Saturday morning, the wife and I went to a local coffee shop to study. Me for nursing school and her for a licensure exam at work. Towards the end of our study session a group of maybe 10 people pulled a few tables together right next to us. There were a few young women among the group and the rest were men of varying ages. They opened with prayer, always a welcome development when a large group gathers near your study area, and proceeded with their meeting. I had assumed it was a Bible study, but it turns it out was a group of ministry leaders from various college ministry organizations (Campus Crusade, Intervarsity and the like) and representatives of a few local churches with college ministries. They were coordinating ministry and outreach events for the coming semester. Frankly, I was delighted to see that kind of cooperation and cohesion among these obviously competing groups. Youth and college ministries can be especially numbers-driven due to the need for a "critical mass" of students in order to be attractive to outsiders. Kids generally don't like hanging around a fun-filled group of 5 when 2 of them are leaders. So for them to pool resources and forgo competitive ministry programs is, well, very Christian.
I didn't follow too much of the beginning of their meeting. I was engrossed in my "Caring for the Complex Family" text and they were talking about doing a few of the same things they had done last year. But as my interest in the Complex Family waned (directly proportional to the temperature and remaining volume of my coffee, I might add), they started tossing out new ideas. My attention was soon diverted to eavesdropping.
They had a variety of ideas. Most seemed generically conventional for Campus Crusade, based on my experience with the organization at Arizona State. Big, fun, invite-your-friend kind of things with a recognizable speaker or good band. Events with lots of energy and skits. Some of the ideas seemed more suited for a younger crowd but I assumed they knew their audience better than I. The one idea that really caught my attention, though, was presented by a college-aged female. Rough sketch: a skit based on the dating game wherein one of the bachelor's is Jesus, or answers exactly as Jesus would, and at the end of the game the young woman picks him. Excuse me, Him. They kind of tossed it around a bit - maybe the young woman is someone from the crowd, or maybe they just focus on the kind of love we all allegedly want, or all of the bachelors portray some aspect of Jesus. Or maybe they actually set up some kind of contest where someone actually wins a fantasy date, either as a package they can take their significant other on or they actually take the guy or girl from the skit. It went around for several minutes.
My initial reaction was "As a guy, I sure wouldn't want to date Jesus." You know, liking women like I do. So it seemed their strategy was going to alienate at least half of the crowd right then. Other thoughts ran through my head - what if what these college kids want from "love" isn't what God actually offers? How do you choose who gets to be the bachelors and how do you avoid using sexual attraction as an evangelism tool? And why do these oddly perverse notions of the romantic Jesus stay alive? Then an older gentleman said he kind of doubted they could actually know how Jesus would answer dating questions. Another pointed out the obvious difficulty if the person from the crowd chose a non-Jesus bachelor. Other flaws in the plan slowly became apparent but, overall, they seemed to like the general idea and thought maybe a good speaker could adapt what was happening to an evangelistic talk and no matter what happened, use it somehow.
I kept thinking is this what evangelism has come to? Dating Jesus?
As we left, they were on to other ideas and I interrupted the group to proffer a couple of suggestions. But I was still disquieted by the shallowness of their ideas about evangelism. Big-time fun does not equal conversion and on the rare occasion that it does, how much spiritual depth does that person actually experience? How does feeding the obviously jacked-up cultural norms of dating help bring anyone to relationship with Christ? What are they thinking?!
But (and this is a big, big but) then I realized something. They're actually doing it. No matter how shallow or ineffective their ideas seemed to me, they were at least committed to doing it. They were willing to take the time and energy to prepare and plan, to generate ideas and to figure out ways to put them into action. And they were willing to put themselves out on that very uncomfortable limb and plainly deliver the Gospel, no matter the context. And frankly, I'm not. I haven't shared the Gospel with anyone in the last 2 1/2 years. I fully believe that drive-by evangelism is ineffective and irresponsible, but at some point relational evangelism has to transition into actual evangelism. So far, I'm pretty good on the relational part. I think its time to work on the evangelism part.
So here's to that group. God bless them and the work that they do. God bless their endeavors and may they, and You, forgive my arrogance. God grant me their heart for reaching out to the lost. And maybe grant us all some better ideas.
Unless, that is, You like The Dating Game.