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. David

    Matthew 10:34-36 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– 36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'

    July 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  2. Imagine

    Coexistence is futile with the delusion of religion.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  3. fiscalconservative

    Too many Preachers and Evangelist, tend to Preach their Politics rather than the teachings of Christ, that's one of the reasons, "Christianity," is losing so many of its members.

    A preacher I saw on TV this morning preached his Politics and then stated now that was the Chips and Salsa, now let's get to the Subject of the day, and after spending about half of his time preaching his Politics he preached about how this Nation as a "Christian" Nation has been blessed and then turned right around and told his audience over this nation had gotten away from being a "Christian Nation. He had that subject covered no matter how a person might feel, didn't he?

    The FACT is too many people preach about God and Country, when Christ always taught his message of Love, Obedience to his teachings, rather than being involved with the Politics of his Day. He even stated that Thomas Payne made a reference to this being a "Christian" Nation in 1765, eleven years before this Nation became the United States of America.

    He further stated, Liberals had taken Prayer out of the Schools in this Nation. Perhaps he wasn't aware of the teachings of Christ to go into your closet and pray, as the Pharisees prayed on the street corners to be seen by men, Christ stated those people had their reward, but his followers should pray, Thou Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. When that preacher prayed at the end of his sermon, he prayed for several things, but he didn't mention as Christ did that, Thou Will be done, as he was asking that others may become a member of his Church.

    Money has spoiled the Preachers of today, as when Preachers were paid about the average income of its mmebers, most ot the Preachers were Democrats, now that they are paid as much as 7 Times more than the average income of its members, most of those are Republcans, as they want to keep their money and not pay to Caesar, that which belongs to Caesar, and since they don't want to do that, the possibility is they don't give to God that which belongs to God, do they?

    July 24, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • gozer

      I suspect that a more significant cause of the loss of followers of your religious delusion is that more people have seen through the nonsense that is Christianity, in light of modern science and lack of evidence for what Christianity claims.

      Your Christian tales are just that: tales from ignorant people with little understanding of the world. Get over your silly sky fairy tales already and flush your preaching where it belongs.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  4. Evangelize More

    “Go and make disciples of all nations” is a profound statement of Jesus. Yet, we must know and realize that when we make disciples of all nations (by evangelizing), what we teach (Christianity) is what we would be making disciples for. These are the end times and the Holy Bible indeed tells us that there will be many false prophets that will rise to the occasion and preach things in legion with anti-Christ. To say that Christians should stop evangelizing is exactly what this is speaking to, imho. I don't see how it could come any closer. There cannot be less evangelizing. There should indeed be *more* in order for people to teach others how to secure Heaven and not lead people to Hell by virtue of remaining complacent and remiss by not teaching others about Jesus Christ and how to attain Salvation.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • studypeople

      Hey false prophet. No one know the end time. Not even the Angels. Only God. Second. I would re think your conversion platform. Wise Men still seek him. No were does it say...for that, Wise Men are going to he**. In fact, Jesus never spoke of he**. Just the Kingdom of God.

      One last point. When the Bible spoke of Jesus sharing dinner with the Roman Soldiers. I never read a mention of Jesus saying.... Now that you have met the Son of God. Give up your Sun God! Or I'll have my Father strike you down.... or off to he** with you

      Stop playing God! Your not very good at it.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Truth Hurts

      Ah, studypeople, but you sure are very good at playing the devil with your *deceit* of Truth aren't you! People are not fooled by your rhetoric. The biggest lie Satan tells people is that there is no Hell when God Himself has told us there is. The Bible also mentions that these are the end times and that followers of anti-Christ will rise to the occasion to try to sway good people from entering Heaven at their appointed time. But all must remember that no Salvation can be attained without Jesus Christ. End of story.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • gozer

      Explain again how eternal torment in hell is fair punishment for minor transgressions such as doubt in a finite life, and why your "loving" omnipotent being is so vicious.

      That god of yours that you've created is apparently quite the evil as-shole. No modern human court would be so cruel.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Understand This

      Gozer, eternal torment and suffering is not something that God arbitrarily gives to you. It is something that *you* create for yourself depending on how you live your life and your actions while here. If your life is filled with darkness and bad feelings and deeds towards others, then that is the product of your own free will doing. God gives each person free will choice to decide for themselves whether they want to walk the path of righteousness or take a turn and walk away from it. Therefore, when one passes on they will go directly to the most appropriate place based upon their actions here on Earth. God allows that as people created it for themselves and there are lessons to be learned in the next world when one does no good in this world. So you need to stop blaming God for what people create for themselves which, in turn, sends them directly to the place they deserve to be after they cross over from this life to the next which is eternal.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  5. Thor Colberg

    Oh yea! Thanks Carl.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  6. ...

