The Problem of Conversion

Are we doing something wrong in the church today? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In popular thinking today, it’s often asked how we can get more converts into the church. I state instead to others that I have no desire whatsoever to get converts.

“How can you say that? Do you not care about bringing people to Jesus?”

Of course I do. I would not be doing what I do all day if I did not, but I choose to follow what Christ said. Go and make disciples of all nations.

Let’s consider an analogy. It is rightly said that marriage is on the decline in our country. So let’s suppose the goal then is to make more married people? That’s easy enough. I have men who are friends and single. If they wanted to, they could go out and find someone and get married today. They could encourage all their friends to do likewise and their friends could encourage their friends, etc.

Voila! Problem solved! Marriage is back!

Well, no. We might create a lot of married men, but would we really create a lot of husbands? Would we be creating men that are devoted to loving their wives and seeking to grow in that love or not?

Getting married is easy. Any one can do that. Being a husband or wife? That takes work! The same has been said about children. Anyone can make a baby but it takes a man to be a father. Unless there’s something wrong biologically with the man or the woman, any man can get a woman pregnant. Not a big deal. I know of no way that there’s a secret technique that a man must use in the bedroom and only if he pulls it off rightly will his wife get pregnant. (If such was the case, then we’re sure wasting a lot of money on birth control and the abortion advocates can stop complaining)

Making the baby is simple. The guy’s work is usually done pretty quickly. Raising that baby as a father? That’s a lifetime of work.

So now back to the illustration of the church. In the church, we often go and make converts. What happens in our evangelism? We have someone who has come to the church and filled out a card. We go out to them. We talk with them about Jesus. We get them to say the prayer and then celebrate about our success!

It would be better if we kept tabs of such people and see how many of them actually come back to the church and how many of them grow in Christ? I’m sure some do, but do most?

Now granted if you just go with converts, you can grow a church pretty quickly. You can have several people sign up and come in to the church and be active members, but are they really going to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus? Or, are they more just going through the motions?

How many marriages do you know of where the love died a long time ago and today, people are going through the motions just because it beats the alternative?

Worse, these people are absolutely unprepared for what waits outside the church. Atheism has gone popular in the new atheists. The internet has made information of all worldviews easily accessible. Worse still, someone with no knowledge can be seen as someone with knowledge just because they have a web site. To those untrained in a field, an argument from even a Christ-myther seems sophisticated.

There’s also the cults that are out there. Walter Martin of the Christian Research Institute said that the average Jehovah’s Witness can turn the average Christian into a doctrinal pretzel in 90 seconds or less. I would not hesitate to say the average Jehovah’s Witness knows the Bible far better than the average Christian.

This isn’t even counting moral problems! Affairs take place right within the church. 1 in 3 men in the church are said to struggle with pornography. A pastor dare not speak about homosexuality or sex outside of marriage or couples living together lest it offend those people in the church or put him on the political radar of the enemies of the church.

Our youth are often the biggest consequence of this. In their classrooms, they will no doubt hear of evolution. Now I as a non-scientist do not speak on evolution. I see it as an irrelevant question to Christian belief, but we all know there are atheists who see it as the most relevant question. If evolution is true, Christianity is false for them, and they will no doubt proclaim this letting their students know you either go with modern science or go with the Bible. It gets even worse if they make it that the Bible can only be read to say the Earth is 6,000 years old. (Do note I have friends who are YEC, my ministry partner is YEC, and my wife is YEC. In fact, a person who is an evangelical and told me about the dangers of making YEC an essential part of Christianity is himself a YEC)

And of course, the youth will have the moral issues as well. If they’re on YouTube looking up their favorite song, they could see an atheistic video on the side. Just one click is all it takes. In Middle and High School, they will be tempted sexually since all their friends are doing it and why not? It’s so much fun and it doesn’t hurt anyone! We’re just sharing love! It will get even stronger in college where professors are more upfront with an atheistic agenda and co-ed dorms are becoming more and more common and parties will involve alcohol and sex abundantly.

And hey, a young person wants to be cool.

In the past, I have written profusely on why apologetics is a necessity for the “relevant” church today such as found here, here, here, here, here, and here. This is just a snippet of it all.

In fact, to say otherwise for our youth is to say it is important for them to have pizza and to attend concerts for their growth in being like Christ, but it is not important for them to actually learn anything about Jesus Christ. You might as well tell a newlywed couple it’s not important for them to really learn anything about each other. Just have a lot of sex together and you’ll be fine!

If you want to grow closer to your spouse in marriage, you will need to learn about your spouse, devote time to your spouse, and actively do things for your spouse, and you have to do that regardless of how you might be feeling at the time. Even if you feel unloving, you are to be loving.

