I was in a college ministry that targeted its evangelism for one purpose: to select future leaders. I’m ashamed to admit we called this process, “Selective Evangelism.”
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We felt that we could recognize future spiritual dynamos by their past high school triumphs. We pursued unbelieving men and women who excelled at sports, academics, and (I’m even more ashamed to admit) who had a sense of coolness about them.
The ministry chose to target evangelism to those cool students because it felt it could discern God’s future go-getters based on natural gifting. It clung to this heresy despite God’s direct rebuke to the prophet Samuel who thought he could pick Israel’s next king by his good looks.
I suppose we thought we were smarter or more spiritual than one of God’s greatest prophets.
But the humanistic virus that infected that ministry still flourishes in modern Christendom. Look at how many mega-church pastors are good-looking and just plain cool: almost every one of them. And those who don’t look cool spend their money on ratty jeans and tattooed sleeves.
The worst part is that believers in the pew begin to doubt God’s impact through their own lives simply because their body shape is pear, their intellect is lower than Einstein’s, and the only sport they excel at is shuffleboard.
As though God needs Joel Osteen’s smile to part the Red Sea.
God Challenges Every Culture
Every culture nurtures biases about which human traits are most needed. And in every single age, God defies our humanistic-biases by choosing servants outside each age’s coolness-quotient:
- Early societies adopted primogeniture, a system where the oldest son got all the marbles (well, the largest inheritance and greatest power). Into this culture God always chose the youngest not the oldest: Abel not Cain, Isaac not Ishmael, and Jacob not Esau.
- In those same times, women were valued by their beauty and the number of children they could bear. But God chose old barren Sarah not young nimble Hagar, unwanted Leah not super-model Rachael, and barren Hannah not fruitful Peninnah.
- Ancient times saw frequent hand-to-hand battles, so all the semitic civilizations prized brawn and bravery, but God chose cowardly Gideon over all the other Israelites, and tiny, artistic David over his macho, beefy brother Eliab.
- In Jesus’ time, the cultural elite prized pharisaical-holiness, rabbinical education, and urban-Jerusalem sophistication. Jesus chose hicks from Galilee, smelly unrefined fishermen, collaborating tax collectors, and doubt-filled Thomas’s.
- Also in Jesus’ time, cultural norms devalued women so much that a female witness was not considered valid in court. Yet Jesus chose to reveal his risen body first to Mary Magdalene, a former demoniac, mental patient, and a female. For a time, the only witness to the resurrection of Christ was a woman.
God always chooses the Dregs of society to shame its Divas.
Modern people have rejected past cultural elitism; we don’t think oldest brothers should get all the marbles (as a third son, I especially like that change), and we don’t value women on how many kids they have. But we still measure women by their waistline and men by their wallets. Is our society really any better?
If you think you are God’s greatest gift to His kingdom, you are next to useless.
If you believe you lack all culture’s coolness-quotients for you to successfully serve, God can do a mighty work. You are in the perfect place for Him to break all society’s unwritten rules and to kiss a frog into a prince
God isn’t pursuing men and women who draw attention to themselves: to their beauty, intelligence, brilliant oratory, or self-confidence. God chooses people who draw attention to Him.
True, spiritual, selective evangelism is when God kisses nobodies into somebodies.
Sunday after Sunday, it’s “lights, camera, action,” all for the sake of actors who disguise themselves as pastors, while entertaining vast numbers of people in many of our nation’s churches, and beyond. And, yes, Sam, you’re absolutely correct. These people are not God’s greatest gift to the Kingdom.
And I hope God continues to purify me of world-created false values.
As I wrote about Mary Magdalene, I kept remembering the woman who washed Jesus feet. We know she was a broken women, one version calls her a “woman of the city” which was a Semitic metaphor very much like our phrase, “a woman of the streets.”
Yet Jesus says of her, “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
What beautiful honor from our Lord. That is the God we know; it’s not what we bring that counts, it’s what He brings that matters.
Thank you Sam, excellent article and so helpful to remind oneself. Xx
We probably need daily reminders that God chooses us simply because he loves us, not because of our greatness.
Alas, we are like a drunk person trying to get on a horse. First we fall off on the side, “I’m so wonderful, God obviously needed my gifting.” Then we climb back up and fall off the other side, “I’m so useless, God will never even look at me.”
We all have our biases about who to target with our evangelistic efforts. We think we can discern the good soil in Jesus’ parable (Matthew 13) by our own efforts. I realized a couple of years ago that I’ve always imagined that soil as being something like me when I became a Christian: eager to learn, ready to commit my life to God, promising to follow wherever He might lead.
But Jesus says things like, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28). Would good soil feel weary and burdened? Or “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Is He really saying that the sick and the sinners are the good soil that He’s looking for? How do you grow fruit in that kind of dirt? I’m sure we could do a better job of reaching the lost if we focused more on the good soil, rather than scattering the seed somewhat randomly.
But I don’t think I would be very good at identifying that dirt. My selective evangelism would lead me to the people who seem to have their act together and are just waiting for someone to invite them into the club.
I’m so glad God has a better plan! (Adapted from my blog at https://thosewhoweep.blogspot.com/2019/03/good-soil.html.
This post also contains a confession, a conviction from the Holy Spirit: I wasn’t as eager to learn and ready to commit my life to God as I thought I remembered being before I became a Christian. Several paragraphs after I wrote that sentence, I realized that the commitment came only after He had entered my heart. It was His doing, not mine.)
Thanks again for your comments, I always appreciate them.
I wonder if all of us have a secret selective evangelism, thinking God mostly wants people … just like me.
Thank you for being honest about this selective evangelism. This selective evangelism is why I was kicked out of a church youth group. Everyime I go back to a church I see this in subtle ways and it reminds me why I was told to leave.
I had experienced God tho and it took many years to find my place in the kingdom. 6 years ago I was homeless and had a dream I’d be in Washington DC someday. I didn’t know how cause I’d lost everything. That winter I met somone blind in her left eye and God restored her sight. Experiencing the blind see during my darkest and coldest hours (-30 in my truck in Minnesota) gave me hope.
I got a job as a janitor and 6 years later hired for my dream job in Washington D.C. At this point in time I’m ok with not looking hip, handsome or cool. God made me to work in the shadows out of sight of a church. It’s a lonely calling yet has never been without perpose.
Once again thank you for the honesty, yet I can’t help but notice one overlooked fact not mentioned in your article- selective evangelism has done immense damage. The salt in the wound is when people tell me to go back to church and I am sinning by forsaking the assembly.
This is gaslighting by telling me to return to the selective evangelism which harmed me. I wasn’t cool enough. They aren’t required to change its ultimately my fault and my sin.