Seeing the best in life's challenges

The Problem with Evangelism

on May 8, 2013

Despite the title, this is NOT a post about religion; it’s a post about a mindset.

The word evangelize is closely associated with Christianity, but in a broader sense, it means “to convert.”   Christians were instructed to spread the Good News (Mark 16:15.)

When a person discovers Good News, it is natural for them to spread it!  Whether it is an enjoyable story, a funny video, a quote that rings true, a beautiful picture or an article that we find insightful, we want to SHARE it!  That’s what’s happening on Facebook all the time, right??

This is even more true when we have a powerful personal experience, witness a life-changing event, or experience a breakthrough.  SHARING is CARING, and of course we want to help others with our newfound knowledge and insights.


If our intention is to help others by sharing, then how could there be a downside?

Evangelists are not inherently bad people.  They care passionately about others, and because they have had such a good experience, they want the same for others.

Some of the most fervent evangelists I know are exercise evangelists.  They have found a regimen that works for them, and all they can talk about is how wonderful it is and how YOU and everybody else should do it.

There are diet evangelists.   We see the evidence for various diets, the people who have had successful experiences, and they can be very convincing.   But we know that not everyone who tries the diet will have the same success.

Is it good for our bodies to eat right and exercise?  Absolutely!  A sharing approach will present information about how eating and exercising affects our bodies.  A sharing approach will acknowledge that bodies are individual, and respond differently to foods and activities.  A sharing approach will allow the individual to take personal responsibility for its own decisions and will encourage the individual to experiment with different approaches, to learn to recognize how his/her body responds in its own way, and to develop an approach that works for that individual.

PURE SHARING is done for the sake of sharing, with no expectation of anything in return, including the receiver’s agreement or appreciation.

PURE SHARING could be considered an aspect of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.

Evangelism is Conditional Sharing.  It expects an outcome of Agreement.  And because the goal of this kind of sharing is focused on the outcome, any method to get to the goal is justified.  Have you noticed how evangelism uses fear, shame and guilt to manipulate people into conforming?

An evangelical approach to diet and exercise will use fear, shame and guilt to “motivate” people to “do the right thing.”  It will make people feel “less than” if they don’t stick to the program and get the “right” results.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the underlying reason that many people “fail” in their attempts to “get healthy” – negative motivation is inherently offensive to one’s self.  Positive motivation, however, is empowering and promotes healing and health.

There are evangelists that are FOR things and those who are AGAINST things.  In many cases, once someone with an evangelical mindset determines what this thing is, no amount of logic or contrary evidence will sway them from their crusade to convert the world.  They are so convinced that this is right for them (which is a great thing) but they are also convinced that it is right for EVERYONE ELSE as well.

And that is the problem.

The underlying truth is that we are all equal – equally important, equally worthy.  We are all ONE.  BUT, we are not all the SAME.  This seems simple, but this concept is central to understanding the problem with the evangelical mindset.

We are each UNIQUE aspects of the body of humanity.  And that means, what works for me, may not work for you.  (Another ALO reference, see Animal Liberation lyrics, below.)

The evangelical mindset is very 3D, while PURE SHARING is fifth dimensional.  The evangelical mindset focuses on RIGHT vs. WRONG (3D), rather than having a focus on what is APPROPRIATE (5D).  The first is a one-size-fits-all approach, while the second takes into consideration the uniqueness of each situation and each individual.  The first is about the RULES (3D) and the second is about WISDOM (5D).  In 3D it is all about COMPETING to WIN, while 5D is about ALLOWING.  The third dimension is about CONTROL and the fifth is about FREEDOM.

Many people are so fed up by the prevailing 3D mindset of evangelism, that they assume all sharing is trying to convert them and they become suspicious of any information that is different.  This is an unfortunate consequence of the prevalence of evangelical behavior and the old mindset of Judgment, Rules, Competition and Control.

How to share without evangelizing?  Let go of expectations and the need to be right.  Respect others enough to let them form their own opinions.  For me, when I read a disclaimer that includes the statement that the reader should use his own discretion, I immediately know that this writer has no agenda.  This disclaimer is surprisingly similar whenever I see it:  the advice is, to take to heart what rings true for you and to discard what doesn’t.

Jesus said to spread the Good News.  He did not say to impose your moral code on everyone else.  He did not say to kill people if they didn’t immediately fall into line with your interpretation of what the rules say.  He did not say to hate people and blame people if they didn’t think like you do (actually he said the opposite).  He simply said to SHARE.  With all his emphasis on UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, I believe he wanted us to practice PURE SHARING as an aspect of that Love.

And I knew you were hurt

Playin’ it off like you were tough

Cause I saw your spirit shrivel

When suddenly you thought

You weren’t good enough

And I think it’s sad, so sad

I think it’s bad for our health

To let hurtful words and thorny spurs keep us

From being ourselves

So at the end of the song

The message that comes through

Is you gotta be true to what grows on you

People gonna judge

People gonna always suck you in

Just remember what works for you

May not work for them

 -Animal Liberation, ALO

4 responses to “The Problem with Evangelism

  1. […] that they have found something that works for them.  (This brings to mind my post on Evangelism here.)  Sometimes people really want to convince others that they know the answer for you.  Sometimes […]

  2. starlight says:

    This all makes sense – all of your posts I’ve read feel very ‘clear’ 🙂

    I personally have had to go through this as a learning process to some extent, although I wasn’t as bad as the evangelical. What I went through was first ‘finding what worked/what was RIGHT for me’, then I assumed (naively) that EVERYONE else would be helped by what helped me…or it was always the right time for them to do it too. I never used manipulation on anyone but I couldn’t understand people who were too different from me!

    I later realized that we’re all on our own paths – and that it’s not right in any way for me to assume anything! Instead of trying to force my advise onto people, I just let it happen on a more intuitive level (only delving into a topic if the listener wanted to know more – or if my intuition guided me too – which isn’t very often).

    I just had trouble seeing out of my own box ‘this is so wonderful to me, why isn’t it so for everyone else?’ and then understanding that we’re all following our unique path.

  3. Alyce says:

    This sheds perfect light on why I was so very, very uncomfortable “evangelizing” with campus groups in college. The process was painfully impersonal, formulaic, and rigid. There was no real love or caring there, just a focus on mass communication, numbers of people “reached”, and right vs. wrong. Yet I was told over and over that this was the way. Seems more than a little arrogant, in retrospect. Seemed that way at the time, come to think of it.

    • jlcmom says:

      My sister’s description of a friend who was doing something similar back then was she’s “walking around the beach bothering people.” And true, young people are told that what they are doing is right and important, yet they still get that feeling that something isn’t quite right.

      I had a very nice Jehovah’s Witness couple visit my house several months ago. I enthusiastically engaged them in conversation. They asked if they could come back, they did, and we sat down in the living room and had quite a discussion. The wife was agreeing with me on some things, and I’m not sure the husband liked that. They didn’t come back after that. I guess that’s another aspect that doesn’t sit right with me — just because you don’t know me, why do you assume I am uneducated about God and don’t have my own thoughtful beliefs?

      But it is helpful to remember that good intentions are there….it’s just old paradigm thinking that (IMO) is no longer working.

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