Drive-By Evangelism

So i was at a show the other night and there was a band onstage who were a pretty good young rock band. They were the opening act. They ended their set with the singer taking about 3 minutes talking about God and telling the audience that Jesus loves them and even though that might not be cool to talk about at a rock show, he felt compelled to share that with them. It was an interesting moment because this show was not in any way a christian event. First let me say that I have to give the guy some credit to a certain extent because what he shared did take some guts….. especially as an opener. But when I heard him say it, it got me to think about what those words mean in that context and I found myself second guessing if this is the way this message should be shared. Even though I believe that what he said was true, I suppose I’m second guessing the way the message was sent.

What gives someone the authority to share this kind of message? Do you simply need a microphone or a bullhorn? Just because someone might have a captive audience to share this message, does it then mean that telling people Jesus loves them is in some way meaningful? If you are on the street corner handing out tracks that contain the x’s and o’s of “accepting” Jesus, are you doing so with any kind of authority or credibility? If you are in a rock band and you have fans because they love your music, do you take advantage of that evangelical opportunity or not?

If it’s true that credibility and authority aren’t factors when sharing this kind of message, then what kind of message are we sending? If just because I’m in a band and there are fans who will at least listen for a few minutes to what I have to say, does that then mean that I share with them my religious beliefs?

I suppose it all depends on your theology. If you believe that people are going to hell unless they believe the right things and therefore need to be saved, then maybe any way to share this message is fair game. In the context of a transactional gospel, the method wouldn’t matter, would it? By any means necessary the message needs to be trumpeted, right? You don’t necessarily need to know the person. You don’t need to actually have credibility through a meaningful relationship. I suppose there’s not enough time for that kind of thing because it’s all about saving as many souls as possible so you gotta be on to the next lost person pretty quickly. I guess I don’t buy into this kind of theological approach. It broke down for me probably about 15 years ago. Maybe this is why I’ve had this reaction.

In the end, I’m not interested in criticizing this kid for saying what he did. We all have the freedom to say what is on our hearts and talk about what we’re passionate about. But I’m just wondering what we expect from these kinds of expressions of faith. And I’m wondering if maybe it undermines the very deep, rich and meaningful message we intend to project with our lives.


29 thoughts on “Drive-By Evangelism

  1. growing up in the south where this is almost the exclusive way of sharing the gospel, i have to say it almost always turns me off these days. mostly because i have watched it used by some folks i know didn’t have the authority or the credibility to deliver that way or any other.

    but these days i defer to god on these questions. i believe through the holy spirit he is quite big enough to take our worst and use it as his best or overcome our stupidity as human beings. that may sound trite, simple and overused, but really, if it isn’t true, how is that christianity has survived all the things it has pumped out the last 2000 years or so?

    so i think that many without the authority or credibility to use this method use it. but i do believe that there are those out there who do have it. did this kid? no idea. god knows. it sounds like he wasn’t heavy handed or ugly so who knows. maybe his “secular” fame was enough with some of those in the crowd that what he said mattered. i don’t think we should ever dismiss this method out of hand, even it makes us cringe and ask hard questions.

    and there is no way that we can undermine the message of the kingdom of god. if we could, jesus would have “died” a second time hundreds of years ago.

    one last thing… read the acts of the apostles again. there are plenty of cases of “preaching the gospel” without credibility through prior relationship.

    good post and good day! (sorry for the long comment and if you don’t believe in hell, ignore me!!! none of what i said will really matter i guess and your words trump mine)

  2. I was an R.A. at a freshman dorm my senior year of college (I’m a masochist…actually I wanted the free single, double room) and the R.D. was a plant of a group called the Christian College Coalition. I have never been the “share the name of Jesus” kind of person, but he clearly was, at least at the time.

    I was getting all boned up to go to seminary, taking the toughest religion courses at the college and doing an independent study on Bonhoeffer at the time. I was also preparing to go to Ethiopia and a couple of towns in Egypt as well.

    He was maybe two years older than me and had far less depth in his study of the bible or of religion in general. So we clashed. He felt the need to minister to me – I am still not not sure what that means from the view of a pragmatist other than a prescription for conformity to some 19th century idea of evangelism.

