding ancient fishing in terms of modern sport fishing. In sum, it was wrong and untenable.
The parable of the sower is meant to communicate to us that our work is spreading seeds. Even if it looks indiscriminate to others. Too many people think that preaching the Gospel means counting on converts every time. This is either accomplished through lifestyle evangelism or through false expectations of promised results.
Sadly, I have never met a single person that takes the “believing for” position, that has ever been “skunked” when they are “out fishing”. Everyone of them has always produced converts on every outing. So, either I am doing something wrong or…
I encourage people to pray any time they are about to go out and preach Christ crucified. They should beseech God for His strength and power. We should be pleading for God to work in mercy and grace in drawing people to Himself through the preaching of the Word.
And this is huge…
We should not head out thinking that Isaiah 55:11 is a promise that people will always be saved. Paul tells us very powerfully in 2 Corinthians 2 that when we proclaim Christ, we are the aroma of life to some and the stench of death to others.
God may very well be working to use our preaching of the Gospel to harden the reprobate soul. Furthermore, He may very well use that moment of our preaching to stand as witness against the guilty sinner on the day they face His just judgement.
If we remember this when we preach Christ crucified, it frees us to be offensive with the Gospel. It allows us to unfetter the word of God and let it to its work. That is what we should be counting on.
Soli Deo Gloria!