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My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing
Carl Medearis with Sheikh Nabil Qawouk Hezbollah’s number two leader.
July 24th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing

Editor's Note: Carl Medearis is an international expert in Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations and is author of the book Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism.

By Carl Medearis, Special to CNN

Let’s do an exercise. I want you to fill in the blank on what you think you know about me based on what I’m about to tell you.

Here goes: Twenty years ago, I became a missionary. My wife and I left our home in Colorado Springs, Colorado to move to Beirut, Lebanon. Our job description was to plant churches and evangelize to Muslims.

Based on what I just said, Carl Medearis is a ______________ .

Depending on your background, the blank may look something like this:

Carl Medearis is a... hero of the Christian faith, a saintly super-man willing to sacrifice the comforts of home in order to share the love of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard the gospel.

Or this:

Carl Medearis is a... right-wing extremist who destroys cultures, tears apart families and paves the way for neo-colonialist crusaders to invade, occupy and plunder the resources of local populations.

Quite a range, isn’t it?

For one group of people, the words “evangelist” and “missionary” bring to mind pious heroes performing good deeds that are unattainable for the average Christian. For another group, those same words represent just about everything that’s wrong with the world.

I understand the confusion.

Based on my experiences of living and traveling around the world, I know that religion is often an identity marker that determines people’s access to jobs, resources, civil liberties and political power.

When I lived in Lebanon I saw firsthand how destructive an obsession with religious identity could be. Because of the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics, modern Lebanese history is rife with coups, invasions, civil wars and government shutdowns.

When I tell my Christian friends in America that some of the fiercest militias were (and are) Christian, most are shocked. It doesn’t fit the us-versus-them mentality that evangelism fosters, in which we are always the innocent victims and they are always the aggressors.

This us-versus-them thinking is odd, given that Jesus was constantly breaking down walls between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, men and women, sinners and saints. That’s why we have the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jews in Jesus’ day thought of the Samaritans as the violent heretics, much the same way that Christians think of Muslims today. The idea that a Samaritan could be good was scandalous to first century Jews.

Jesus was the master of challenging religious prejudice and breaking down sectarian walls. Why do so many Christians want to rebuild those walls?

Even the Apostle Paul insisted that it’s faith in Jesus that matters, not converting to a new religion or a new socio-religious identity.

What if evangelicals today, instead of focusing on “evangelizing” and “converting” people, were to begin to think of Jesus not as starting a new religion, but as the central figure of a movement that transcends religious distinctions and identities?

Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?

This is more than just a semantic difference.

When I used to think of myself as a missionary, I was obsessed with converting Muslims (or anybody for that matter) to what I thought of as “Christianity.” I had a set of doctrinal litmus tests that the potential convert had to pass before I would consider them “in” or one of “us.”

Funny thing is, Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.

Just because I believe that evangelicals should stop evangelizing doesn’t mean that they should to stop speaking of Jesus.

I speak of Jesus everywhere I go and with everyone I meet.

As founder and president of a company called International Initiatives, my work is aimed at building relationships among Christian leaders in the West and among Muslim leaders in the Middle East.

It may come as a surprise to many Christians that Muslims are generally open to studying the life of Jesus as a model for leadership because they revere him as a prophet.

But now that I’m no longer obsessed with converting people to Christianity, I’ve found that talking about Jesus is much easier and far more compelling.

I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus.

Jesus met people where they were. Instead of trying to figure out who’s “in” and who’s “out,” why don’t we simply invite people to follow Jesus — and let Jesus run his kingdom?

Inviting people to love, trust, and follow Jesus is something the world can live with. And since evangelicals like to say that it’s not about religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus, perhaps we should practice what we preach.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Carl Medearis.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Interfaith issues • Opinion

soundoff (3,792 Responses)
  1. labandme

    Christ didn't beg for money from seniors, live in mansions, chase little boys and have slick tv shows either.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  2. Pryor5

    The scripture is misquoted by omission. "Go and make disciples of all men, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (NIV Matt. 28:19-20a). Disciples of Jesus are not religious fanatics who take up arms. They are martyrs, not fighters. They are not following a false Christian Religion (as most "Christians" do– ie the crusaders, militias, social Christians, etc...)- they are followers of Christ- who plainly says that He is the only way to the Father God.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • DannyImage2099

      I believe David Thewlis character in the movie kingdom of heaven said it best "organized religion is for fanatics, I rather be lead by faith" give or take I think the qoute goes!!!

      July 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  3. JusticeForAll

    Muslims are the biggest evangilists in the world. They however, do it with bullets and swords. Wake up moran!

    July 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Mike E.