    Carl, you've got the right idea. You know all the people commenting are ignorant. They do not understand what you have written about with the article and they certainly do not understand what Jesus taught. Remember what Gandhi said, "I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." People of other faiths know Jesus and that is enough.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Nathanael

      Would that include yourself?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  7. Abu Jude

    Interesting perspective – Jesus is an interesting man worth studying and emulating

    July 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  8. Katlin

    As all Christian churces have their own beliefs and interpretations, it would be more beneficial for people of any religion to set an example by the way they live that others are actually interested in following rather than criticizing those who are not 'like' them, whether they convert or not, which Christinas are known for. Excellent point, Carl.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Believer

      Totally agree & I'm a christian. 😉

      July 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • fiscalconservative

      Christ taught his followers in Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 16.

      16. Let your light so shine before men, that they might see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

      That tells me those who go around telling others they are a "Christian" really aren't a Christian, as they are tooting their own horn, rather than doing as Chirst taught his followers to do, and that was let their light so shine that others might see their good works and that's what glorifies The Father, which is in heaven.

      Christ reviled those who chose to tell others (boasting about their good works) how much better they were than the other people, and that's the same way it is today, you see or hear a person telling you how good they are, they are doing what Christ reviled throughout his teachings, aren't they?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  9. jorge

    it seems that many people don't love christians.....

    July 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • ...

      yeah 2/3's of the world.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  10. Michael

    I'm a Coptic Orthodox Christian and I have seen the perversion that has been made of Christianity. Frankly, I don't blame the hatred that is directed towards Christians. The author is spot on. Christianity is not about gay vs. non-gay, drinking vs. not drinking... Christianity, as stated in the Bible, is about helping the poor, the homeless, the orphan, the stranger and the guest. If you are a Christian so bent on changing people's faith, do everyone a favor, let people know how your faith has made your life better and let people see by example the power of Christ. No one needs anything forced down their throats.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  11. Holly

    The myth that illegal aliens only hold jobs that American workers won’t do is just that — a myth. Recent studies estimate that 20 percent of cooks, 25 percent of construction workers, 22 percent of maids and housekeeping personnel, and 25 percent of groundskeepers are illegal aliens. In addition, 40 percent of illegal aliens are visa overstays, many of whom take high-end jobs from Americans.
    When fast-food company Chipotle was audited and hundreds of its illegal workers were fired, American citizens lined up the next day for a chance to work at those jobs. . .
    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data from last year show that 98.3 percent of employees were confirmed as work-authorized instantly or within 24 hours using E-Verify. A 2009 report by research firm Westat found that those eligible to work are immediately confirmed 99.5 percent of the time.
    E-Verify is free, very accurate and reduces paperwork for American businesses.
    Please put your efforts into helping the truly down and out Americans. Please put your efforts in helping mothers, fathers, teenagers find work. There are generations of families who cannot compete with the under the table dealings of illegal’s and have gone out of business. Fax your representative today. Faxes and calls work and are free at Numbers…..(look it up and just do it!)

    July 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Bob

      What the heck do your comments have to do with this article?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • J.J.

      ...what does this have to do with the article?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • ufadoof

      How christian of you.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  12. Pinfold

    Yeah, they should't engage in evangelizing. And they shouldn't make it a capital crime to convert to another religion. Oh, wait... they don't... but some religion does that... which one was it again?

    July 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  13. Great commission

    This author seems to have forgotten the Great Commission given to all Christians by Jesus Christ. Matthew 28:19 (NIV)
    "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This is evangelizing. Therefore Christians will not stop going into the world an baptizing those that respond to the Truth given to us by Jesus Christ.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • pb_j

      Amen! Solid words.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • NewsOrGossip

      Study more....the author of the Bible really isn't Jesus, and Jesus didn't control the stories said or supposedly written about him. Discover the light within you and and spring of knowledge appears everywhere. To truly learn you just 1st acquire wisdom which is within you. Jesus spent time in the Upper Room, (there was no bible). Jesus taught unity! The Matthew author misconstrues information/parables and talks about a punitive God. Which is really what back in the day Kings and Slave Masters used to control other people...but think about that. The parable's message is not to fear punishment but rather to be kind to others. Forgive others as you are forgiven. Go deeper ...go within, as the Spirit is your teacher...not the author of Matthew...whoever that is. "Great Commission" That. I Love You fellow human! Peace!

      July 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • fiscalconservative

      While what you posted is TRUE, too many people who claim to be a "Christian" seek to Force others to believe as they believe, and Christ NEVER once sought to Force anybody to follow his teachings, did he?

      There are some things you can't force other people to do, among them are you can't force a person to Love you, and you CAN'T force a person to be a "Christian" as God gave every person the free will to decide for themselves to follow his teachings or to reject his teachings, otherwise, people would have no part in their Salvation, would they?

      Those who try to FORCE their Religion on others, are doing their Religion a dis-service and show their lack of knowledge of the teachings of Christ.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  14. Nathanael

    Thank you for your opinion, but please keep the bible at the center of your religious doctrine.

