Why I Don’t “Do” Evangelistic Events Anymore

The title says it. I don’t involve myself in evangelistic events anymore. Years ago I did… and I will go into that. I have a number of reasons to, perhaps not oppose them but, choose not to support them. I will give two.

#1. Historical. I come from Western New York. This area had the term “Burned Out District” associated with it. This term was inspired by a quote from the 19th century revivalist, Charles Finney.

“I found that region of country what, in the western phrase, would be called, a ‘burnt district.’ There had been, a few years previously, a wild excitement passing through that region, which they called a revival of religion, but which turned out to be spurious.” … “It was reported as having been a very extravagant excitement; and resulted in a reaction so extensive and profound, as to leave the impression on many minds that religion was a mere delusion. A great many men seemed to be settled in that conviction. Taking what they had seen as a specimen of a revival of religion, they felt justified in opposing anything looking toward the promoting of a revival.”

I am quoting from the Wikipedia article “Burned Out District” that quotes “The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney.”

Western New York transitioned from a place of great Evangelical revival to one of lukewarm faith, and a hotbed of cultic groups. Hardly surprising. When religion is expressed in terms of revivalist fervor… the fervor can eventually die down and people begin to wonder, “Is that all there is?” Because of this, I cringe when a group talks about saturation strategies for evangelism’ or churchplanting. I have grown worried of bigger and bigger evangelistic events. I have known people (including friends) who would attend them over and over to get their spiritual ‘BUZZ.’ Maybe that is okay for some… but I think it may well drive more away than it attracts. I have attended funerals where the preacher turned it into a hard-sell evangelistic message. I feel that the result most commonly was the opposite of what was anticipated.

#2. Personal. For years I was involved in evangelistic events. From 2005 to 2009 I was involved with doing evangelistic medical mission events. These were trips to an area where we would have doctors and nurses provide medical, dental, and surgical care, sometimes other care such as eye glasses, or training seminars, and medicines to the people there. We would also do evangelism as a required part of the care. As an organizer and sponsor of the medical group DPDM for those five years, we treated about 30,000 patients. Additionally, we had around 10,000 people who stated that they prayed to receive Christ during that activity. This sounds pretty awesome. And I don’t really want to denigrate the activity. I like holistic ministries, where one genuinely attempts to integrate care— spiritual care with other types like medical, social, educational, etc. Still I gradually found reasons why I did not want to stay involved in this.

  • The Philippines is a country of Reciprocity. Utang ng Loob (debt of gratitude) is important. This is common, frankly, in much of the world. There is a tendency of many to think that since we are providing free care, their payment back is to go along with the group and respond to the prayer invitation. In fact, the response rate is about 33%. However, if one doesn’t count members of the host church or partnering churches (who already probably have done the Sinner’s Prayer before), children who are too young to respond, and members of minority faiths where responding in prayer to any outside group is anathema, the response percentage is MUCH higher… well over 50%. Sometimes, this activity seems more of an exercise of gratitude than an exercise of evangelism. Gratitude is fine… but perhaps it would be better simply to say, “We are Christians committed to love God and our neighbors, and provide this service free of all charge or obligation.” When there seems to be a payment involved (explicit or implicit) we start to look like Gehazi pulling a gift from Naaman after his healing.
  • Most places we went, changes were not measurable. There were exceptions, however. Over time, we began to learn what churches we could partner with effectively. Some took the partnership seriously, working with those who had come to the medical mission. Most, however, did not. Six months after a medical mission we would often (but not always) call up the host church and ask how things are going. The answer commonly was “Fine.” Then we would ask about any changes after the medical mission (such as growth of church membership, greater involvement in Bible studies, and so forth). Some would be able to describe positive changes. The more common response was something like, “Everything is about the same. When can you come back to do another medical mission?” Generally, those churches that thought that the event would just organically lead to people showing up at their church on Sunday morning would find that nothing changed. (Actually, I know of one exception. We had done a medical mission at a relocation center for those who had been connected with Communist rebels, but had surrendered to the Philippine government. As a show of “gratitude” for their putting down arms, the Philippine government shoved them into a very inadequate living situation. Anyway, we did a medical mission event on Saturday, and on the next day, the church was bursting with people showing up. Of course my suspicion was that their unique response was due to people showing them God’s love and probably not due to the evangelism. They had not been shown much love.) The goals of local churches should be to disciple followers of Christ, and express God’s love to their neighbor. While proclamation of the Gospel is vital in these,doing so should become a substitute for the two goals.
  • Unfortunately, these evangelistic missions can perpetuate the weird theology associated with the Sinner’s Prayer. In the Philippines over 90% consider themselves to be Christian (as in sincere followers of Christ). While there is a high level of nominalism in the Philippines, it is clearly messed up to presume that those who have not prayed the Sinner’s Prayer are not followers of Christ, and that those who have prayed it are. Eventually, as I was keeping track of metrics from the medical mission events. I stopped pretty early describing the number who became saved, and switched it to those who had “prayed to receive Christ.” 10,000 people “prayed to receive Christ,” but we have no idea how many have been saved through our activity. I found that a better metric was to track how many people had said that they were interested in being involved with, or even host, a Bible study.