      Someone fell asleep in history class.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  4. Vic

    Isn’t one of the five offices of the ministry evangelism (Ephesians 4:11-14) evangelizing simply means proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a group that has never heard the good news.. John chapter 16, discusses who is the one convicting the heart of the unbeliever, the HOLY SPIRIT. If man thinks he's the one converting he is wrong. Are these the 'Christian' leaders that CNN hires for an article?? What a joke.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Mike E.

      Obviously from reading these comments let's just agree to disagree. There's a reason why there are so many different versions of the same religion. I wish we could just love each other anyway, regardless of faith. Let's try to respect "Freedom of Religion" and not impose it on anyone but ourselves. No one is ever going to convince everyone to see it their way. So let me start it by saying I love everyone regardless of their faith. I have a strong faith and I hope you enjoy yours as well.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  5. joe122

    Jesus and God are fictional characters in a book. Get over it and practice logic based on the golden rule which is do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Many other things in the bible are just plain nonsense, fictional stories and illogical. The golden rule is in many societies and was put forth by logical men and not God.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • John Delorean

      Wouldn't it be great if evangelical Christians didn't evangelize? Maybe we could get Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. to agree to cease and desist?

      July 24, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Sean

      The golden is actually a potion of scripture. Thanks for quoting the good book long before it was known as the "golden rule"

      July 24, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • JMM

      Amen! lol

      July 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Mark

      You should know that Jesus was real and it is a proven fact. So it is impossible to say Jesus didn't exist

      July 24, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  6. Jazmin

    Jesus Christ is the truth, the way and the light, no one comes to the father without first going through the Son. I pray God that you out of your mercy and grace touch each and everyone who doesn't believe in You Lord and that You manifest Your Glory to them with a personal experience today. Father touch their hearts and mind to hear Your truth and become saved by accepting Your Precious Son Jesus as their Personal Savior and become Christian, in Jesus Name I pray Amen. God bless you with Gods peace, love, and joy, in Jesus name Amen.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Dredd

      That has nothing to do with this article, you christian troll ahahaha. God doesnt like suck up's either, he has a limited place in heaven for non thinkers. Angel grunt soldiers that will die in the front lines of the Final war, i'll be there on the front lines too for the other side, with a chainsaw arm and built it chest rocket launcher, I'm going for a class 5 demon. I hear all God passes out is spears, anyway good luck

      July 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • map mad mab maq

      *yawn*

      July 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  7. modern_day_soothesayer

    Jesus was the consummate liberal

    July 24, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  8. jim

    Hey genius author: Jesus himself wasn't a Christian, he was a Jew. He told his disciples to be "fishers of men," so they (and Paul) began the church. I haven't been to Sunday School in 30 years, yet I remember these basics. Sheesh.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • popseal

      Glad you got some basics way back then. Don't let sceptics, Islamic salafists, CNN, misguided do-gooders, or any of the multicultural ilk get too far into your life with their Biblical illiteracy.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  9. OZ

    this guy's theology is ALL wrong!!! he need to study the bible and let the holy spirit work in him.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • J.W

      Why is it wrong?

      July 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Typical. It's from the Holy Spirit if, (and only if), it agrees with ME. Name one thing YOU think is right, that the Holy Spirit DOESN'T agree with ?

      July 24, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Alexandrine

      I agree! Jesus said He didn't come to bring peace but a sword. He said that people would be divided over Him. When you read the NT, you will see that even the Jews were divided. Some believed in Him while other didn't. Our job is to go out and tell people about what Christ has done for us. Not judge. Not condemn. But to be a witness to the grace of Almighty God.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Jeremy

      And what exactly has god done for you?

      July 24, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  10. morsecoder

    Hey Carl: Read Matthew 28:19-20. It quotes Jesus.
    It's called "The Great Commission". "COMMISSION".
    Get it?!

    July 24, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  11. Eric

    See the fruit of your article Carl Medearis? Instead of drawing souls to Christ it pushed them away! You painted a wrong Christ and a wrong Christianity. Indeed many people like you praise God with your lips, but your heart is far away from Him! May you be awakened from your wild dreams and repent from your sins. And I pray for God's mercy for all these rebellious souls who now are feasting on your foolishness.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  12. Thinquer

    Here is where Jesus commanded his followers to preach: Matthew 28:19,20
    Here is where he told Christians NOT to go to war or be involved with churches that do: Matt 26:52 – 2Cor 10:3,4 – 2 Tim 3:1-6
    If your church allows active members to commit warfare, you have not found Jesus' church. Contact your local congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, the international Christian brotherhood that adheres to Jesus' teaching on love. That stand benefits all we meet whether they become Christians or not.