If you want to grow closer to Jesus Christ, you will need to learn about Jesus, devote time to Jesus, and actively do things for Jesus, and you have to do that regardless of how you might be feeling at the time. Even if you feel like you don’t care, you are to care.

When we make converts, we get people who are not prepared to deal with what is outside. When persecution comes, they will either fall away, which is the most disastrous of all, or they will simply hole up within themselves, which is fortunately going to keep them in the Kingdom, but they will be carrying weight for the those who are active and be a hindrance to demonstrating Christlikeness.

Let’s take the first example. What happens? It usually results in fundy atheists. Christians who did not get any answers and became convinced that there were no answers because no one takes their questions seriously. I meet these people most every day on the net. They have a grudge against their former belief system and are some of the hardest people to reason with.

Now let’s take the latter group. These people hole up inside themselves or with others of the same mindset. They might be helping each other be good people, but they cannot effectively evangelize. Once someone challenges their perspective, they’re sunk. In such a world, this person is going to be a hindrance in evangelism as others of the fundy atheist mindset will look at them and say “Yep. All Christians are as deluded as I was.” Others might be nicer and will have no problem letting them keep their beliefs, just so long as they “don’t hurt anyone” or “force your view on me.”

Also for this latter group, what will keep them going? Their experiences. Now experiences are a good thing, but you cannot make a regular diet out of them, at least not the grand ones. Those do not happen on demand after all and we cannot will them that easily.

There’s also a great danger that we have other groups that have experiences. I know of a Muslim man who claimed he was miraculously healed of pancreatic cancer. Prima facie, I have no reason to deny this claim. Why should I? Should I deny that he is wrong about his own life just because his worldview is different from mine? What about Mormons who claim to have a burning in the bosom? Should I claim they do not? Of course not. If all you have is your experience vs. another person’s experience with nothing else to fall back on, then there is no reason to choose one over the other except personal preference.

But what if you did have something you could use? What if you could use truth? Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. Note that I am not saying the church must be full of scholars, though I am hopeful all would take part in scholarly information. The church should have people who have some basic knowledge about their worldview. Here are the basics they need I think.

Each person needs some reason to hold to the existence of God be it cosmological, moral, or even an argument like the resurrection of Jesus.
Each person needs to know how they can make a case for something being right or wrong.
Each person needs a basic understanding of biblical interpretation.
Every person needs a basic understanding of the reliability of Scripture including textual criticism.
Each person needs to be able to make a historical defense for the resurrection, at least a basic minimal facts approach.
Each person needs to be able to show the Trinity in the Bible.
Each person needs to make a case for their view of the atonement.

Well geez. That sounds hard.

Yes. Sounds hard to those of us who realize we live in a society where you can still remember how to get to every dungeon in the original Legend of Zelda, follow the plot of your favorite TV show with myriads of characters, know the statistics of your favorite sports teams, and memorize songs, jokes, and recipes.

This will take work. No denying that. The question that must be asked then is “Is Jesus Christ worth that work?” If He is, then act accordingly. If He is not, then also act accordingly. We can easily boast about how we would die for Jesus and how much we love Him and what He means to us. If such is true, then one should look at this and say “No problem.”

And what happens then? We get disciples. We get people who are actively learning to seek to grow in their faith. Here’s another tip for those of you out there. Get at least one good mentor. I have several mentors that I still go to today, but I have one main one that I email every night who helps hold me accountable and has been my friend and confidante in many tough situations. I say that as one who considers myself mature in the faith. I need a mentor. I am thankful to have one.

What will disciples mean? It will mean pastors also preach more informed sermons. Why? Because the congregation will know most of the basic stuff already that you’re sharing. If you want to teach them, you’ll have to go deeper than they are. If not, then they will leave you because those who are actively seeking to grow in their faith want more than just milk at church.

It will also mean we have a better presence of evangelism. Imagine how much it would mean if all Christians could at least make a case that there was a historical Jesus instead of just saying “Well you have to have faith!” Would nonsense like Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” even make a dent in the Christian community? Not a bit.

It will also mean people living holier lives. Why? Because those who are disciples of Jesus are the ones that will be taking His commands more seriously and holding one another accountable for what they do. These people will be thinking with a well-informed mind on Christian issues and know how they apply to the current situation in the world and to their own personal lives.

Dare I say it, I think this one change alone could bring about the revolution in America we’ve been waiting for. Why is our situation the way it is? Is it because of the gospel? No. We know the gospel has the power to transform lives and culture. Well if it’s not on the end of the gospel, then it must be on our end. The problem is not the message. The problem is us. If we want to change the world, we must start with changing us.

From now on, do what Jesus said. Don’t go out and make converts. Go out and make disciples. Just as importantly, be one yourself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters