Bait-and-Switch Evangelism

I used to volunteer at a pregnancy resource center, an outreach ministry of my church where counselors present abortion alternatives to pregnant women. When I went through training, the leaders encouraged us to set appointments for all callers, even if they insisted they wanted an abortion. “Should we tell them that we don’t perform abortions here?” one trainee asked. They discouraged us from giving a straight answer. They emphasized the importance of setting that appointment so the woman had to come in. At the very least it would stall her a few hours or days, they reasoned.

A friend of mine recently returned from a year-long ministry overseas. She ministered primarily by teaching English to university students. They hungered to learn the language, but some rejected the English program after they discovered it used the Bible as curriculum. In fact, of the three facets being taught—reading, writing and speaking—two of them consisted of religious material. One girl attended the program the first day, only to walk out upset halfway through. My friend called to follow up with the girl, and she objected to the misrepresentation of the program’s advertisements. If she had known they used the Bible to teach English, she never would have come. “You should have told us,” she accused my friend.

Some church planters from Europe recently visited my community group. They told us of their attempts to share Christ in that culture and of the many rejections they had experienced. They rattled off about fifteen methods of evangelism they had tried, many of them admirably creative, yet which largely resulted in disappointment. Finally, this couple decided that in reaching out, they had to make it clear from the beginning that they were, as it would appear, “religious fanatics.” Then the other person could choose whether or not to pursue the friendship, and they wouldn’t need to worry about being guarded, or how to “spring” the good news on them. It freed them up to be more natural, they said.

Not all pregnancy resource centers or ESL programs use deceptive methods. Many people have trusted Christ as a result of these programs, and I don’t mean to belittle that. But what about the others whom we alienate through our less-than-honest approach? How do they feel, in general and toward Christians, after they realize we have manipulated them? Have Christians decided to trick nonbelievers into getting an audience with them, rather than relating to them naturally? This cripples our ability to build trust, the foundation for relationships, and it fails to treat nonbelievers with dignity.

Jesus did not minister this way. He had a strong sense of purpose, but He never had an agenda. He loved people where they were, and this is what drew them to Him, not being lured in on a pretext. Wouldn’t it be great if the Church were known for loving people without an ulterior motive, the way Jesus did? He related to people naturally, honestly, with tremendous love. And He wants to impart this love to us.

In His last recorded prayer before his arrest, Jesus prayed, “Righteous Father, ... I have made you known to them [the apostles], and will continue to make you known, in order that the love you have for me with may be in them, and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:25-26). We show that Christ is “in us” when we see nonbelievers as people, not as projects, and love them for themselves. Only through love without an agenda will we build a relationship that earns us an audience to share Christ.



Justin commented…

Ken & Flivver,
Did they still learn english? that wasn't really the point...the point was that the company wasn't upfront about using the Bible as a text. same goes for 'not showing all our cards'...I think there's a difference between that and being simply honest with people, i.e. giving a straight answer when asked if they performed abortion


whetler commented…

Jesus did have an agenda. That was making sure all he came into contact with knew he was the son of God. Through his words and actions this was made known. Salvation is and will always be the key. We definitely need to focus on telling the truth. This will enable those around to make choice. The same choice Christ gave us to say "yes" or "no"


Marlena commented…

I am pretty amazed by the commentors who still don't see deception as wrong after pondering such an article as this. I am especially disheartened by those who use scripture as a way to rationalize that it is acceptable, or even admirable to be cunning or disingenuous. Defined: giving a false appearance of honesty. Look up: Machiavellian=bad faith.


Anonymous commented…

I came to Christ relatively late in life ( my 40s, and I'm now 50...) although a lot of folks I knew realised I was a 'spiritual' sort of chap. When I started attending Church and became confirmed (I'm Church of England) I mentioned it in passing to people as being a reason why some social activities were now not feasible for me - conflicted with Confirmation Classes, etc.

What I have found is that people who are not believers or who are wondering whether there is a place with Christ for them often approach me to discuss my Faith because, as one of them put it, 'you're pretty normal for a God-botherer, Joe'. I try and live my life according to Christ's teachings, am open about my own shortcomings in that, and also open about my continued Christian journey. As someone says above, I may not get a lot of converts but the ones I may have influenced towards Christ are there with eyes and hearts open.


David Keyes commented…

I definitely see the point of the article and believe wisdom is needed here. However, what's the best selling book in the history of the world, much less the English language? The Bible.
Is it then in some way dishonest to use that as the text for an ESL class?
And concerning the pregnancy center, what book throughout history (at least, Western history) has been the most revered (tho in these days, not by all) as the definitive authority on life, health and wisdom for making tough decisions? The Bible.
Just because someone walks away feeling upset doesn't mean they were wronged. In Acts 26, King Agrippa, after hearing Paul's Gospel presentation, walked away after saying, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" Not everyone will receive the Gospel at a given moment regardless of the method.

I understand that sometimes Christians can be truly deceptive (I think of the prosperity gospel, for instance: come to Jesus and never have problems again). But using an authoritative source for ESL classes or pregnancy counseling is not what I'd call deceptive. I'd say that in the latter case, the non-Christian "pregnancy counseling centers" or "women's health centers" are far more deceptive because they are ultimately about the bottom line: making money off of abortions.

Bottom line for me, I guess, is that we need to heed to concerns of this article and truly be, as someone mentioned above, "wise"... [even thought that verse actually seems to commend (gulp) the serpent?] and try to avoid intentionally lying about who we are and our ultimate objective. If someone is being offered a service and once they find out that the Bible is being used as the foundation for that service, they are free to leave, but just because they don't like the Bible doesn't mean they were "lied to"; it means that they were offered the best help available and chose to refuse it.

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