    July 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • DannyImage2099

      Jehovah's Witness??? Are you kidding me??? Teh same group of people who believe Jesus to be none other then the angel Micheal who came down to earth in human form to play as the the son of god... because that is what you believe!!! And how about the fact that it is highly encouraged by your church to not associate with anyone out side the church unless you are trying to convert them??? No thanks, I rather believe in Jesus in the privacy of my own home then congregate in your company!!!

      July 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Thinquer

      Yeah, Jesus was treated the same way you respond to his disciples. Nothing new under the sun...

      July 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  13. SeeeingEye

    Jesus didn't evangelize, huh? LOL...This clown obviously never read the Scriptures if he thinks that.
    Christ's entire message revolves around making disciples and preaching the Word. It's so laughably obvious that this joker is blatanly lying that there's no sense even listing the numerous New testament text spoken by both Jesus AND Paul instructing Christians to both preach the Word and evangelize. Even respected opponents of Christianity would laugh at this guy.

    July 24, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Thinquer

      Christians teach, not deride.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • blindingguy

      I'm not laughing at the guy, and I read this article in its entirety. Actually, he makes his point quite clear, and you are apparently unable to comprehend it at this time. Try reading again without the judgement. That's probably what Jesus would do the first time.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Believer

      He is challenging your definition of evangelize. He is saying evangelize doesn't mean convert, it means talk about Jesus' life. Its not about organized religion, its about Jesus. Obviously he's not saying Jesus tells us not to evangelize, he's telling you to learn the real meaning of the word. Clearly you missed that one.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  14. Pastor Will Sampson

    You said we should "Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider." Have you even read the Bible?

    Luke 12:51 Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division;

    July 24, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Michael

      DO you see the problem with grabbing specific lines from a book of stories to support your theories? I sure do. SO you REALLY think its a good idea to be a divider rather than a uniter? Take some time to think about this.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • SeeeingEye

      Exactly what Im wondering about this guy! I would fall over laughing at the blatant dishonesty this guy is spewing if it wasn't for the fact that there are people on here so gullable that they won't even think to pick up the Bible for themselves to see if he's being accurate or not....

      July 24, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • B from Philly area

      I couldn’t disagree more with this article. Sounds like a cop-out from doing the primary work Jesus left his disciples. Among Jesus’ final words to humans were at Matt 28: 18-20 “go therefore and make disciples of people of all the earth, teaching them…”
      Jesus was the first to recognize that true evangelizers or preachers would be persecuted (John 15: 18-20)(John 16: 1-4); he said becoming a true Christian would even split families apart. (Matt 10:37) (Luke 14:26).
      The same angry, teeth gnashing Jewish high court that pushed for Jesus murder was the same high court that pushed for Stephen’s illegal stoning (Acts 7: 51-60) why??? Because he would not stop preaching about Christ, Christ Kingdom, and the need to stop old non-Christian practices (attempting to convert Jews and Gentiles to true Christianity).
      Yes, I have read the Bible, several times and it boggles my mind how anyone calling themselves a Christian pastor could agree with such a position, unless they are looking for rationalization why their flock/congregation is not engaged in this most important work Christ left us to do…
      I encourage you to read the scriptures yourself, see Jesus own words, and assess for yourselves who is in conflict.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Reverand Ronald McDonald

      "You said we should "Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider." "

      How can you "Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider."?

      I'm not sure how that is an action that can be performed. Apparently putting the word Pastor in front of your name doesn't make you as smart as you think it does.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • C.B.

      You're taking one line out of an entire scripture... and out of context I might add as well. Jesus was not saying that his GOAL or PURPOSE was to divide, but rather that families will be divided in their belief in him and the message that he brought with him. His purpose can be seen in his teachings, which were teachings of love, compassion, responsibility, and living an honorable life through God, his son, and the holy spirit. To take that one quote and act as if Jesus was saying that THAT was his mission and purpose is a gross misjudgement and dishonor to what was truly meant in that passage.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  15. Doctor D

    Congratulations! Finally someone who gets the fact that too many missionaries have displayed more ignorance and arrogance
    than "Christianity".

    July 24, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Jim

      Too often that has been the case but that doesn't make evangelizing wrong. It make the tactics used improper.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  16. David

    There's never a den of lions around when you need them...

    July 24, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  17. Josh M

    I totally agree. I think Beliefs are personal and should stay that way. It's when you try and force your beliefs onto another person that you discredit yourself, thus no respect. In a lot of ways it's just like selling any product, however this product is something you sell without verbally pitching it. You lead by living your beliefs and those that admire you will strive to follow your example. Actions speak louder than words.

    July 24, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  18. Sarah

    Jesus Christ evangelized all the time. That is why he was on his feet, and then sent his disciples out on their feet. He didn't sit around waiting for people to come to Him.

