Consider perceptions of unchurched, Seay says

Texas Baptist Communications, Feb. 1, 2003
By John Hall, Texas Baptist Communications

ARLINGTON–Baptists must rediscover the heart of Jesus to overcome their image and heal those who have been scarred by past outreach attempts, according to Chris Seay, pastor of the progressive Ecclesia Church in Houston.

Many Baptists have failed to understand and deal with the perceptions non-Christians commonly have, Seay said at the Texas Evangelism Conference Jan. 28. And Baptists fail to understand why non-believers view many evangelistic efforts as a threat to their livelihoods, he added.

The common image of Baptists that non-believers glean from the media is a group of infighters and arguers, Seay suggested. “People don’t want to be part of a group where they hear you are fighting and bickering. We have to deal with our own issues.”

Past evangelistic efforts also have given Baptists a bad reputation, Seay added. Some non-believers feel Baptists have pretended to be their friend to convert them. When they did not respond as hoped, the Baptist broke off the relationship, he said.

“We can’t drop proposition bombs on you,” Seay explained. “We’re going to have to get to know you.”

Trying to convert people by threatening them with damnation also damaged the Baptist image, Seay said. While the approach may initially have caused children to pray for salvation, many of those children have grown up with a resentment toward Baptists for the tactics.

“That’s not why I love my God,” Seay said. “It has nothing to do with escaping the flames of hell. That’s a side benefit. The God I love has a message of love and servanthood.”

The church should rethink what it means to be a Christian, Seay preached. True entrance into the faith brings a person into a relationship with Jesus and a Christian community.

“We’re going to have to think about what it means to be in the faith,” he said. “To say a prayer, does that mean you’re in the faith? No!”

Many presuppositions Baptists have held since the 1950s are no longer true, the pastor advised. Tracts have largely become ineffective because so many people do not know anything about Jesus’ story, he explained.

Many people today are craving love after suffering through a tumultuous family life filled with neglect, Seay said. Christians must respond to this need as Jesus would–by sincerely meeting their desires.

“We’ve got to begin where they’re asking,” he taught. “In that dialogue, we’re going to become friends and something is going to happen.”

Baptists’ duty is not to straighten out the morals of other people, but to share the gospel with others, he declared. Too often Baptists require a person to meet a moral standard, although no one meets the sinless standard of Jesus, he noted.

The Holy Spirit will convict people of sin in their lives, he said. “They’re going to get their stuff together after you and your people love on them.”

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