The following numbers I found to be pretty typical for a medical mission.

Number of total patients: 400

Prayed to receive Christ: 150

Interested in a Bible Study 70

Actually become part of a Bible Study 30 (assuming the church does its job)

If good things happen, it would be out of the 30.

Now, if you read this and you find my reasons unconvincing…. actually that is fine— even Good. I am not trying to talk anyone out of doing evangelistic events. I think they can be good. But I would recommend some reflection and careful planning. A badly planned evangelistic event is not better than not having one. In many cases there are better ideas out there that express God’s love in a way that one’s neighbors can recognize and respond to, and then help them to grow as followers of Christ.

Christian Medical Missions Quote

Twelve years ago, I finished my dissertation at Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary. It was on medical missions in the Northern Philippines. Although I would have written some of it different now than I did back then; still, the findings were solid. I hope that the findings are helpful to people, but all too often dissertations (even more so ones published in Asia) go up on shelves and are not looked at again (except perhaps by a few doctoral students trying to pad out their bibliography).

So I was glad to see some of my dissertation utilized in a recent book on Medical Missions. The book is called, SHALOM: GOD’S PURPOSE FOR THE WORLD: MODERN MEDICAL MISSIONS IN THE ISLAMIC CONTEXT (by Dae-Young Lee, Wipf & Stock, 2021). Technically, the book used an article I developed from the dissertation, and a book that summarized the dissertation. Lee is a medical doctor who served for years as a medical missionary in an Islamic region. As such, he is well positioned to see the best and worse of medical missions— as well as its potential.

I have only just recently started reading the book, but so far it has been excellent. Actually, the first two paragraphs of the Preface (by Jerry M. Ireland) summarizes a lot of the concerns with Christian Medical Missions I found in my research, as well as my personal experience. (since I spent around 8 doing monthly medical missions in the Philippines). Here are the two paragraphs:

In the world of Christian compassionate missions, and, more precisely, the world of Christian medical missions to the Arab world, pitfalls abound. There exists the ever-present danger of doing medical missions merely as a “platform,” and thereby disingenuously. Or, more palatably to the non-Christian world, one might engage in medical work in a foreign land that has no genuine Christian content because there exists no explicit link to the gospel. Additionally, medical mission efforts have too often subverted, ignored, or dismissed local medical professionals, guidelines, and government regulations, putting the missionaries at odds with civil authorities in ways incompatible with the gospel and with truth. Paternalistic tendencies, especially among western mission workers have at times resulted in the sending of so-called “medical teams” that lacked even basic medical and missionary training.

These far-too-common shortcomings in medical mission work have minimally left dark stain on the church but also raised (further) questions as to the legitimacy of the entire mission enterprise. If Christians cannot show compassion to the most needy and vulnerable, especially the sick, in ways that are Christ-honoring, culturally considerate, and carried out with honesty and integrity, then is there any hope at all for Christian cross-cultural efforts?

