Today’s sermon was on Romans 1:16 which features the apostle Paul’s famous statement “I am not ashamed of the gospel”. In the sermon, our pastor (we’ll call him PJ) used the text to make some points about witnessing to non-Christians. PJ made the statement today that when Christians are out “among nonbelievers” it should be with a “strategic purpose” – to influence them for Christ. This hit a very sour note as witnessing has always been an issue for me that is fraught with ambivalence and bad experiences.

I can remember being a teenager around 16 or 17 and at that time I was going to a mainline Protestant Church on Sundays and the rest of the time I was listening to conservative Christian radio, reading conservative Christian books and pamphlets and attending a conservative Christian Bible study. I became convicted that I wasn’t doing enough to save the lost. To my adolescent, egocentric mind, there were hordes of unsaved people around me and I was their One True Hope. I would drive out to the mall or to a department store, usually with tracts in hand, and begin to observe people passing me by. I was trying to muster up the courage to say something, say anything that might save these poor people. I remember one lady in particular looked right at me and I knew that she was the One. The person I was sent to save that night. And yet I couldn’t say anything to her. I just smiled nervously and she walked on by me. I went home humiliated, ashamed and convicted that I’d basically sent this woman to hell due to my lack of boldness. And yet, I didn’t really want to get to know this woman – to meet her, spend time with her, involve myself. I just wanted to witness to her.

In college I had the interesting experience of being involved with Campus Crusade for Christ for awhile. This organization was focused on witnessing and evangelism. We’d set up tables outside the cafeteria and have people sign up for something innocuous then we’d “call on them” later in groups of two and proselytize, usually in their dorm room. The conversation was always directed, driven, manipulated so we could present to them the Four Spiritual Laws and lead them to the Sinner’s Prayer. I met a lot of people that year but I didn’t really “meet” anyone personally. They were the spiritual equivalent of enemies stenciled on the side of the Red Baron’s airplane.

The sad thing is how far divorced this was from how Christ influenced others. Nowhere in the Bible do we read of Christ handing out tracts or manipulating others in a salesman-like fashion. He was generally interested and involved in people’s lives.

The number one complaint I hear about Christians is hypocrisy. The number two complaint is Christians “hitting someone over the head with the Bible” or “shoving their faith down someone’s throat.” So I cringe when I hear PJ preaching today about the need to not be ashamed of the Gospel, to be bold, to have a “strategic purpose” when interacting with non-Christians. I cringe because there might have been a non-Christian in the audience today. If it were me I would be hesitant about coming back. I cringe because conservative Christianity apparently hasn’t moved beyond the “score kills for Christ” mentality. My Sunday school teacher handed out laminated cards today on how to witness. The first section was entitled “The Opening” and the last section was entitled “The Close”. Those could have been found on any used car salesman’s training manual.

So am I ashamed of the Gospel? Together with the apostle Paul I can say that I am not. I’m mature enough as a person and as a Christian that I don’t shy away from acknowledging my faith to others. I’m pleased to tell them about my faith if they want to know. But I am sometimes ashamed of Christians. I’m ashamed at times because I know there are stereotypes that come with being a Christian in our society. Bible-thumping stereotypes. Impersonal, aggressive evangelism stereotypes. And increasingly, stereotypes that we Christians are grasping for more and more political power. I can’t blame some non-Christians for wanting little to do with us. We need to seriously rethink our relationship to nonbelievers.

Christ’s example of loving servanthood and living sacrificially might be a good place to start.

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