I posted this about a year ago with a heavy heart. I have to say not much has changed as we have continued with outreach work. May God “open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal 3:10). Lord, there is still need!
I don’t particularly want to stir up a hornet’s nest, but I came across an article on the Free Church of Scotland website that caused me to rub my eyes in disbelief (it was late last night!) – a drive-thru church service by a Free Church. Read about it here.
It made me laugh actually, not because it was funny, but because it seemed at first ridiculous and then disturbing.
Now, I guess I need to say a few preliminary things to set the scene.
Firstly, I love the Free Church. When I am in Scotland it is my church of choice. I love its history of confessional fidelity. I also love it’s new found lease of life as a missionary church to Scotland. May the Lord bless her!
Secondly, I believe in mission and evangelism. We do as much of it as we can here in Solihull with what and who the Lord has given us. I wish we could do more, and we pray to that end!
Thirdly, we try different things. We need creative thinking. We have tried visitation, book tables, leafletting, special events, Christianity Explored, one-to-one Bible study, open air preaching, summer BBQs, Christmas open houses, hospitality. I would like to see more. We have seen varying degrees of success and failure (mostly failure, humanly speaking!) but we need to keep going reaching the unreached. We can’t rely on purely “friendship” evangelism.
So, I hope you can see that this is not a criticism that comes from someone who doesn’t want to see evangelism done.
However my concern here is about the nature of worship and evangelism. Here are some points and some questions:
Firstly, the concept of Drive-In Church (not drive-thru!) seems to have been pioneered by Robert P. Schuller in California in the 1950s. (See flyer here.) Schuller is a proponent of the prosperity gospel which used all kinds of methods to “get people in”. Though a minister in the Reformed Church in America, he could hardly be called reformed in his doctrine. This is what I first thought of when I read this Free Church article. Does the Free Church want to adopt a Schullerite view of evangelism? I hope not.
Secondly, the Free Church experiment is described as “church” but it cannot by its nature expose people to what the church really is. How can you know people when you are segregated by metal and glass booths called cars?
Thirdly, the event is described as a “service” and “worship”. Again, how can this be a genuine reflection of how the church putting on the “worship” actually worships? Is this not a bait-and-switch exercise? That is, get them in with one thing called “worship” but then tell them that something else is worship?
Fourthly, the whole approach seems to confuse worship and evangelism. Surely the church gathers to worship and scatters to bring the gospel to the world? Yes, worship can be evangelistic, and proclaiming Christ to non-Christians can be doxological. But that does not mean that the events of worship and the events of evangelism are the same things with the same goals.
Perhaps the most gut-moving thing for me is to do with what might really be happening under the surface. Let’s face it, it is hard to make progress in evangelism. But it is easy to seem like we are doing something when really the thing we ought to be doing isn’t happening. In the end, real evangelism must involve people meeting with people, personally or in community, with the word of God open and then having those discussions that count. It seems to me that to try an event where most of the people sit in their cars and segregate themselves off is a way of doing something and making a few waves, but not really reaching out to people. I guess with some thought this could be overcome, but at the moment it just seems like a form of attractional (as opposed to missional) evangelism that makes it even harder to actually reach people.
Now, I have gone off half-cocked, then I apologise. I have no wish to antagonise any Christian brother. But I do think some hard questions need to be asked of this “pioneering” work.
As I was preparing to preach tomorrow on the seventh commandment (“you shall not commit adultery”) I was thinking about Christian marriages and what resources Christian couples have in Christ for a healthy and flourishing marriage. Sadly, I remembered that the great John Wesley’s experience of marriage was terrible. It ended in separation and it took him four days to find out that she had died during the separation.
You can read a snippet about it here.
It goes to show that being a great preacher, having a great reputation, being in great demand can nonetheless hide tragic sin and failure.
Do you love God? What have you done for him, for his glory, for the advancement of his kingdom in the world? And how much have you denied yourself to promote the Redeemers interest among men? Do you love your fellow-men? What have you done for them? Consider your former defects in these respects, and how becoming it is in you, as a Christian, hereafter to abound more in deeds of love. Do not make excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbours. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.
– Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits (Banner of Truth), pp24,25