“Well, I have no interest at all in fishing,” the young pastor said, “but the only way that I could get close to him was to show interest in his fishing trophies.” He then went on to describe how he parlayed that friendship into Bible studies, and Bible studies into a baptism. Or another one: “He said, ‘Sure, I’ll be glad to teach you about coins.’ Of course, I had something else in mind,” the Bible worker said, to knowing grins all around.
I have heard stories like this for going on 50 years now. They always make me cringe. For me, it’s as simple as the Golden rule. I don’t want people pretending to be interested in what I’m interested in so they can persuade me to do something else. I don’t like hidden agendas. I don’t like salvation talked about like “closing a sale.”
And I know it happens all the time. We teach courses like, “Techniques of Soul Winning.” I have a problem with that. We use techniques on things. And too many times we treat nonbelievers, or believers who belonged to a different church, as things, instead of respecting them as children of God. Just think about the attitudes implied, and sometimes spoken outright, when it comes to soul winning.
Imagine if someone came to you with this proposition:
I am wise, you are not.
I have knowledge, you are ignorant.
I am in the light, and you are in darkness.
I have an agenda for our friendship, of which you know nothing.
I will lead you through a series of steps, you will follow.
I will ask for a decision, and he will make a decision.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Who in their right mind would choose to be on the receiving end of such a relationship? Yet somehow we expect other people to welcome our manipulation of the. To be grateful for our deception.
You think I’m overstating the case? I had young pastor tell me how to make certain people didn’t back out of the decision to be baptized in the time between the Bible study their home, and the ceremony in church the next Sabbath. “We have them give us their change of underwear in a plastic bag,” he told me, “so they won’t back out. They have to come to get back their underwear.” I’m not making this up. I wish I were.
I have sat through altar calls where the pastor’s wife, deacons, or other members of the evangelistic team went to individuals whose heads were bowed in prayer, and whisper in their ears to persuade them to go forward. I’ve seen candidates surrounded with such people, sometimes lifting them up to walk forward. And yes, I’ve been close enough to hear what was said more than once.
If those things had been done to me, I would’ve gotten up and walked out in disgust, and never ever returned. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I cannot reconcile these techniques with a God who values free will. And over the years, I have observed how this approach damages not only individual believers, but whole congregations. It can even influence entire conferences. I believe it has affected the entire denomination.
Now, possibly I am the only one who has ever felt this way. If the vast majority of people feel that I am out of line, I will say no more here. But if there are others who feel as I do, who are concerned that these approaches are not Christ like, and are damaging to the church, I will detail the problems I believe these approaches cause, and point the way to more constructive methods. I await your comments either way.