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. RW

    I think before posting a piece like this, he should have actually read what the Bible teaches:

    Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

    July 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Joeymom

      I would be careful basing too much on Matthew, as it was written a couple centuries after the death of the Christ, with the purpose of solidifying and rationalizing organized church communities. I wouldn't completely disregard it, but you may want to hop through Mark and the letter of Paul, who are closer in time to the Christ, as back-up.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  2. Anthronesia

    The sad thing is that this author represents the most respectful approach to Evangelical Christianity that I've encountered in a while. It's sad because even then he's still trying to make people like me be like him rather than let me be me. Please be Christian all you want until the cows come home. Just let me *not* be Christian and leave it at that.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  3. Ancient Texan

    "and in the latter days, there will be many false prophets"

    July 24, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  4. Will

    The evangelical's mindset is if the heathen doesn't immediately verbalize a "sinners prayer", he/she might get struck by a bus the next day and go eternally into a lake of fire. Plus, the financial supporters of evangelical missionaries, want to hear about confirmed conversions by the hundreds or thousands, they don't want to hear that you had some good discussions and set a good example.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  5. DMan

    This article, like many articles about religion, sets up a staw man to tear it down. However, the strawman doesn't exist in the world in large measure. To be fair, as a Christian, I know lots of Christians who are sharing Jesus with their world. None of them (none!) are trying to convert their neighbors to Christianity. The idea that the contemporary church is trying to "convert people to Christianity" is, in large part, an unfair commentary. If that were the case, this article would be spot on. As it is, it's just another unfortunate example of people creating a caricature of Christianity that doesn't exist.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Joeymom

      The article refers to one sect of Christianity- Evangelical Christianity. Not all Christianity is evangelical in nature or intent.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  6. Dan of The Prophecy Society

    Forcing one's religion on another person is bad. But, if a person indicates that they are interested, sharing is good. For instance, if I had a pint of really good ice cream, and wanted to share it with you, I'd ask you first, "Would tou like some ice cream? It's really good!" Asking first is what evangelization is all about. If you have something good in your possession, such as information about how to have a loving relationship with God and mankind, and if you have a good heart, you will want to share it with others.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  7. Richard S Kaiser

    What do we have here on this Blogging? Mal-Adjusted Misfits of Minored Bigotrousness?

    July 24, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  8. John Marshall

    Attraction rather than promotion.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  9. RON

    LUKE 9:60B "but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." 61 Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord ; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." 62 But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

    REV 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened ; and another book was opened, which is the book of life ; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

    JOHN 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 "He who believes in Him is not judged ; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

    July 24, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Joeymom

      Which translation are you using, please?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Jessica

      Ron, love it! Straight from the Bible. Thanks for sharing!!

      July 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  10. 39q

    "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

    Luke 12:51-53 (Spoken by Jesus)

    July 24, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  11. Dave

    Not only is he a supposed "expert," but he clearly is star struck in the presence of another mere human being.

    The only thing anyone should care about is what God's Word, the Holy Bible, says regarding the topic. And there are dozens of references in the Holy Bible which clearly direct people to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Start with Rev. 22:10-11 which states, "seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book" which simply means, spread the word. Do NOT keep it a secret. It says nothing about compromising with unbelievers and rejectors of Jesus Christ as God.

    A final warning to my fellow Christians. Notice how the man, the so called "expert," is basking in the attention of the photo op ? Jesus Christ, God, wants your attention. Don't give it to the "experts" who try to divert your attention from what the Bible actually says.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Lainey0828

      what a judgemental response, which is very unchristian-like. how do you know how this "supposed expert" is feeling in the pix? it looks like his other pix. maybe YOU need to get closer to God and stop judging what's going on in other people's hearts and minds from a mere picture. It's like saying the other guy is demonic because his eyes show up red in the picture and he's not smiling.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Joeymom

      Which Bible translation are you using? It is difficult to discuss quotes without knowing the basis of your English translation of the Bible.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • GetRealPeople

      God's Word? In that book? You believe that? Still amazes me. So... God had these fellows write this book ages ago – the church takes it and ruins civilization, destroys cultures, steals and hoardes wealth, burns thousands of women for NOTHING!!! God (son Jesus too?) are silent. Oh sign me up immediately!!!
      The church is the biggest sinner on the planet – ironic isn't it?

      July 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • thinker

      Evangelizing is always a self-centered act. It's saying your belief is right, theirs is wrong, that your way of living is right and theirs is wrong. It comes of a personal insecurity, because if you really believed, you'd be content with that instead of forcing others to adopt your views. Your religious belief has no more validity than if I said I believe in Thor, the God of Thunder, and that you should too, and that you will suffer eternal damnation for not believing in Thor. It's just silly.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  12. Liz

    I agree. Pushy people, whether car salesmen or evangelicals, are a turn off to most. Start a dialog and let Jesus do his thang.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • KTFish


      July 24, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  13. El Gordo

    Christians are not an especially impressive group. I don't think their product has many sales features. Neither does Islam. Religion has very little to offer the modern world.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Dave

      El Gordo rejects Jesus Christ as God.

      The clay pot rejecting the potter.

