I was glancing through a little humorous book that I have had for decades. It is called “Best of Gravestone Humor” by Louis S. Schafer. People used to write the most amazing things on gravestones… some of which are quite humorous. One struck me today:
“Here Lies Jane Smith,
Wife of Thomas Smith, Marble Cutter
This monument was erected by her
husband as a tribute to her memory
and a specimen of his work.
Monuments of this same style are
two hundred and fifty dollars.”
Using one’s spouses gravestone as an opportunity to advertise one’s own business would be judged by most, I assume, as inappropriate.
Are there times in ministry where doing certain things (such as preaching, or evangelism) are inappropriate? I know a lot of preachers that feel that funerals are great times to evangelize. Is that true? For some, the view is that it is a time when unbelievers are gathered in a place where they are (frankly) obligated to sit quietly and listen to a message from the clergy. So some feel that it is (of course) a perfect time to evangelize. Others would say that it is inappropriate and disrespectful. They might offer an example to illustrate this. What if you, as a Christian, attended a funeral service of a Muslim, or a Mormon, or some other non-Christian group. How would you feel if the speaker at the funeral put a “hard-sell” advertisement for converting to their faith into the “message of solace.” Some may feel that it is a fair thing to do, but many would find offense in it.
I might suggest two possible occasions where such ministry my not be appropriate.
1. Do not minister when it is unethical. Let me give an example. Years ago there was a story (I am repeating the newspaper version of the story… I don’t know the church’s side of the story) of a church group that rented a school gymnasium for a sports event. A lot of kids were invited and many kids came. Once they got there, the doors of the gymnasium were locked, and hard-sell evangelism was used on those who came. I would suggest that deceiving and incarcerating are unethical, and should not be used as a means for ministry. The locking up certainly makes it wrong… but so is the deception. We should not use bait-and-switch tactics… either explicitly or tacitly.
A cultic group called the “Children of God” used to use members serving as prostitutes to lure in new members. Using sex as a lure for evangelism is unethical. Another group went to Haiti and tried to bring out children into the Dominican Republic and from there to the US to be brought up in Christian homes. What they saw as helping children in need, was seen by the rest of the world as kidnapping. At the very least, it was an amazing lack of discernment.
This is a deontological argument. Breaking ethical rules does not justify evangelism or other ministries. Of course, one has to consider higher and lower rules. There may be times where obeying God (divine ethics) may put one at odds with governmental regulation. Peter, John, and the rest were correct in that they must obey God, not man. But we should not be too quick to toss aside government regulations and societal norms… it should be a matter of considerable caution.
2. Do not minister when such ministry would be countereffective. There are times when ministry may result in the opposite of one’s intentions occurring. During the Roman empire, some Christians would desecrate local idols, or actively disrespect them. They did this to demonstrate allegiance to God and the idea that idols have no power. However, the result of these actions tended to be that Christians were viewed as atheists (rejecting all Gods) and of being bad neighbors. It is doubtful that desecration and disrespect had any positive result in ministry to their neighbors.
Years ago, I was part of a church in which the pastor believed that in every church service there should be an offering taken. His justification was that tithing was an act of worship… Therefore it shouldn’t be taught to be a good thing always. The logic did not really sit well with me where we would do free outreach concerts and then take an offering… or take an offering at a funeral. I felt that regardless of the nice theological justification being used, it would appear to emphasize the money-hungry nature of churches. Since it was later shown that the pastor had considerable problems handling money, my concerns had a validation of sorts.
Disrespecting the hearer (such as walking into a mosque or temple and start preaching) is probably ineffective. Worse, it can be countereffective since such behavior can further harden the hearts of the hearers to the message. It seems to me likely that blowing up abortion clinics probably did more to push people to pro-abortion (pro-choice) view, then it did in reducing the number of abortions.
While many believe sharing one’s faith when someone has undergone a major life crisis is good, I would like to suggest otherwise. During times of great trauma, the person cannot make sound decisions. Getting them to say “the sinner’s prayer” may be easier in such circumstances, but it does not mean that they are more likely to change. They can’t make major life decisions in such cases and one should not try to do so. In fact some will look back on the situation negatively (like a person trying to talk you into selling your family house at the funeral of one of your parents). They may feel that you don’t really care about them, but are trying to act on your own benefit, not theirs. Probably better to show you really care (in a way that they can recognize and appreciate). That is a better foundation from which to share one’s faith once they are somewhat recovered.
This is a teleological argument. I don’t believe that Christian ethics is strictly deontological. It is deontological and teleological, and more. Doing something right that would clearly result in greater wrong, is wrong.
Don’t get me wrong… not trying to talk anyone out of ministering to others. Just think it is useful to act with wisdom, not action without thought and plan. Love and Wisdom is a better place to start ministry than compulsion.
Note: Below is an article “The Stealth Christian Attack on Public Schools.” The article is against Good News Clubs. Having connections with CEF, I find the article strange. Yes… the group is Evangelical… in some ways even Fundamentalist, and teach things considerably different than what is commonly taught in public schools. But the schools are public for a reason, and that is the purpose of equal access. There are plenty of groups I dislike that also have access. Public is a double-edged sword. Nevertheless, the article provides an interesting perspective.
- The Stealth Christian Attack on Public Schools (patheos.com)
- “Are You an EE-VAN-gelical?” (chosenrebel.me)
- Evangelicals on a Quest for a New Identity (juicyecumenism.com)
- Pentagon: No, We Won’t Court-Martial Christians Who Talk About Their Religion (patdollard.com)
- Evangelism thoughts: “Savior Salvation” and “Fallen from Grace” (munsonmissions.org)