Last year, I came home from a preaching trip and ran into my apartment manager on the sidewalk as I was unloading my car. “Good to have you back,” she said. “I guess you’ve been out motivating the tribe?” She winked as she said that. Secular-minded and dubious about the whole idea of religion, she was saying something like this: “Gary, you’re not likely to convince anybody in the public that your message is true, so you’ve found a way to make a living just ‘motivating the tribe’ — preaching to those who already agree with you.”
This person was a friend, and her good-natured tease was not meant to offend. But it hit home. Sadly, many of us who “preach” spend little time doing anything that resembles evangelism. In a culture where it is increasingly hard to find unbelievers who will listen, it is tempting to throw up our hands and quit. What worries me, however, is that our conscience is not even bothering us much anymore. We’re comfortable being the congregation’s “minister.” The gig we aspire to would be a nice mix of pulpiteer/pastor/program director.
Unfortunately, our problem is exacerbated by the narrow partisanship in the world today, a world where people no longer talk to anybody except their tribe. In the “news” and “social media”, we no longer feel any need to interact with people who don’t agree with us. We may say nasty things about them behind their back, but we see no need to communicate with — much less persuade — them. They simply don’t count. If they don’t agree with us, they can be ignored.
In this kind of environment, our own tribe seems a very safe circle to stay inside of. It’s easy to settle for nothing more than intramural (“inside the walls”) activities. But I believe we must resist this temptation. (1) We need to keep trying to find people to study the gospel with. (2) We need to learn some “languages” different than our own (and not just linguistically but culturally). (3) We need to improve our listening skills, being genuinely willing to learn as well as to teach. (4) We need to persevere and be patient. (5) We need to preach the word of God “even if it isn’t the popular thing to do” (2 Timothy 4:2 CEV).
Evangelism must remain a high priority with us. No matter how difficult it is, we must keep trying to communicate with those around us. We must get out of our comfort zones. The Lord is not going to be pleased if we simply give up, retreat to the safety of our church buildings, and settle into a routine of doing nothing more than “motivating the tribe.” The tribe certainly needs to be motivated, and that is a part of our work, but the Lord expects us to do more than encourage one another. The world around us is like a building that is burning to the ground. Do we not care enough to try to rescue some of those who are dying? If the roles were reversed, what would we want them to do?