      Don't follow anyone down that foolish road.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Joeymom

      Yeah, that whole "respect others" message is for the birds, right?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  14. theo


    July 24, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • El Gordo


      July 24, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  15. theo


    July 24, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  16. Richard S Kaiser

    Kida writes; “I've never met A SINGLE LIVING SOUL who is religious and actually practices what they preach. Religion is a man-made way of controlling other people, and has almost nothing to do with God. If someone chooses to believe in God, it is a personal thing. Telling someone what they should believe (as most religious people do, especially Christians), is the most arrogant act I can think of. Our mind is our last freedom.
    Don't even get me started on these stupid political parties (in particular the Republicans) who claim to be Christian and then act in a way that makes their so-called beliefs totally invalid. Do you think Jesus would have supported capital puinishment? Do you think Jesus would want only the rich to have access to healthcare? Do you think Jesus would endorse any war? Do you think Jesus would carry a gun?” On July 24, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Hello Kida and all others,

    Religion(s) is a Pluralistic Commodity of Mostly Manliness’ Endeavors to Yes; maintain some sort of semblance in controlling the Chaotic sides of Men’s and Women’s Social Particulates not withstanding. As a Group; Manliness and Womanhood are sliced into Fragmentations of Socialism’s beckoning To Leadorialships of a Socialized Alphas’ Verbalisms in Worded Tactilities.

    It is Truth that Political “Alpha-Isms” are dependent upon a Partied Congruency wherein Such Alpha-Centurions’ Followers are Dictatorially Euphonized by Verbalized Palpitations of Soundness.

    The Majorities of Any Nation’s Many Varied; Social Culturalisms are Dependent Upon Each Others’ Virtuosos/Prophets of the WORD that Appeals to Their Individualized’ Maturities On Semblances that are sometimes Righteous but most of the Time is Pure Fraudulency.

    As Our Being Mostly Led by Subjugations’ Paramounted Within Political Arraignments We Shall or Should Bear to become better Educated in One’s Nationalized; “Written and Spoken” Verbalisms.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Oh My


      July 24, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  17. Beatrice

    Jesus' great commission of evangelism made all the difference in the world history. Evangelism was one of the driving force of Western Civilization's exploration, expedition and expansion into the outer world sphere and brought down various barbaric practices of mankind, making the world a lawful, civilized and modern place eventually. There were abuses by Europeans, yes, but barbarians were killing each other and oppressing women and children in all cultures anyway. The Gospel was the only religion with sure salvation; other religions found no reason for outer expansions and were not that intelligent either. Exception is: the spread of Islam was halted by force because of its militant nature.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • El Gordo

      I agree with you that Christianity was the force that did more than anything to make our world, especially the Protestant Reformation. But, that was then; this is now. Christianity has no future; only a past.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Beatrice

      The filthy, immoral West has no future. Christianity is thriving and blooming everywhere else.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • just an obseerver

      "The filthy immoral west..." So you think you are god because, you seem to have made the final judgement...

      July 25, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  18. David

    While I understand your heartfelt desire to remove divisions and overcome the boundaries imposed by society and faith, but these lines are erased within the body of Christ. St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia saying, “…all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    I am not an evangelical Christian, but if one follows Jesus and his teachings, he or she will arrive at the point where a decision must be made about him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” If they follow Jesus, they will find that the path leads to inclusion in the body (his church). This can be divisive in families of other faith groups; it has always been. In fact, it has torn families apart and has led to martyrdom for some. It requires a tremendous amount of faith and courage on the part of those who choose to follow Jesus.

    Yes, we can simply talk about Jesus, and call others to follow him. However, Jesus is not simply a great prophet and teacher. For if we listen to his teachings, it becomes clear that following him leads to understanding that he is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Any way you slice it that is going to be divisive.

    By the way, why are so many atheists reading and commenting on religious blog sites. If you do not believe, that is well and good. Is it necessary to attack those who do? You make atheist look like self righteous bullies who know everything. That is not the best way to stimulate meaningful conversation. It is only a good way to start arguments where people talk past one another without listening.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Ncampbell

      David, AMEN and thank you, particularly your comment about the increasingly antagonistic comments by atheists on this board. I don't understand it.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • David

      "By the way, why are so many atheists reading and commenting on religious blog sites. If you do not believe, that is well and good. Is it necessary to attack those who do?"

      Because we're sick of you cramming your religious crap down our throats all the time.

      Evangelism has been the reason for more wars than any other reason. Your evangelism is ruining the world. Let all the world live in peace as they define it. Not how you define it.

      No one likes to be told how to think, remember?

      I fail to see how fundamentalist Christians are any different than the Taliban.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  19. KTFish

    Great article Carl! Thanks for pointing out that it's best not to try to convert anyone to anything. Christians have never been commanded to convert anyone. Rather Christians are commanded to love God and love others, teaching them to follow Jesus not a religion. Thanks Carl! Keep up all of the hard work you're doing!!!

    July 24, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Me

      Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

      Matthew 28:19

      July 24, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • KTFish

      "making disciples" does not equal "converting people", only the Holy Spirit can do that. =) Jesus made disciples of himself .. Christians are called to peacefully make disciples of Jesus. Conversion was never any Christian's responsibility. Love God and love others. Our example of that = Jesus. =)

      July 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  20. dugiewugie

    Jesus Christ is not a religion,He is life. Christianity is not a set of rules but life from the dead. We evangelize not to share
    christianity to nations, but to bring them from death to life through Christ.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • AC

      What exactly does this mean "Jesus is life" and "life from the dead"? Why non "Pop Tarts are life" and " Bananas save moths from hedgehogs"?

      Jesus Christ is not a religion,He is life. Christianity is not a set of rules but life from the dead. We evangelize not to share
      christianity to nations, but to bring them from death to life through Christ.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:06 am |
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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.