    Luke 9:23-26

    And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.

    Be careful about not honoring doctrine. Here is what Jesus said about that: in 2 Peter 2:1-3

    But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

    Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
    (Deuteronomy 4:1-2)

    2 Timothy 4:3: For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

    Beward of false doctrine. Keep yourselves, and His message pure.

    1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

    July 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jacob

      Sorry Sarah, but you're wrong. Jesus did not "evangelize" but rather He shared, He taught, and He LIVED His teachings of Love. He fulfilled the Law so that we are no longer bound to Levitical law – all of the "Do's and Don'ts" that arrogant Christians use to judge and attempt to control others. He told people to Love one another as He has loved us. That is something that far too many Christians arrogantly, self-righteously, do not do. Far too many Christians live a life of hatred, hating, condemning, and arrogantly trying to boss around others and FORCE and frighten them into a belief system. Jesus did none of that.

      Furthermore, people pursued Jesus; He did not pursue and hound them. Jesus talked and people followed, e.g., The Sermon on the Mount – people followed him out of town; When he was so crowed by people that he had to let out into the Sea of Galilee in a boat in order to speak to the crowds; the time people followed Him out into the wilderness and He fed the 5 thousand with 5 loaves and three fishes. The occasions are rare in which He preached in the Temple, and He certainly did not set up any "outposts" in order to convert. He wasn't even trying to start a new religion, rather He was here to teach us, to fulfill the Law, and to live a perfect life in our stead. He taught Love: Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul; Love thy neighbor as thyself. These are the greatest commandments."
      1st John 4: "Anyone who loveth not, knoweth not God, for God IS Love." And His litmus test for self examination, and the indication of where our spiritual focus should be: "Remove the log from your own eye before you attempt to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

      Look again at what Mr. Medearis is saying, and look at the Words and Life of Jesus. Jesus taught a way of life, not a conversion of religion. Live like Jesus, Love like Jesus, "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

      Also note that the Muslims, Jews and Christians follow the same God – the God of Abraham.
      I wish you enlightenment, and a life of Love, and as Mr. Medearis mentioned, a close, personal relationship with God. If you focus your spiritual life inward, on yourself – which is what Jesus taught, and your relationship with God, you will find you have no time to look at, judge, condemn and criticize and try to control others. Live as Jesus lived, not as an earthly preacher tells you that he/she thinks you should live.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  19. andrewthree

    God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him and that is Jesus. Religion (in Jesus' day and now) is the effort we make to know God and His ways. The problem with religion (then as now) is it tends to turn into a social club, 'us' versus 'them'. In other words we keep seeking the truth, and the more we do, the more He reveals it to us, but we are easily sidetracked. We are sidetracked into thinking that a certain ideology or country or political party or religion or ethnic group is our enemy. God's Word, and Jesus, the Word in the flesh, clearly taught that those are not our enemies, they are walls we have constructed. The real enemies are Satan and our own sinful nature.

    Jesus came so we could be saved from that sinful nature. He said He is the bread of life. He said He is the one who has the living water. Whoever drinks any other water will become thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water He has will never thirst again.

    The Christians who want to turn the work of the kingdom of God into a struggle against certain political or cultural groups are doing a disservice to the Gospel. Christians who say that Jesus was just a great man who tried to tear down barriers but was not really bringing anything absolutely essential for living and not dying, are also doing the Gospel a disservice. I've got to wonder how well either group understands the Gospel.

    We've got to make disciples of people all over the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to do everything Jesus commanded. And we must be careful how we do it, not for our own benefit, but for the glory of God and with love towards other people.

    July 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  20. chris

    "Inviting people to love, trust, and follow Jesus is something the world can live with." HELLO!? that's evangelism!

    Jesus didn't just say, "make disciples". He said teach them (meaning the new disciples) everything I have commanded you. Jesus most certainly did (and does) want those of us who know Him to tell others about Him. To me, that's evangelism. maybe you have a different definition of evangelism. sounds like you're still an evangelist to me.

    I don't agree about there being Christian militants, because part of being a born-again follower of Jesus is to rid yourself of the desire for such hatred and violence. (remember the fruits of the Spirit??) There are many who claim to be Christian who are not truly converted. They hate and kill in the name of Jesus, and yet Jesus hates such behavior. Such unrepentant violence is evidence of a false convert.

    July 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Karen

      I was thinking the exact same thing about Muslim Militants. Do you believe there can be Islamist extremists but not Christian extremists?

      July 24, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • chris

      Absolutely. the koran teaches that muslims should kill infidels (non-muslims). In the Bible, Jesus says to love your enemies.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:08 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.