It’s official. I no longer like e-mail.
That wasn’t always the case. I still remember discovering e-mail for the first time. My computer modem was as large as a vintage radio and as loud as a jet engine, but it allowed me to contact friends at a moment’s notice, at any time of the day or night. “You’ve got mail!” were welcomed words back then.
Not anymore. Not only does the constant vibration of my iPhone remind me that life is too busy, but the e-mails I receive sometimes only hinder communication. Most of us have experienced the anxiety of reading wrong emotions into an e-mail and/or explaining a misunderstood message we sent. The e-mail symbols designed to express emotion simply cannot replace give-and-take, ask and respond conversations when emotions are involved.
In other cases, e-mail provides a means to express much more – too much, and in much less God-honoring ways – than we would say personally. We give too little thought to our words when communication is between computer screens rather than two people looking each other in the eye. The buffer of cyberspace somehow permits us to be rude and ungodly in our interaction with others.
My biggest concern about e-mail, though, is that this medium makes it possible to send messages without ever talking to each other. I have in my archives dozens of messages from friends who write regularly, but whose actual voices I have not heard in years. Why pick up the phone when I can just send an e-mail? At least this way I know I will not get a busy signal or an answering machine. I am a strong introvert, but I still fear that face-to-face conversations have sometimes been unintentionally sacrificed on the altar of e-mail convenience.
Of course, my distaste for email is really only partial. I’m excited when I hear from long-lost friends who found me via the web. I can now easily communicate with missionaries around the world. Their concerns are distributed and prayers sent heavenward following just the click of a computer key. And, email has provided unprecedented opportunities for doing evangelism, especially for believers who might be less inclined to speak face-to-face about Jesus.
On the other hand, my concern that email promotes faceless communication is matched by a similar concern about current trends in evangelism. Think about it –
- Evangelism in many churches is about believers responding to a guest who first visits the church rather than believers proactively sharing Christ. If the non-believer makes the first move, we are then ready to respond with the gospel.
- Evangelism is sometimes reduced to “invite others to church, where someone else [that is, the preacher] will tell them about Jesus” during the sermon. In that case, nobody does personal evangelism.
- In some congregations, evangelizing takes place more on the international mission field – as essential as that task is – than in a church member’s neighborhood. The same believer who travels overseas to speak of Christ through a translator often leapfrogs his own unbelieving neighbors who speak the same language.
- Despite the New Testament emphasis on laity, many churches still relegate evangelism to hired clergy. As one church member told me, “We pay them to do that because they’re the ones trained for it.” Personal involvement in evangelism is thus equated with putting a check in the offering plate on Sunday.
I realize I may have just frustrated some readers, so I need to be clear here. I fully support using any God-honoring means to spread the gospel, and ignoring current technological advances means missing great opportunities now available. I want church members to appreciate God’s work through their church so much that they willingly invite their friends to attend. My heart beats with global missions, and I’ve seen church members more committed to local evangelism after returning from the mission field.
I also believe clergy must set the example in doing evangelism, and they should see the pulpit as one means of evangelizing. The preached gospel should always offer life to those who respond in repentance and faith. Hence, I am not discounting any of the evangelism methods and strategies listed above. I am simply saying they are not enough if evangelism is not also personal.
Yes, write evangelistic emails, invite your neighbors and friends to church, follow up with guests, take mission trips, and expect your pastor to be a model. Prayerfully support all your church does to reach your community.
Don’t forget, though, to tell others about Jesus – and take the risk to do it face-to-face.