Insulting The Very People We Try To Evangelize, Or Disguising As Concern

Well, I don’t know how this one will go over…

Over the years I’ve been bothered by some of the language we Christians use.  I hope this doesn’t read like I’m venting a silly gripe – and though this isn’t the biggest deal ever I do consider it a worthy concern.

So here’s my big beef: that we call non-Christians “the lost.”

As in, “I really have a heart for the lost in my neighborhood.”

Okay, so you think I’m nit-picking. Allow me to explain why this rubs me the wrong way.

First of all, most people don’t consider themselves lost. Plenty of people who aren’t Christians feel pretty firm where they are, they don’t feel this huge void or like they’re wandering aimlessly. If they did consider themselves lost they’d go looking (and maybe even end up finding Jesus looking for them).

From an evangelism point of view, I think we misread our “target audience” by calling them lost, because the label, at least for me, conjures up images of weak, emotionally frail people who are swayed by the slightest breeze. And though this world is indeed tough, it’s not an accurate portrayal of the majority of non-Christians.

Of course some would say “they don’t even realize how lost they are!” and I think this is rooted in the presentation of the gospel as the missing piece in your life – as if finding Jesus solves everything. While Jesus certainly gives us meaning, he doesn’t complete us.

I think the roots of the term trace to the Romans Road evangelism strategy, which in order to help the person arrive at the conclusion they are in need of savior they first are damned and shown just how terrible they are. The danger in that is the only message that actually stays with the person is “you are a dirty, rotten, poor excuse for a human being.”

Thus the biggest complaint I have with the use of this language is that it’s demeaning and insulting to those considered lost. By the simple act of calling someone lost we implicitly are saying that we, by contrast, are “found.” And to me, this can create a sort of accidental yet convenient hierarchy where we are high up and holy, and meanwhile non-Christians are lowly, helpless and pitiful little puppies who don’t know anything.

That’s dramatic I realize, but I do think this is what our language implies (and even reinforces in our own minds). Ultimately our use of the label simply shows we don’t know the people we want to convert very well and that we make snap judgments without understanding them. We cheapen their entire existence by summing it all up as being lost and purposeless.

Frankly, if (and when) non-Christians overhear us referring to them this way, I suspect they feel very talked down to. Maybe it’s my defiant streak, but if I were a non-Christian and heard this rhetoric being used, I’d be spiteful, and maybe even closed off to their input. Insulting someone is not a very good “hello.”

This is another post where I’m taking a chance and throwing out there some thoughts that likely will get be lampooned and corrected. All that to say I want to hear what you think about this. Am I being picky? Have you shared this concern too? Indulge me, please, I truly do want it.

This entry was posted in Christians Are Redeemed Yet So Very, Very Fallen, Questions I Don't Have Answers To. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Insulting The Very People We Try To Evangelize, Or Disguising As Concern

  1. Amanda says:

    What do you think is the defining difference between Christians and non-Christians?

  2. Dude. This is so true.

    Very similar to the statement “love the sinner, hate the sin.” You’ve alienated 100% of the homosexual community right there, and they SURE aren’t going to come to your church at that point. (“You” is not directed at Charlie, but at the person speaking…)

    The word “lost” to a fundie Christian doesn’t mean what it does to the non-Christian. To the fundie, it means “not born again.” That’s all it means. Like you say very well, though, to the non-Christian, it means “don’t have a clue what I’m doing”. That, most likely, ticks them off a good bit at some level.

    While I’m not hyperactive about Christian Correctness (we fuss a lot about Political Correctness but play EXACTLY the same game with our Christianese expressions), we definitely need a lot of work with the language we use in connecting with non-Christians.

  3. David says:

    The term lost is not big deal. It really only appears in the parable of the Prodigal Son – the NIV subtitle in regards to Jesus – He never used that specific term. The Bible speaks of the lost sheep of Israel. Psalm 119:176 I have strayed like a lost sheep. These are not goats; they are sheep from the fold that have gone astray.

    The crowning blow is this verse: Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

    The term is cemented by its use in Amazing Grace.

    People who are lost are also blind. 1 Corinthians 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen. If you read on they also became fools – and these were folks that knew about God! It gets worse. I suggest that you read 1 Cor 1.

    I guess the question is how politically correct are we going to make sin? What term are we going to use to describe the depravity of the unredeemed? I am not for meeting someone I have never met, and shaking their hand as I tell them they are going to Hell. Showing love sometimes means serving others, but there is also a Gospel which we are meant to preach.

    Every business has its insider terms – you’d be appalled at what folks are can be called in medical shorthand. I am with you as far as public use – signs, billboards etc. But I have no problem with biblical terms being used in context: in fact I am all for it.

    Americans for the most part, have an easy life in which it is simple to think about lots of other things beside food, clothing and shelter. For the most part, they don’t live in fear of much. I did find it interesting how agnostics and atheists alike flocked to houses of worship after 9/11.

    My take is this, people will stay lost and blind until they reach a place where they sense a real need, and give God and opportunity to fill it. For the moment, there are loads of safety nets from soup kitchens and government entitlement programs to bankruptcy and honest gain. Most of us are rich rulers compared to the rest of the world. There is no special Gospel for the upper and middle class.

    I always comes down to hearing God, and carrying it out. The Gospel will never exclude repentance or the threat of eternal damnation. Of course the Gospel will always need to be applied with love, wisdom and grace.

    • oh I didn’t realize Jesus used the term. Got me!

      I’m not trying to attempt to make sin politically correct – I do think when we are dealing with people who aren’t like us (ie Christians) we can’t expect them to be held to our same standards. Maybe instead of simply labeling the sin, when can walk with the person and show them why it is sinful, how it is destructive.

      You make a great point that in our society all these conversations and debates are luxuries and merely point to how well we have it.