— Jerry M. Ireland, Preface to “Shalom: God’s Purpose for the World,” by Dae-Young Lee

Lee’s book can be found by CLICKING HERE

My book on medical missions is found by CLICKING HERE

My article on medical missions quoted in the book is found by CLICKING HERE

Jerry M. Ireland has an interesting blog worth reading. One article I really enjoyed is on “Verbal Assault Evangelism (And Why It Doesn’t Work)“.

The “Fish” Model of Project-based Outreaches

A model for doing not only medical missions, but many forms of short-term projects (partnered with a long-term ministerial presence) looks a bit like a fish (or an ICHTHUS if you prefer). It is based somewhat on the model used for CPM (Church-Planting Multiplication). The same basic principle can be utilized.

Visioning/Organizing

Rapid Seed Sowing

Filtering

Consolidating

Expansion

This comes from my book “Principles and Practices of for Healthy Christian Medical Missions: Seeking the Church’s Role for Effective Community Outreach in the Philippines and Beyond”

ICHTHUS

A: The idea of a medical mission comes to one person or a small group, and there is the decision to attempt to move forward with the idea.

B. This is the team-building phase. Buy-in is developed within the community and with outside help. Partnerships are developed and plans are worked out.

C. Others are told about the mission. The community is invited and the outside team supporters are told and encouraged to pray and help in tangible ways. Eventually a maximum number of people are involved as the entire community (ideally) is involved or invited, and the outside team is sent off.

D. This describes those involved in the medical missions. This number is smaller because not everyone who is invited actually comes. In the Philippines approximately half to 2/3s of those invited actually come (at least in rural areas).

E. This describes those who respond to the Gospel based on assent. In some cultures, this assent is to the Gospel (expressed perhaps in saying the “sinner’s prayer,”) In some cultures, such as the Philippines, this sort of response may be made without any real conviction. As such it may not be the most useful guide for follow-up. However, it is important to keep records of all who attended and all who made this decision.

F. It is also useful to find a narrower filtering of those who come. This may be with a desire for Bible Study, or for home visitation. In the Philippines, for example, many will express an interest to “pray to receive Christ” as a way of expressing gratitude for the medical care provided. However, there is no such feeling of debt to agree to a Bible Study (for example) so it is often a better guide for community spiritual response.

G. After the medical mission, the hosts can do follow-up. They would probably start with Group F as priority, then to Group E, and finally Group D. However, in all likelihood those who actually act on their spoken decision will be smaller than the other groups. So for example, in the case of a Bible Study, one may have hundreds attend the medical mission, with dozens responding in faith, and perhaps 2 or 3 dozen desiring a Bible study. Of these, perhaps 10 or 15 actually respond. These can be put into 1 Bible study, or perhaps 2 growth groups, or maybe a handful of accountability groups.

H. It is from the core group G that growth will occur with multiplication of small groups, or development of house churches, or creation of a church, or whatever.

Medical Ministry Before the Church

The Old Testament shows medical ministry in some diverse ways. A short list of references of medical ministry in the Old Testament include:nehushtan-plaque

  • Ezekiel 34

  • Numbers 21:8-9

  • Leviticus 13 & 14

  • I Kings 17

Ezekiel 34 is the parable of the bad shepherd. If you are not familiar with it, don’t be afraid that it is in the challenging middle section of the Bible. Take time to read it. It refers to political and religious leaders in Israel. These leaders failed, in part, because they neither healed the sick nor bound the broken. Although this passage is written as a parable, it seems reasonable to assume that physical care is part of their responsibility. This point is supported with the other listed passages. Leaders (religious and political) were responsible for both the physical and overall well-being of their people. Numbers 21 describes Moses, a political leader, addressing the problem of people who have been bitten by poisonous snakes. The Leviticus passage describes the responsibility of priests to diagnose, quarantine, and evaluate the cure of various skin diseases. The passage in Kings is one of the passages where prophets do miraculous physical healing. Political and religious leaders in Israel were to be involved in addressing the medical concerns of the people.

The Old Testament references share a common concern for the well-being of the people. However, different methods are used. They include miraculous healing, common medical or first aid care, public health policy and quarantine. There appears to be no one single “blessed” form of medical care.

The Gospels refer to the life of Christ prior to the formation of the church. Since Jesus provides the basis for Christian faith and living, Jesus’ relationship to medical/physical ministry (as well as that of his disciples) is highly relevant.

Jesus did healing as part of His ministry. Luke 4:18-19 gives Jesus’ self-understanding of His ministry. He stated that among other things, He was to give healing and sight to the blind. This cannot simply be taken as figurative language since Jesus did in fact heal as part of His ministry. Additionally, Luke 7:20-23 states more explicitly that caring for the blind, deaf, lame, and leprous was part of His work. These passages show that healing was not a trivial part of His ministry. They also show that Jesus understood that healing was a sign of His being the fulfillment of prophecies since the two passages refer back to prophecies in Isaiah 61 and Isaiah 35 respectively.

One might still argue that medical ministry within a Christian context is not validated by Christ, if Jesus saw healing only as a sign of His divine role. Others might draw a strong separation between “miraculous healing” and “medical healing.” I have come across some people who have argued that standard medical care is demonic, since it utilizes the modern equivalent of herbalism (“pharmacia”), which was commonly tied to pagan practices in the time of Christ. For them, one is from God and the other is not (or at least is less so). However, since medical healing utilizes what God has created and designed to aid in healing, it seems flawed to assume it as being of a lesser origin than “miracles.” Nevertheless, it is wise to look for additional evidence as to whether medical ministry is Biblically sound.

An important passage that speaks of medical ministry is Luke 10:25-37. This passage involves the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, a Samaritan discovers a man who had been robbed and brutalized by highwaymen. The Samaritan applied oil as a salve, wine as a disinfectant, and bandages to protect the wounds and promote healing. Then he transported the injured man to a place for healing, nursed him for one day, and paid the innkeeper money to continue medical. The purpose and application of the parable demonstrate that this story describes a sound Christian ministry. The purpose of the parable was to explain the meaning of the phrase, “and love your neighbor as yourself” as well as add insight to the question of who is one’s neighbor. The application is, perhaps, even more direct since in verse 37 Jesus tells those listening that they are to “go and do likewise.” This passage demonstrates that non-miraculous healing care to minister to someone in need is good, consistent with, and, indeed, commanded by our call to love our neighbor.

Another important passage is Matthew 25:31-46. This passage contrasts those people that please God and those that displease Him at the final judgment. Those who please God and are welcomed by God include those who care for the sick, along with those who minister to other physical and social problems such as hunger, thirst, homelessness, exposure, and imprisonment. Jesus states, in verse 40 that,“inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

The Luke 10 and Matthew 25 passages together close a logical loop. Matthew 25 states that loving God/Jesus compels one to care for the sick. The Luke 10 passage states that loving one’s neighbor also compels one to care for the sick. Therefore, while Luke 10:27, known as the Great Commandment, may have two components, they are inseparable. Medical care is a normal and necessary application of the Great Commandment.

This excerpt is from my book: “Christian Medical Missions”

This was originally modified from my dissertation on Medical Missions. I did some research on medical ministry historically, even though the main part of the research was medical mission work in the presence. Part of the reason for the historical research was because of the range of (in my mind) misunderstandings of medical ministry. Some people, for example reject medical ministry because they believe that only “miraculous” healing is from God or “God ordained.” On the other hand, there are people who are suspicious of any medical work on the presumption that only “spiritual ministry” (evangelism, discipleship, church-planting) is real ministry, and anything else is a distraction– unless it is used as ‘bait’ for real ministry.

From Baguio to Baguionas and Back, Part 3

Most of the team did not stay up for the other films, but went to different houses to sleep. Five of us walked into the forest to a nice house on the hillside. There we slept on mats in the sweltering heat. Oh… did I mention the heat? Brutal! And it stayed hot into the night. One rooster had insomnia and attempted to give us insomnia as well. But we eventually fell asleep and woke up around 5AM to prepare for the next leg of our trip. Those of us riding with Darwin crossed the footbridge and crawled our way up the mountainside in his SUV, while the rest were to ride the jeepney out. We arrived in Baay around 7:30AM Baay is more developed than Baguionas. Any 4-wheel drive vehicle can reach Baay (in the dry season). More know Ilokano and Tagalog. A few know English. They have electricity, churches, stores, and a small medical clinic with nurse staff. We became disturbed as time passed and the jeepney did not arrive. Brother Darwin had to leave so we began setting up for the medical mission, with no team and no transportation. Our attempts to call the others failed since cell phones weren’t reaching Baguionas. We were stuck.