    His understanding of the bible was shallow, his understanding of relationships was still raw and juvenile, yet he was probably told that he need to place himself in the spot of a spiritual leader. As you can tell he was very successful 🙂

    The other piece which is relvevant to this fellow on stage was that he wanted me to be more vocal about my faith and share it with the guys on my hall. I was a drummer in all things band and they were all on the football, basketball, and rugby teams. I was pre-seminary, they were all business admin. I was not about to share with them my “faith” the way that the RD intended becuase I knew that was not what they needed – at all. Rather, I gave them space to live , showed them respect, and defined limits when appropriate. My social was wings and beer rather than some bible reading discussion which is what would have counted as a great “success”. OT him I was surely a failure. But at the end of the year the guys on my hall came up to me, and we had our hard times, and appreciated that I respected them. Other RA’s all about the type of evangelism that was expected did not fair quite so well. One night one of them had a frozen solid deer carcass propped up against his door. Still the most creative prank I have ever seen.

    So I took the role of the anabaptist – I demonstrated a lived faith rather than one with a lot of cool window dressing and the ability to drop the “J” bomb at every opportunity. Respect is more important than words. Respecting an other human being as someone not you or tied to your values and letting them go is the first step to them finding their way around. And all that I would hope before they would ever hear the name Jesus. Christians can learn a lot from Zen where you are not taught, but you learn!

  3. note i didn’t say that we can undermine the actual message of the Kingdom of God. I said that we undermine our attempt at projecting the message. big diff.

    i suppose you are right in that God can take our worst and use it to further his kingdom, but does that mean to we don’t stop to ask ourselves why we do the things we do? i think by pursuing the method of a lowest common denominator evangelism, we lose the true essence of the message itself.

  4. Who is to say the Holy spirit was not convicting this guy to share the news of Jesus with the audience during this moment? I agree with Zach in that we can’t go with the lowest common denominator at all times but those who chose to lead people to Christ through their lives alone must be open to the fact that the Holy spirit might just convict you to share His name in such a way as this young guy did. To lean overly on the Anabaptist side or another theology is to undermine the prompting and leading of the Holy spirit. Following Jesus requires us to step out of our comfort zone and sometimes boldy share Christ and sometimes restraining with the hope of building a relationship. Evangelizing the same way no matter the circumstance is a sign of spiritual immaturity in my opinion.

  5. “share his name”. jason, that’s just the thing. maybe that means two different things to both of us, but saying “jesus loves you” while you are on stage at a rock concert, speaking to people who you don’t know in the slightest? what does that really mean? what is the expectation in that one-sided interaction?

  6. I’ve got a specific disdain for this kind of witnessing. I think it does far more harm than good. It reduces the Bible to an advertised item. Some people view Christianity on the same level as the Schwan man with the influx of door-to-door in-your-face witnessing. A lot of Christians consider themselves to be the recipients of the Great Commission, and I strongly disagree. I’m of the inclination that the Great Commission has already been fulfilled as noted in Mark 16:20, Romans 16:26, and Colossians 1:23. The seed has already been planted. Virtually every person on earth has at the least a basic knowledge of Christianity.

    Christians should be less concerned with cramming the Gospel down people’s throats and more concerned with helping those who can’t be helped. Kinda like Jesus did with the woman at the well.

    That’s my opinion. 😀

  7. As an agnostic this seems to go right to the heart of what the point of Christianity is. Is it to get everyone on board to save their souls? If so then that guy was doing one of the bravest things imaginable.

    Personally I’d find it cringeworthy, I’d be all for him saying his piece, but 3 minutes is a lecture and it would feel inappropriate.

    But it seems that if you don’t believe that everyone who fails to embrace Christianity is hell bound, then that rather undermines a lot of people’s whole reason to be Christian.

    And if I may be so critical Zach, does this upset you because you fear the confrontation of doing something similar yourself? Are you afraid of preaching to the un-converted? I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but, from my far from comprehensive recollection of the Bible, Jesus made a habit of doing just that, no matter what the consequence.

    Of course I’d rather see you hitting your cymbals than preaching through the area mics!

    And Kyle, sorry I really do not agree that virtually everyone on earth has a basic knowledge of Christianity. There are many thousands of people who are completely unaware and many millions more who would know it by name but dedicate their lives to following other religions (Islam, Hinduism etc).