      • David says:

        Right, and this entire idea of Christian Culture makes me crazy. It is just repackaged religion that is anemic at best. Christianity is a sub-culture that only has value to those in it.

        We have got to get to a place where we actually have a relationship with Jesus in which he gets to do things – his stuff. That includes how He engages with the lost to bring them into the fold using you and me.

        Do yourself a BIG favor and read Kathryn Kuhlman’s “I Believe in Miracles.”


        If you hate it, I will send you a gift certificate at Amazon to repay you.

      • As far as making sin PC, I agree. We don’t need to go there. The problem is that we often approach non-Christians with the attitude of “I’ve got it all together, and you don’t. You stink, and I know how to fix you. I’m right, you’re wrong. You need to agree with ME or you are going to burn in hell forever.” It virtually always boils down to “you versus me.” Somebody is right and somebody is wrong. Evolution versus creation. Gay versus straight. Democrat versus Republican. Abortion versus choice. Rock music versus Southern Gospel. That’s what “witnessing” all too often boils down to. And what I see Charlie’s point here as being is that we need to LET JESUS SHINE and do the miraculous stuff that He does, rather than trying to convince people that we are right and they are wrong. We’ve (Christians) argued with non-Christians for years, and quite honestly, we’re losing. Fewer people believe us now than ever. Our credibility is almost zero with a large section of the demographic. Fewer and fewer people seek Christians for answers, and more and more tweeners are turning away than ever. Jesus didn’t command us to argue with the non-believers, as best I am aware. Paul mentions being ready to give an answer, but I believer there’s necessary context there, too. But, for me, there’s a huge question of “DO I REALLY LOVE THESE PEOPLE? Or do I just claim to because that’s what Christians HAVE to do?” And if I REALLY love them, I’m not just going to be looking for that 30 second encounter of “sharing the Gospel” and being able to wash my hands of any guilt. I’m going to be looking for EVERY way possible to convince that person that the way of Jesus is THE WAY. And I’ll guarantee you that arguing with them or being insulting about the beliefs they have is NOT going to show them that.

      • David says:

        @Bernard – right, so how do we get stupid Christians to shut up and follow Jesus? We are failing at that too.

        As I said – We have got to get to a place where we actually have a relationship with Jesus in which he gets to do things – his stuff. That includes how He engages with the lost to bring them into the fold using you and me.

        Playing Bible Battleship isn’t working – that is what the Pharisees did.

      • hot dog Bernard that was freaking beautiful! I was fist pumping while reading that! So many spot on critiques, goodness golly me! I totally agree that Christian credibility is diminishing by the day (hence the post I wrote to follow up on this one about Christianity lagging behind the times)

        I definitely see what David’s saying too – that so many of Christianity’s problems are solved relatively easily by people simply following Jesus, hearing his voice and resting in that relationship. Humans complicate things through religion (imagine that!)

  4. Brian says:

    Agree. As a nurse, I am a target for evangelism. I had a patient ask me last week whether or not I go to church. I said no. Then, she emphatically stated, “then your not going to be ready for the rapture.” I also was told by a patient family member that I could not imagine the peace that comes from trusting the Lord. I replied,”Oh yes I can.” Living in one of the most churched towns in America, I find myself viewing the church as an outsider. I mean, I don’t have any tattoos, never had tongue or ear piercings, and I don’t cuss (at least in public, that is), but I often find myself being a target as an “unchurched” person. I guess in our truest nature, we all like to be superior to others, and it often manifests itself in our speech. Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee stated, “I thank you that I am not like other men.” I believe its not until the Lord allows us to fall hard before we are able to repent of this natural attitude of superiority. I have had it, have it, and probably will struggle for life to crucify it, and I am sick of it.

    • I too have experienced the attempted evangelism – all the more frustrating when they don’t seem to believe you that you’re a Christian, presumably because of your appearance.

      I definitely agree we seem to have this deep desire to feel superior, which of course runs totally contrary to the servitude Jesus taught. I suppose I wouldn’t have to write this blog post if religious people were focused on serving those they call lost.

  5. Larry Hughes says:

    AS a very young lad Curoius of every thing around me, I always went down town for the family shopping on Saturdays. There was always a person standing on a given street corner that caught my attention preaching with a bible in one hand and pointing up to the sky slapping the buble intermittently. Bible thumpers they were called. Their words were always about damnation and we all are going to hell. One once even pointed and looked straight at me and said that. Never once did I hear of God’s love from them so my first early knowlegdge of God was He was going to fry every one in hell. So naturally, I really wasn’t a part of the flock of Jesus back then ( lost soul).

    In what you described I think you are saying people are being judgemental before one even gets to know a person. How hypocritical can one be calling others lost and yet profess to be a Christian? It is like saying I am spiritually perfect, everone else is a sinner. Isn’t it a shame that one has to put lables on everyone else? I know, I am guilty of it too but I am a messy Christ follower. Sorry, I am not perfect by a long shot, but I think God overlooks that in most people that try to be Holy. He just gives them another chance no matter ho many times they foul up.

    Isn’t that amazing? A forgiving , loving God.

    • you summed it up Larry – it all comes down to judgment. And I think when people get involved in religion, self righteousness simply naturally pops up, and people think their newfound religion is a license for superiority, and therefore handing down judgment. We all know its the very opposite with Jesus, that our newfound religion is a license for grace and forgiveness.

  6. Pingback: Christianity Still Sitting In The Dark Ages, Or The Tale Of The Self-Inflicted Foot Wound | Charlie's Church of Christ

  7. With this self judgment smart people just assume they know best because they know it all. I have decided it is not if you know the answer to a quantum physics equation but do you know where to go to get the answer.Let me see a show of hands if you have heard this line.

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