There is nothing that makes a pastor more humble quicker than talking about evangelism. It is real easy to get hard numbers. How many baptisms? How many visitors? How many new members? These are things you can count without a big problem. And there is no end of people and places who will sell you a program. Many congregations and many pastors jump from one program to another to another. I’m not sure where is all started. My guess is that the first pastor of the church at say Thessalonica, about a year after Paul left, had other saying “hey, lets look at what the Temple of Nike is doing to goose attendance”.
One of the more hardy perennials are various fugues on how you can change your worship to appeal to those on the outside. The greatest exponent of that philosophy is Willow Creek. It is Bill Hybels and Willow Creek that popularized the term “seeker services”. The original idea was make your Sunday service as non-threatening as possible. That lead to things like: removal of crosses, replacement of altars with platforms, “worship” songs that don’t reference Jesus directly but instead just God, sermons that focused on “7 things you can do” instead of “this is what Christ has done for you”. That list might sound more negative than I mean it to be. If you were asking me what seeker services accomplished I’d say two things. First, they built a modern agora which is a reference to Paul’s method of going to the public gathering places to preach. All kinds of people will wander through a modern mega-church to talk general spiritual things. Second, the builders of these places are usually great preachers of the law. I don’t mean that is a specific moral law way. They are not great preachers of the 10 commandments. What they do very well is proclaim the way of wisdom. If you do and behave this way, good things will happen to you. And the best of them are wise and dispensing good advice. That is why there are plenty of people they can always bring up as examples. Here is the problem – and if you asked me Rob Bell is probably an example of this – the law kills. Even the best at keeping the law (paging Rob Bell), eventually crack under the strain. (I bring up Rob Bell because his story of hiding in the closet before he was preach one day is an acute case of the law.)
What went missing, and Willow Creek eventually admits something close to this, is the gospel. Thousands of people just burned out and went away mad. Thousands of other felt something lacking or dissatisfied with their spiritual life. They were doing all these things, and it didn’t work. They wouldn’t put it exactly this way, but they lost the bridge from talking in the open market to actually proclaiming Christ crucified for you. Evangelism a noble goal, but if you lose Jesus in the process what are you evangelizing too?
If we believe the small catechism it is the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. The sheep hear the shepherds voice. It might help if the sheep of the shepherd acted like it, but God’s will is done regardless. We are invited to be part of the mission of God, but it is not dependent upon us. (Thanks be to God!) One of the conclusions I would draw out of that theology is that worship is for Christians. The way the Spirit works is not through our mastery of psychological technique, but through the proclamation of the word and the administration of the sacraments. In a paradoxical way, the stranger those are, the more effective they might be. Because there, in church, in word and sacrament, is where the holy touches the unholy and makes it clean. Hiding the holy is just hiding the face of God and lowering the volume on the Spirit. Another form of what Moses did when he put on the veil when he came down the mountain. After Christ the veil has been lifted. I’ll continue this further.