When I was a kid, my next door neighbor was my best friend. He was a good kid. He excelled at sports and did well in school. But when his mother told him to clean up his room, he asked, “Why?” His mother said, “I’ll give you a dollar.” It was a lot of money. So he cleaned his room and she gave him the dollar.
Like an idiot, I tried that at home. Dad told me to clean up my room. I asked, “Why?” He said, “Because then you’ll have a clean room.” “Well, yeah,” I thought, “but that doesn’t say anything.” Though I could not follow his answer, I cleaned my room. There was no dollar.
Later, I heard my friend’s mother telling him to do his homework. He asked, “Why?” She told him he’d get five dollars for every B and ten dollars for every A on his report card. He did his homework. He got nothing but As, Bs, and one S in a Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory mark. He was rolling in dough.
Still the idiot, when my Dad told me to do my homework, I imitated my friend and asked, “Why?” Dad said, “Because you’ll learn something.” At first I still was back at that, “Well, yeah …” reaction.
As I put the two instances together, it came to me. Dad believed in intrinsic motivation. He believed in doing things for their own worth, not for some side reason. He believed in upfront, straight ahead appeals. Clean your room to have a clean room. Do your homework to learn something.
The church should act like my Dad. It should use upfront, straight ahead appeals based on intrinsic motivation. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Acts 16:31. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin.” Acts 2:38
It’s great to feed the hungry, treat the sick, visit the imprisoned, support widows, and work in Comfort Dog Ministry. But we should do it to fill the hungry, to heal the sick, to befriend the imprisoned, to aid widows, and console the bereaved, traumatized, and terrorized. We should do it for upfront, straight ahead reasons. We should do it for the intrinsic worth of loving our neighbors, not as a side appeal to visit our church or make a decision for Christ. We should not warp works of mercy and mere obedience to the Second Table of the Law into substitutes for outreach.
We need to diagnose the true and simple reason we resort to sidewinding evangelism approaches: lifestyle evangelism, friendship evangelism, missionary dating, prophetic evangelism, small group evangelism, invitational evangelism, service evangelism, and so on. Ask people to practice personal evangelism and they’ll tell you they don’t know how, they don’t know what to say, and they need a class to be taught how. Why?
It’s because we are not “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15. So we resort to methods that don’t require us to make any defense. We believe teachers who tell us people will be drawn to Christ because we are such wonderful people, we live such beautiful lifestyles, and we are so good in relationships. The new rehash of this pipedream is forming Christians to have “sacramental identities.” No, really, people are teaching that.
The truth is we can be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45. We can fill our hearts with meditation on the Small Catechism. When our hearts are abundantly catechized, our hearts overflow with hope, and our mouths will be prepared to speak hope. No special evangelism class is needed for that. No special techniques are needed. Fullness overflows all by itself. Vibrant catechization, meditation on the Catechism, and facing the trials and attacks of life with catechized faith are more than up to the job of hope. The Catechism is a fount overflowing in hope.
Let’s tell of hope so people will have hope, and not for some side reason that serves us.
And finally, let’s not waste the time and effort of our pastors on sidewinding evangelism methods. Let’s let the pastors focus on their Christ-given ministry of mending their world-worn congregants. “He Himself gave some to be … pastors … for the equipping of the saints.” Ephesians 4:11-12. That word “equipping” in Greek is a form of the same word used in Matthew 4:21 for James, John, and Zebedee “mending” their nets. The nets become worn. Then they don’t catch fish. They need mending. Life wears on us, and pastors give us soul care through Word and Sacrament. Let pastors mend nets, because then we’ll be mended nets. That is how we are fishers of men.