    "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
    (Matthew 28:18-20)

    As christians we are called to spread the word to all the earth. The number one thing as a christian that we can do to show our love to you, is to tell you about Jesus and his love for you. The fact that he would die for your sins and never even know you should make you think about the type of love that that would require. You may not have desire to hear what I have to say but I am called to tell you anyway. May Jesus bless you and bring you peace.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Jean

      When I verbally relay information to another person, I am telling them and not showing them. Is it not better to live by example? If one can see that another way is better, they will seek out that way. No words are necessary.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • K Doyle

      You might want to check that Bible that is at the center of your religious doctrine. Jesus knows every one of us.

      The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:4-5

      “I am the Good Shepherd and I know My sheep.” (John 10:14)

      Jesus' message is one of love and unity so how can you chastise and throw verbal stones at another follower. That is not LOVE.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  15. davidj

    Thanks for the article Carl! As I reach out to my neighbors and those around me, I need to remember that I am not trying to get them to convert to any type of dogma or religious system. Jesus never did that, so I shouldn't either. Jesus simply asked people to follow in his footsteps. Jesus called people out of their tombs of religiousness into a real and dynamic adventure of faith. I hope we can "tear down those walls" as you say, of all the things that get in our way of following after Jesus.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  16. Charlie

    Why is it that Reformers and Calvinist make the whole Christian life and experience about arguing and debating for Calvinism...its so tiresome and people really just don't want to hear the endless exercises in pride trying to prove the Calvinist stance...being a follower of Christ involves so much more then debating doctrine..

    July 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • matt

      This. Put better than I could have.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  17. Miguel

    The problem with this guy is that he was confused, and still seems to be. "Evangelism refers to the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others who do not hold those beliefs." It's not about "converting" anyone. Real Christians realize this. They know that it's the Holy Spirit that converts – not men. Since Medearis obviously started off on the wrong foot by believing evangelism means to convert, he caused his own problems. This article is useless, misleading, and betrays a gross ignorance of Christianity. What it does show however is that not everyone understands the teachings of Jesus, and can often do more harm than good for His kingdom by applying their confusion to their teaching. It's sad.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Miguel

      Oh yeah, as far as Jesus being a uniter? You decide:

      “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
      "For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–"

      Jesus knew His way was the only way, because His way is truth. Medearis' idea of uniting everyone is his own illusion, and has nothing to do with the mission of Christ.

      "I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes

      July 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Jean

      When I verbally relay information to another person, I am telling them and not showing them. Is it not better to live by example? If one can see that another way is better, they will seek out that way. No words are necessary.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Nathanael

      Miguael, you are absolutely correct. John refers to them as the anti-christ. Those that where believers that have let others astray with there false doctrine.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • K Doyle

      Your close-mindedness makes me sad. His is a message of love as was our Savior's. LOVE is the truth that Jesus showed us. Love is the way the truth and the life because Jesus was love. You say that people are in ignorance of Jesus' teachings but I believe most small children who know of Christ would even understand the message this author is trying to express. One of tolerance, acceptance and LOVE.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • NOPARK40

      i agree whole heartedly....This so called evangelist doesn't recognize the fact that sewing in the garden is not always that fun but work...

      July 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  18. Tiptop

    Jesus is coming soon . What is this?????? Well i think evangelicals should please stand up and be out converting souls to Christ . These are the perilous times as said in the bible and the devil is really out against Christianity. Christians wake up and let us tell the world about Jesus .

    July 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Bob


      July 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • sensibleJeff

      Telling the world about Jesus is as simple as living life the way he did, which could only be considered "in your face"-style evangelism against the prevailing overly pious religious leaders of the day...who show increasing parallels with the so-called leadership of the American evangelical community, to their shame. To all others, Jesus exhibited gentleness, strength and wisdom. We would do wise to follow that example.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • fiscalconservative

      Too many "Christians," and their Preachers are too Busy preaching their Politics, they don't have time to teach the teachings of Chirst, do they?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  19. Brandon

    I see some criticism of Carl Medearis by some Christians within the which I can understand given the article. I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Medearis give a talk in person about the work he does in the Middle East and in the Muslim world and all I can say is that he is really opening up doors for Jesus and only helping to create disciples of Jesus through his discussions with Muslim leaders. He has some incredible stories and I think most Christians would be hard pressed to deny God's influence having heard them. I do not think he is an advocate for religious pluralism as someone here mentioned. He's just not forcing Muslims to believe in Jesus so much as he is sharing with them why he believes in Jesus. He is sharing the good news of Jesus and he is helping to make disciples.

    I think he is advocating to focus on just sharing Jesus with people rather focusing on 'converting' them.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Bob

      I'm not muslim, and I don't give a crap why he believes in jesus. However, let me tell you about The Great Pumpkin.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • NOPARK40

      hmm interesting if so than i would agree but the article infers differently...he just seems to be part of possible a compromising gospel...

      July 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  20. oFFtOoNEsIDE

    Nice fluffy talk, but you cannot change the fact that Christians are persecuted in Muslim majority countries. This may explain the rabidness of Christian militias in Lebanon and the high emigration of Christians from the Middle East.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • kintu

      OMG, do you actually know anything about the history of the Lebanese conflict?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
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About this blog

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.