Around 9AM, it occurred to me that is was time to be a team leader. There was a large group of people ready to be treated. There were only four of us, but two were doctors and one was a dentist. We decided that if our team did not arrive by 10AM we would do the medical mission ourselves. We would get the nurses at the local clinic to do registration and blood pressure, Dr. Rene would do medical, Dr. Myla would do dentistry, Dr. Evita would run the pharmacy, and I would do crowd control. While we did not wish to skip sharing the gospel, we had a moral obligation to provide the medical care we promised them. Our hosts found someone who could go to Baguionas to fetch some of the team. I paid a lot (by Filipino standards) for him to do it, but to me, $15 for a two-hour drive was a bargain, so I did not haggle. baguionas 2

At 9:45 over half of our team crawled out of a jeepney full of brooms and stumbled into the medical mission site. The local people cut tiger grass and make very pretty brooms, known as “Baguio Brooms”. They are popular and functional, and provide a profitable cottage industry for the people. The jeepney driver we had reserved did not see the team immediately, so he drove off without them. In desperation a part of our team began hiking the long steep road out of Bagyonas. 1.5 hours into their hike, they were able to get a ride with the broom jeepney. The rest of the team who were left behind were picked up by the driver we sent out, so all were in Baay before lunch.

Despite the difficulties (adventures?) of the morning, it was a wonderful day. Baay is on a mountain and the weather was cooler. The people were friendly and took good care of us. At the end of the day, we all got together to praise God for the opportunity we had to help people in need. We gave medical and dental treatment and medicines and vitamins freely to 513 people between the two locations, and 364 people prayed to receive Christ (not counting those who did at the film showing). This trip had been prayed for and planned long before we got there. Jesus’ words in the book of John were so true: “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” Many lives changed in those two days, and many hearts have been prepared for the future.

Time to go. There was only one jeepney available to take us back to Naguilian. I remarked casually about the lack of space for everyone and everything. I said I would be happy to ride on top, and would almost pay for the opportunity. What was I thinking? Pastor Samuel replied that I could not do that since riding on top of jeepneys is illegal. This statement was, of course, not serious, and is akin to an American saying, “Why of course we can’t, speeding is illegal!”

We packed everyone and everything aboard. This same jeepney had repairs done that morning since the driver felt it was unsafe for passengers (an amazing admission in the Philippines). I thought the jeepney was full, but I was wrong. Several more jumped on along the way and disappeared on top somewhere.

Since, I told you much of the rest at the beginning of the story, I shan’t bore you with redundancy. I was blessed in being able to learn and be a blessing. Always pray for cities like Baguio, and towns like Naguilian. But don’t forget about the little places where the road or footpath widens, like Baay and Baguionas. The mapmakers may ignore them, but we are called to reach out to them all, with love.

<This all happened in 2005. I would like to think that I know a little more now than then.  Maybe not.>

Articles/Posts on Medical Mission Work

There are a lot of articles and books on “How to Do Medical Missions.” Some are excellent and some may be good for other people but not for me. I have been more interested in why we do medical missions and how can it be integrated into broader long-term work. So I have a number of resources to consider.

1.  Visual Model on Relief and Development.  First Article of results of Dissertation of use of Medical Missions for long-term local church outreach.

2.  Healthy Medical Missions. Second Article of results of Dissertation of use of Medical Missions for long-term local church outreach.

3.  Changing Priorities in Christian Missions. Third Article of results of Dissertation of use of Medical Missions for long-term local church outreach.

Then I have several blog posts:

A.  Medical Mission Events in the Philippines. Part I.

B.  Medical Mission Events in the Philippines. Part II.

C.  Medical Mission Events in the Philippines. Part III.

D.  Medical Mission Events in the Philippines. Part IV.

E.  Medical Mission Events in the Philippines. Part V.