  8. i think you expressed yourself very well zach. i remember reading one of paul’s letters (the apostle paul) where he describes how he shared his entire life with certain people. he took the time to develop relationships with them and just as a result of knowing him well, the people got to know his beliefs and his values. it comes naturally.

    people who know me somewhat well will know that i love tennis because natually, they can tell just by observing me and listening to me speak. i don’t need to devote a specific time to tell them about tennis and how great i think it is.

    in the past, i used to subscribe to this “it is my duty to evangelize” kind of belief and it never really worked. i got into “arguments” or debates with people, and at the end, it was more of a me vs. you kind of thing. which didn’t go anywhere.

    evangelism to me is not a leaflet or a three minute lecture. it should be natural and based on deep relationships. but i feel like you said this already.

  9. man, this one is hard. I have gone back and forth on this for years now. Growing up going to shows of all shapes and sizes (and beliefs) i never minded being at a concert and hearing someone try to lay out a brief and often butchered gospel delivery. But I think that as I grew older (and either more mature or cynical… take your pick) I found these methods of ‘evangelism’ to make me feel just kind of creepy. Some of that i think is because these ways of communicating the good news doesn’t often times do the true message justice… its like a cut and run message. However, growing up going to shows like this i have actually seen some fruit from these kinds of speeches. It was always nuts to meet someone who literally gave their life to Jesus at such and such show with such and such band.

    When i went to college and began working at a music venue that brought in everyone from Dillinger to (pardon me while i throw up a bit in my mouth) Disciple it just made things that much more cloudy for me. I hated when I saw bands role into shows that obviously only attracted all Christian kids and lay out some gospel message only to have everyone clap, cheer and applaud their message then walk away writing off what they do as some amazing ministry, etc… thats bull. I hated it when those bands did that because they weren’t witnessing to anyone but people who already knew God. On the flip side i saw huge bands role through who did claim to follow Jesus yell at their tour managers for letting the opening band say something about Jesus from the stage, which may be just as worst in my opinion… context can be everything.

    I feel the struggle you have in this Zach, its something i am totally on the fence about. Clearly Jesus calls us to bear witness to his life, name and authority, but what that looks like and how that plays out in our lives is something that everyone has to wrestle through personally. And honestly, I think Jason may have a good point with bringing up the Holy Spirit, because this kid at the show may have felt God calling him to say something, but he just didn’t know what so it came out bad… M.I. has some good question too. So maybe there isn’t a right or wrong answer with this. Good post Zach, happy thanksgiving.

  10. This is a tough issue, but I do come down with you on this, Zach.

    But here’s the thing. I’m with Damien Jurado on this issue, too. Because I think we need to be talking about preaching from the stage as bad across the board. Not just the message of “Jesus loves you,” either. I’m talking about any kind of preaching. Like when bands prattle on about the bastion of liberalism during a show. Or the importance of saving the environment. Or voting for someone. Or voting against someone. Or giving money. Or saving money. Any of that stuff. It’s all the same.

    That’s part of the reason (don’t want to get back into this) that I wasn’t a fan of Live Earth. It was a bunch of musicians preaching. And I didn’t like it for a lot of the same reasons that I don’t like Christian fests like Ichthus or (to a lesser extent) Cornerstone.

    Obviously seeing someone preach Jesus from the stage is a bit more personal for me than just talking about specific issues, but the heart of the matter is the same.

  11. I think to a certain extent you may be right sean, but in relation to the live earth correlation, i don’t think you can fault anyone for using a lowest common denominator approach to convince someone to treat the earth with more care. if some decides recycling is good because coldplay said so, then how can you argue with that? it might be sad that it took a celebrity to get someone to think differently (i think we are in agreement there and that is probably a entirely different subject), but to say that it’s not helpful isn’t right, in my opinion.

    but discussing Jesus and the nature of the kingdom of God brings with it a completely different set of circumstances. to say one is the same as the other i think is overlooking some pretty obvious differences. (i.e. if more people recycled, then all will benefit…that’s a fact. if we are talking about Jesus and the nature of God, then we find ourselves swimming in waters that are a bit more subjective.) but i do get what you’re saying and generally agree with your sentiment.

  12. Jesus spoke on a mound, Paul in the market, Steven in the Sanhedrin. All different places. The Lord works in mysterious ways… Maybe it was the Holy Spirit leading him to speak…

  13. Zach:

    THANK YOU FOR TALKING ABOUT THIS. Your perspective on the topic, being a Chirstian who is not in a “Christian band,” is particularly helpful in this ongoing discussion. So Thanks for bringing it up.

    I used to be in a band that would do just the type of thing you described happening (I was usually the one doing it too). We honestly felt like that was what we were suppose to do being a “Christian band.” In the end, we moved away from doing that as we began to realize the very things you are saying (ironically, this pissed-off a lot of Christian fans who accused us of selling-out).

