Positive Evangelism – Student Sensitive

Medieval torture rack

Medieval torture rack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[continuing my thoughts on positive evangelism]

You gotta love the Greeks. Not only did they give us great sandwiches and salads, but they also gave us some pretty  cool stories as well. One of my favorites is the story of Procrustes. Maybe you have not read it in detail, but you probably have heard at least the punch line (or moral, as the Greeks used to call the punch line.)

The gist of the story of Procrustes is that he wanted everyone to be just like him. So he had this iron bed, and if you were too short to fit the bed he had you stretched out. If you were too tall for the bed he started chopping body parts off until he “cut you down to size” so to speak. The parable of the Procrustean bed is the story of someone who wants everyone to be just like they are, so whether you are bigger or smaller they have a solution to the problem.

If you have been following this series of posts from the beginning there should be no doubt in your mind that I dislike the mass-produced, “answer the question” or “follow the bouncing Scripture” type of evangelistic programs. And it is exactly at this point that I have my biggest grief with these programs. They are the evangelistic equivalent of the Procrustean bed. They are “one size fits all, universally true and tested.” Almost without exception the writer or publisher will warn against modifying the text or sequence in any way, shape or form. To do so, they aver, will destroy the effectiveness of the program. This is where these programs are the weakest, and in my humble but unquestionably correct opinion, are clearly unscriptural. Beyond that, they are psychologically questionable, if not outright damaging.

To take these points in reverse order, I dislike these programs because they attempt to fit every single individual into one narrow field of behavior. In order to reach Jesus you have to follow their questions, choose exactly the correct answer as they frame the question and they determine the answer, and follow the Scripture sequence exactly as they have it mapped out. If a student completes the course and yet does not see the need to repent and be baptized, well, they are just the hard soil on which the seed falls and they were never going to become a Christian anyway. Even if they do become a Christian and then fall away, it is because they were the rocky or weedy soil and their soul was doomed to perdition from the get-go. If the student has different questions or would like to pursue a different line of reasoning they are told to “follow the questionnaire” and politely reminded not to disrupt the teacher from his or her iron-clad procedure. I was even trained in one program to refuse to answer any of the students’ questions. The point was to get the student to answer the questions on the sheet of paper, and any question from the student was a diversion steadfastly to be avoided.

The fact is that humans do not fit just one behavioral construct, and the attempt to force individuals to think alike in order to come to a conclusion regarding faith in Jesus is damaging. It is disrespectful at its best, and cultic mind control at its worst. To disallow a student’s question is to dishonor that student. I have earned two masters degrees and all my pilot’s certificates and ratings through the commercial certificate. I know what makes a good teacher and what makes a bad teacher. A teacher who only follows one set program or one way of doing things is a poor teacher. An evangelist who does not respect the individuality of each student is abhorrent. Jesus treated every individual with courtesy and respect, recognizing their individual worth. To follow in the steps of our master means we must extend to each person the right  to be treated as an individual, not a gear in a big machine.

Point number one is that by claiming only one method or tactic these programs deny the biblical precedent. Some stories in the Bible are related twice, but the overwhelming majority are only related once. Yet, when we turn to the story of Jesus there is not just one, not just two, not just three, but four accounts! It is almost like God was saying, “listen, this story is so important that I want everybody to get it, and so I am going to tell it in a way that everybody can hear and understand it!” There is not just one way to tell the gospel story. There is not just one way to hear the gospel story. And when we analyze the gospel accounts in terms of psychology and personality types we can understand why there are such marked differences between the four accounts.

We tend to look at the gospels in terms of two types – the synoptics (Greek for “seen together”), meaning Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and the second type which is the gospel of John. This is horribly damaging to Matthew, Mark and Luke. Yes, they share some characteristics and language, but they are far from being similar to the point of being lumped together. They deserve to be studied separately, and when you get into the specifics of each you can readily tell why they should not be “harmonized” as so many authors have attempted. The gospel writers use different vocabulary to tell the same stories. They use different verb tenses in the parallel stories. They change the sequence of events. They even differ in minor points of observation. And, most importantly, they are written from very different perspectives and are written to very different audiences. Understanding these differences offers great possibilities for approaching students of vastly different personality types.

Are you studying with someone who likes to see the big picture, to see how things are connected and how the past ties into the present and foretells the future? Matthew fits the bill quite nicely. Are you studying with a testosterone driven male who cannot watch more than 30 seconds of a tv show without changing the channel? Surf the gospel of Mark. Are you studying with a female who has issues with male driven power structures and especially with the idea of an all male (and all testosterone driven) church? Introduce her to the Jesus in the gospel of Luke. And, what about that right-brained, stream of consciousness thinking individual who just cannot stand linear, “connect the dot” type of reasoning? The gospel of John beckons like a warm fire on a cold winter’s night.

Of course, these are all overstated generalizations. Some women love Mark, and some accountant types love the gospel of John. But the generalization gets the point of this entry across. “One size fits all” programs deny the individuality and the different needs of human beings. We need to be sensitive to the needs of our students, and there is a gospel message that they can hear.

Now, of course this type of evangelism requires a little more work from the teacher, so in the future I will deal with this greater responsibility. But I’m over 1,200 words, and Procrustes is getting ready to start chopping words off, so I had better save that topic for another post.

About Paul Smith

Paul was born in Santa Fe, NM. He graduated from high school in Albuquerque, NM, and has lived and worked in NM, TX, OK, and CO. He is married to Susan and father to Kylee. Paul has a BS degree in Youth Ministry, a MS degree in Biblical and Related Studies and an M.Div. degree, all from ACU. In June 2015 he received the D.Min. degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. Paul has served as a youth minister, preaching minister, hospice chaplain, and as a flight instructor and professional pilot for a freight company.

Posted on June 6, 2012, in Evangelism, Spiritual Formation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. It is an eye opener for sure but you are right – far to general to be a significant conversation. Thanks for sharing

  1. Pingback: this went thru my mind |

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