During my time in Hong Kong, my exposure to Christianity there was severely low. It was only during the last Sunday of the week before I was to leave that I found some Christian activity being conducted. It was open evangelism in a Yum Cha restaurant. The back of the restaurant was sort of bordered off, enclosing a few tables and a stage with people preaching through a microphone. Everyone in the restaurant could hear but I guess the main audience was those enclosed by the barrier.
Anyway there was something strange going on in there that had me remembering a similar scenario back here. The woman was very loudly preaching gospel through words such as these: “God has a gift for all of all. A gift of eternal life. He wants you to receive that gift; it’s free. And once you do you’re going to feel a change in your life. Once you start following Christ everything is going to feel so nice; your life will be different and much more joyful.” And towards the end: “Let us praise God for His wonderful gift. He is so great because His gift of eternal life makes us feel so great…”
Sound familiar? Well perhaps not the words but mood-wise it does remind me of something. There is a chance I am stepping into a hostile zone by mentioning this but the woman’s “preaching” sounded much like the mood that gets produced at places like Hillsong. Suffice to say, my mum was very displeased with the woman’s preaching because it was done in a loud voice. To her it sounded like mindless yelling and it sounded the same to me. I couldn’t call that evangelism. And no matter how many people were “lured” by that woman, I could never call that a successful evangelism.
Personally, I have never viewed proper evangelism to take a form like that: a person shouting into a microphone about the great feeling you get from receiving God’s grace. But unfortunately there is a lot of it going on in the world; so perhaps that’s why it’s not seen as “wrong” because it is slowly becoming a “cultural norm”. And of course by that I am talking about the Hillsong “church”. Sadly, as mean as it sounds, they do seem to always try to pass off mindless jabbering as evangelism and preaching.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9
I don’t believe that one who preaches in the way Hillsong does can actually make proper Christians out of his or her audience. I do not want to overstep the mark here but here is an extreme of what Hillsong evangelism MAY sound like:
“God is so great; He fills our hearts with joy everyday. And just following Him everyday gives me such relief from all of life’s problems. The feeling of having God with me all the time is so good that words can’t even describe the feeling…”
Read that out aloud over say 20-30 seconds and tell me: in that 20-30 seconds what did you learn about God other than the fact that “you get a good feeling from following Him”? Absolutely nothing. Frankly, using this extreme I could describe sex in the same way and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between God and sex.
Evangelism needs to be conducted carefully because it acts as a starting point for new believers. If you use a bad starting point to teach them then they’ll keep that bad starting point as they mature as Christians. And as humans it is sometimes hard to “unlearn” something. Like can you possibly forget how to ride a bike? You can’t. And if evangelism is conducted in a poor manner, the new believer is going to have a really hard time growing properly as a Christian.
What the examples above illustrate is that emotional evangelism has no fruit. I can tell you all about the emotion and feeling you get from following God; and surely you would take that in and through your heart “feel” how good it would be to follow Christ. But at the end of the day, all you have is a feeling; there is nothing you can reproduce through words that demonstrates what you know about God. This type of evangelism merely presents you with an emotion but you never actually learn anything about God. Yet in proper evangelism there is still emotion involved of course. But the difference is that: knowledge about God produces the warm feelings which emotionally influence you to follow Him but not vice versa. Emotions do not create any sort of comprehensible knowledge about God (ie in words of some sort). You cannot voice a feeling in words.
I do strongly believe this is the type of stuff they do at Hillsong and this is why the church isn’t highly regarded amongst other Christian churches. Even at KYLC / next gen, of all the 38 songs we sang over the week, not one of them was a Hillsong song. If you get people following Christ through something as fragile as a feeling, their faith can easily shatter because once that feeling suddenly disappears during suffering, the new believer doesn’t have anything tangible to fall back in to reaffirm their faith in Christ. And from undisclosed sources, I’ve heard that their music jamming concerts do roughly the same thing. The music gives you that really good feeling which emotionally gets you worked up and then it becomes easier for you to accept God. True, but those people accept God through their thoughtless emotions, rather than thoughtful logic.
For example, if I say to you that abseiling is an exhilarating activity because you feel so light and free as you sort of float down through the air, there’s your positive feeling. But in ordinary emotionless words I could say: jump down from the rocks carefully because you risk hurting yourself . But of course some people would prefer the first statement to attract them to abseiling. So assuming you just take the first statement and you start abseiling down a cliff-face. What happens when that good feeling gets a hold of you, and you start abseiling down very fast, too fast that you end up smacking yourself against the cliff-face and hurting yourself. Hang on, the first statement that I heard was talking about this good feeling I was meant to get; how come there is suddenly pain? Hmm…this discourages me from going abseiling now.
So the first statement presents the positive feeling you get. But the second is giving you information about how to abseil. A feeling isn’t very tangible and if you don’t explain Christianity with something tangible, faith can be destroyed very easily. The verse above says that our hearts can be deceitful which is true. Because if something feels good we are drawn into doing it because after all we are human. But feelings can deceive and when you realize that it’s wrong it leaves a scar on your heart, because that’s just how fragile the heart is. But of course in life we always try to use our heads to figure out whether something is “good” or “bad” rather than have our feelings lead the way; that is common sense. And for evangelism, the mind should always lead over the heart, never the other way round.
Well apart from faith being shattered, is there anything else that can result from emotional evangelism? Again I hate to overstep my mark but I have been in contact with Hillsong attendees who were also co-leaders of our high school Christian group. Although they never preached much, it only took them just one of their “talks” for me to realize how artificial their faith is. When they preached they sounded somewhere along the lines of the examples above; surely not to the extreme but there was a fair emotional side to it. And I do recall one of them was struggling in their faith because things weren’t going the way they wanted. Again we go back to the feelings offered during evangelism. When things don’t “feel” the way they originally did, something goes wrong because you’re uninformed of the negative feelings. And that’s how fragile their faith and knowledge was; that was a product of Hillsong.
Of course I’m not bagging out those people but the church in the way they were preaching. Evangelism needs to be done without providing emotion as a stimulus. Why should you be telling people how they should feel towards God? Instead, shouldn’t you be giving them the information so that they can use it to build their own emotional response to God? Everyone should always learn to think with their mind rather than their heart and in the same way we should be targeting out preaching and evangelising at their minds, not their hearts.