    While I do agree that you have to commend this kid’s courage and commitment to his faith, it does make is sound kind of cheap…

    For some reason though Christian musicians seem to feel like they need to (and are expected by many to) not just sing their songs, but talk about their faith. I have a friend who is a plummer, and also a Christian, no one expects him to share his faith through a big speech every time he shows-up to fix a toilet… but he does share his faith in his work ethic, the way he treats his clients, etc.

    Anyway, a big long rant to say “I agree with what you are saying.” and “THANK YOU FOR SAYING IT.”

  14. if everyone recycled, yes the earth would be a better place. but if everyone followed jesus, the earth would be an even better place (because they would hopefully recycle, since we’re called to be good stewards). as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true.

    but i agree with you, it’s the lowest common denominator, and it’s bad (though not wrong, because it CAN work, even though there are better ways to proclaim the kingdom, like actually doing the stuff in real life with real people). and that’s why i feel the same way about preaching recycling as preaching jesus from the stage (even though you’re right, and they aren’t interchangeable, which i had mentioned before). it’s bad, there are better ways to do it, but it can work.

    i have a friend who is a committed follower of christ. she “got saved,” or whatever parlance is appropriate, because jesus stage preaching. she even admits now that stuff like that is a bad idea, but it’s how she came to faith.

    it’s nice to actually be discussing something that we agree upon zach. because, even if it doesn’t appear to be the case from our exchanges here, we do agree on more than we disagree.

  15. Great thread. It might not be the sexy way to continue this, but looking at the great points here, I want to go back to my previous point. We can’t really know the true motive when someone shares the gospel. There are various anecdotes above which are telling. One’s personal ego(Edging God out) is a common theme, and althougth this perhaps an oversimplification, it really seems to ring true. If a sharing(ie Rock star gospel) is coming from the holy spirit, then of course that seems true. If someone is trying to throw the Bible concordence(sp?) at someone, then they are using the god subject to raise their own self worth, sincere in their evangelism or not. Human beings compete for significance and self worth and the issue of “out spiritualizing” someone is no exception. And because we are christians we tend to criticize more harshly in the case of inconsistencies. Have you folks discussed the notion of “Just War” yet? I am waiting for a theological justification of this concept. I often hear Christians citing the old testament for their views on conflct, but I want someone to show me the “love thine enemy” verses that justify it in the new testament. I have been debating this idea with some students of mine.

  16. I gotta be honest that I found myself going back and forth as I read the comments on this blog. The more and more I saw what people were saying and thinking about this I thought to myself, “look at what thoughts and discussions that guys speech is bringing up.” Maybe the sole purpose of his speech is to convict us on how we are ministering to people. Maybe there were people who heard and convicted. I believe the Spirit works to share Gods story in many ways. From people living Godly lives along side those people that don’t know God every day to people preaching on short mission trips in Africa or Asia. Since I am more of a quiet, behind the scenes type person I relate more with living a God pleasing life every day. However, I believe each method spreads the word and changes peoples lives for the better or at least provides moments for open and honest discussions about God. Only God knows what action will stir someones soul so who are we to say that this guy did something “wrong.” My question is, Why would we be so upset that someone is talking about Gods love for us? Lets let others minister as they feel called (within Biblical reason) and come along side them to minister in a more personal way as we feel called.

  17. Shaun, I agree. We are bothered by inconsistencies and anything that would minimize the message. Of course, we have all been and will be disingenous at one point or another. There is a certain wisdom in “being behind the scenes” Good point.

  18. sean, i don’t discount that this kind of method can work, but i think you and I can agree that it comes with a cost…..a cost i believe outweighs the benefit.

    just because a particular method CAN work doesn’t mean that we should give it a free pass, regardless of it’s possible downsides. for example, just because you can drive safely without a seat belt doesn’t mean that it’s wise to do so. i know of a woman who became a christian as a result of being raped. does that mean that we identify rape as a valid way for the gospel to be shared? i know that’s ludicrous and I’m not trying to suggest that you or any other rational chrisitian would back that, but that’s the kind of logic many evangelicals use. if it works in any way, do it. it’s the blackwater approach to evangelism…..shoot first, ask questions later. if it gets more people in the door, then it’s all good.

    all i’m suggesting is that we put down the guns and start asking some questions about why we do the things we do in the name of the Kingdom of God.

