Eastin is playing in an Upward Basketball league, run by a local Baptist church, again this year. It's a great program, providing a valuable service and outreach to the community. But there is one thing about it that annoys me.
During the half-time of every game, the coaches and teams go to their "locker rooms" to confer and someone from the church comes to the middle of the courts to do a "devotion" for all the spectators. Now, I don't necessarily have an issue with this conceptually. But it seems like every week, this ends up being your standard gospel presentation.
It's kind of funny that this annoys me. I grew up in an old-fashioned Southern Baptist church where the gospel was presented every Sunday morning. You simply couldn't let an opportunity get by for somebody to hear the Good News and respond. This is what was expected. This was normal to me.
When we started attending more "seeker-friendly" churches, one of the things that made me unsure of the whole idea was that there wasn't an invitation every week. How are these seekers supposed to get saved?? In fact, I found that the plan of salvation -- or even the idea that one needs to make a decision for Christ -- was rarely mentioned from the pulpit at all. And this really bothered me. However, as I stayed and learned, I realized that this less in-your-face approach was much more effective in a lot of ways. I still get concerned about people "falling through the cracks" and missing some important truths . . . but I figure that probably happened the old way, too. God's got it all in control.
But now I'm back in the Bible Belt. And the fact that I feel discomfort, and almost embarrassment, at hearing a blatant call to Christ at a church-sponsored event upsets me. Have I now swung too far the other way? Am I now "ashamed of the gospel", as Paul exhorts us not to be? I don't think so -- I think I'm just feeling empathy for Unchurched Harry and Mary for whom this is awkward and confrontational . . . and often pretty incomprehensible.
This may be symptomatic of a problem I've noted in myself over the years: a general lack of interest in "evangelism", as the traditional church does it. I've found that the church focuses an awful lot of time and energy on getting people over that hump of making a decision for Christ, but all too often stops there. Personally, I feel much more called to help people on the other side of that hump continue to grow -- or to help people who are a million miles away get at least within eyesight of that hump.
The hump-jumping moment is rarely my focus, and I wonder if that should trouble me more than it does. Don't get me wrong -- I'm always thrilled when a person chooses to make Jesus Lord of their life. But, you know, there's an element in the Christian community that evaluates how effective you are in your Christian walk by how many people you have led to Christ. If that's the criteria, I'm a spiritual wimp. But I question that criteria. My experience in seeker-focused churches has reminded me that a lot of groundwork comes before jumping the hump . . . and much of that groundwork involves believers just living a life worthy of a lost world's attention. If I'm helping believers grow in their faith and live that kind of life, I'm contributing to the whole process. Right?
Happily, my current church seems to strike a balance between the two extremes that I feel pretty comfortable with. So far, at least. Everything in life seems to be about balance . . . moderation . . . avoiding inappropriate extremes. Society swings on a pendulum, and we rarely seem to have the perspective to know where we are on the arc.