In his forthcoming book, The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight relays an experience from his youth in the program Evangelism Explosion. Doing door-to-door evangelism, he and his program mentor far over-stayed their welcome in a person’s home who finally broke down and “received Christ.” It seems that he did so, however, just to get his visitors to leave. But the older man partnered with Scot reported it back at the church as a glorious conversion that elicited great celebration. Scot’s discomfort with that incident led him to reject that sort of behavior for good.
Many people could report similarly awkward episodes. A friend of mine was at a coffee shop some time ago near a town with a large Christian college. Every once in a while students doing evangelism training would be sent out to practice their techniques. My friend said she saw a college student walking outside the coffee shop, passing slowly and peering oddly in. She had a hunch about what might be happening. This student entered and made her way over to a table where a man was sitting reading a book. The student spoke for a minute or two and then sat down. They talked at the table for about ten minutes and then both stood up and went outside to talk on the sidewalk for another ten minutes. The student then left and the man returned to his table. My friend said he looked shell-shocked.
She’s not the sort of person who normally does this, but she went over to the man and said, “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but notice that you just had some sort of unusual encounter. What exactly was that all about?”
“I’ve never been so insulted in my life,” he replied. “My day was interrupted by this young woman who didn’t care at all about me, wasn’t interested in my life at all, but wanted to tell me that I needed to convert to her religion and change everything about myself. I simply can’t believe a human would treat another human like that.”
I’ve got lots of thoughts about these sorts of strategies, but for now I’ll just say that they strike me as manipulative and offensive.
How do they strike you?