The Illusion of the Evangelical

It took me years. Years of ignorance and mistakes. My first lesson in financial management was the day I left for college (one day in January 1975). My parents drove me the 3 hours from Salisbury, NC to Raleigh. (Go Wolfpack). On the way out of town, they stopped at the bank. They opened a checking account in my name. And a credit card account. Three hours later, I began managing my own finances.

Terribly.

We didn’t have much when I was growing up. I remember the four kids getting an allowance when I was very young – one penny for every year we were old. I got a whole nickel when I was five. Allowances stopped before I turned ten. Working to earn money was normal. I carried a newspaper route. I did a little babysitting. Yard work. My senior year of high school, my dad helped me get a summer job with a man he knew… pumping septic tanks. But every dime I earned I was able to spend on whatever I wanted. I didn’t have a piggy bank. Or a savings account. Or any idea that I should.

The concept of saving was foreign to me. Earn enough to deal with everything on the list. Rent? Check. Food? Check.  Car repair? Credit card.  Credit card payment? Check. Check. Check.

Somewhere between 10 years old and pumping septic tanks I must have at least heard about the concept of personal savings, but it must not have registered as anything important for me. I had no problem with other people saving. But I only ever had enough money for things I wanted, and a credit card for the things I needed. I did not hear about saving from my parents. And the only thing online in those days were clothes out to dry.

… just because you have your money in an institution that makes savings accounts available, does not mean that you are a saver.

Today, I do save. I understand the long-term implications of that practice, and I am approaching the other side of that long-term timeline. However, I’m afraid that too many who should be savers are not. They are checkers like I used to be. I’m also afraid that too many savers don’t pass on the need, practice, skill, and strategy to those who should be savers.

Back in Time: How I Became a Saver (After I Became an Evangelical)

Jesus invaded my life at Ft. Jackson, SC during boot camp in the summer of 1974. I was on my knees, not because there is something holy in that posture, but because I was so desperate that I could not stand. Though I had been in church (non-evangelical protestant) for years, I had never – never – actually prayed. I was on my knees crying out to God for help – and he invaded me – I felt Him enter my life, and everything changed. But not immediately.

Because my saving occurred without anyone explaining the 4 Spiritual Laws or scaring me with the threat of a fiery hell, I didn’t know that God’s plan for believers includes personal evangelism. I went through college (in an evangelical church), thinking that what I should focus on was getting college students from other churches to come to my church. God called me to ministry while in that church, and I started seminary in 1982 without ever having told anyone how Jesus could change their life.

In 1983, my friend, John White, asked me to be his prayer partner for 13 weeks while he learned how to share the gospel through a program at our church. In seminary, you can’t say “no” to a request like that, but the very thing he was studying was something foreign to me. Uncomfortable. A bit anxiety producing.

Fast forward 13 weeks. Sunday night “graduation service”. Dozens of people had learned how to personally share the gospel*. I was sitting on the back row of the church. Uncomfortable. Anxious. And the God that had invaded my life in South Carolina broke my heart that night in Texas – my proud, hard heart. How could I so enjoy His salvation and not tell others? In tears I begged Him to make me into a “saver”.

Two weeks later I was leading a mid-week youth Bible study for a friend of mine. I didn’t know any of these students. After the study, we were all hanging out outside. I was talking to this one kid – and he said to me something like, “I need to be saved. Can you help me?”

Uncomfortable. Anxious. I realized in that moment, even with all the Bible I thought I knew, I had no concise way to explain the Gospel to him. With a prayerful mind heavenward, and eyes on the kid, I just started with what I knew. I answered his questions. God answered my prayer. I became a saver that night. And the kid became a believer.

Back to Today

There was a time when someone was considered to be an “evangelical” when they were personally involved in evangelism – the sharing of the good news – the saving work of the church. It no longer means that to those without Christ. Unfortunately, it also no longer means that to most of the folks who call themselves evangelicals. Today, it is not uncommon for those outside of the church to have “politics” as a first thought, when they hear the word “evangelical”. Today, for those inside the church, all that need be true for one to be considered an evangelical is to belong to a church that is identified, by virtue of its brand, as an evangelical church. It is no wonder that those outside the church had to discover for themselves how to define an evangelical, because most evangelicals aren’t. Most evangelicals on your block aren’t. Most evangelicals in your town or city, aren’t. Most evangelicals in the church… aren’t.

You see, just because you have your money in an institution that makes savings accounts available, does not mean that you are a saver. It is silly to call yourself a saver if you are only a checker. To announce to the world (either implicitly or explicitly) that you are a saver when you are not is an exercise in deception – of self, others, or both. Hanging out weekly with savers, learning their lingo, using their lexicon, nodding your head, and saying “Amen” in all the right places help shroud the checker in a false cloak of saving. And as the balance of members between checker and saver shifts ever more toward checker, saving can become a lost, uncomfortable, anxiety producing exercise.

Evangelical checkers (false savers?) think our country is in trouble because of the political climate. Too many evangelical checkers have rested on the size of our constituency to shape the direction of our country. Too many evangelical checkers think they are already humble, and that if only those outside the church would seek God’s face and turn from their wicked ways, He would heal our land. Sorry. That’s not how it works. That’s not what a Saver is called to. That is not what the passage means. I have to ask, how in the world can you imagine that a humble, contrite, repentant seeking of His face and turning from wicked ways will not result in turning toward the ways He has always prescribed? “Go ye therefore” has always been about personal evangelism. Someone saved, sharing the saving message with one not saved.

If we were to truly humble ourselves and seek His face, can you not see that this would result in more savers coming out of the doors of the church instead of staying inside the church, checking things off of their list?

Certainly, somewhere between 10 years old and today, members of evangelical churches must have heard about the concept of personal evangelism (personal saving), but it must not have registered as anything important for them. Churches budget for the things that they want. But look at your church’s budget for the money that goes toward training and empowering that saving work. If you are counting on the preacher to do the work, and he does, they you are a checker in an institution that has one saver. If you do and he does not, there may very well be no savers in your church at all. Churches where spiritual parents pass on the need and practice of saving to their spiritual children understand the long-term implications of everyone being involved in the personal practice of saving.

You can find out for yourself about your own church. Ask as many people as you can 2 simple questions:

  • What drew you to this church?
  • What do you like best about this church?

Keep notes in two columns or two lists.

Items on the saver list would include things like:

  • I met Christ here.
  • People are coming to Christ here on a regular basis
  • I learned out to share my faith here.

Items on the checker side include things like this:

  • Strong Biblical Teaching
  • Great youth ministry
  • Great children’s ministry
  • Great worship
  • This place is so friendly

While it may be rare for a saver church to be so without many of the items in the checker list, it is not at all rare for a checker church to have every item from their own list, and none from the saver list.

Humble yourself. Pray, and seek His face. Turn from your wicked ways. Become a Saver.

————————————

*Note: Dozens of people had learned how to personally share the gospel.

While it is true that many were saved in their very active learning process, they became savers because they shared the gospel, not because others were saved. It is up to us to share. It is up to Him to save.

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