  19. Well said, Zach.

    I think it is one thing to argue whether a certain approach is “effective” or not, but there’s a whole other discussion that we often miss – is it “right” or not? Far too often our methods are merely utilitarian in nature – does it “work”? Subtly we can move away from seeing the sharing of the message of the Kingdom as an act of immense love, and see it more as a business transaction. When this happens, we move far away from the way of Jesus.

    Maybe we need to place ourselves in the place of someone receiving such an evangelistic method and ask – is it loving? Perhaps there is a reason why some evangelistic approaches are ridiculed among the larger population. Perhaps they are more perceptive than some Christians are.

    Just a thought.

  20. You know, I think you put it well when you wrote, “We all have the freedom to say what is on our hearts and talk about what we’re passionate about.” The problem (and I wasn’t there so I won’t judge specifically) with most of these kinds of evangelistic expressions is that there is a lack of real passion. I feel that people on a stage who “randomly” talk about Jesus are usually doing it out of a sense of obligation and/or duty. They talk about Jesus because they’ve been taught that that should, not because they are actually passionate about the way of Jesus. If you don’t have faith that Jesus really wants to change the world, then don’t talk about him as if he’s gonna change anything.

  21. Per my two cents: I’m very thankful to people who boldly step out in faith to proclaim the good news in love. If it wasn’t for a dusty West Indian man with a tattered Bible calling people to repentance on the A train I might have continued wandering lost in the world. I’ll probably never see him again (except in Heaven), but I am eternally grateful for his faithfulness.

  22. i agree, zach. i wasn’t saying that it was a good way, or that it should even happen at all. i was just saying that even if someone does something this fundamentally flawed (as with the situation involving rape), that the spirit can still move.

    i may well be wrong, but it seems that, even though we agree on this issue wholeheartedly, you’re still being a little defensive about it. i’m not trying to be divisive. quite the contrary, i’m on your side with this issue 100%.

  23. I struggle with this method of evangelism. even at blatent christian concerts. I was at a concert about a year ago. I wont tell you his name, but his initials are “Toby Mac”. Dont ask, it was free. This dude talked for so long, he sang 2 songs in a 1/2 hour. i left.

    i know you are supposed to live missionally through your life. but it seems to be the equivelant of a christian store owner sharing the gospel with each person at the check out line. no one expects him to do that. what we do expect, is that the way you conduct yourself and your business aligns itself with the Kingdom of God.

    the same is true for musicians. you dont need to preach the gospel to me. but does your life and music contain a beauty and truth that honors god. and i’m a youth pastor. i dont know if that is a good opinion to have in my position, but it is mine. good post zach.

  24. Hey…got the link from Mike Devries post.

    Reminds me a lot of what I have also heard of as “flasher evangelism”. Drive-by evangelism often takes what should be relational and intimate (making a spiritual commitment) and makes into something forced and awkward (like a stranger exposing their naked body to you without knowing you at all).

    Anyway….thanks for the thoughts

  25. Hey Zach,

    Thanks for the post. In a generation that considers the majority of Christians to be “unchristian,” this type of “evangelism” only helps to confirm the perception.

    As much as I hate to say it, I think on the whole Christians are quite ignorant. Few have taken the time to meet let alone build a relationship with someone outside their church circle. We also do not pay enough attention to many Christian leaders today who are voicing the fact that we are in a time of transition, moving from a modern mindset to a post-modern, and rather than preach against post-modernism with no idea what it really is, to learn how those who are post-modern think and perceive and experience life and God.


  26. It’s interesting to look at how different generations have handled evangelism. The methods have changed with the types of relationships that people have with each other. For example, in the 1930s and 1940s, revivals were a successful method of evangelism. Today tracts are almost disgusting in the eyes of Americans, but in parts of Europe have worked to touch many people. People from past generations weren’t quite as existential as we are today, and perhaps that deep human connection didn’t matter as much. I would say that today people crave meaningful relationships more than they have in the past (this could be caused by a variety of factors, but perhaps the most significant is technical advances which allow us to have discussions through computer screens rather than face-to-face), which may make this kid’s approach somewhat taboo in our generation and culture. Still, what is offensive to one person might be exactly what another person needs. Who knows.

    I would hope that this kid shared honestly from his heart rather than preaching a fire and brimstone message or pointing fingers at anyone. But with Christians, who knows. We’re all pretty screwed up.

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