The failure of evangelism

January 4, 2013 

Somewhere in America this week, predominately white evangelicals will donate money to fund missionaries and begin organizing summer mission trips.

Around the nation, evangelicals will hear tales of their missions, missionaries and money at work drawing people in foreign lands and occasional parts of the United States to Christ. They will get lists of where their missionaries are, some with the word “sensitive” in place of the name of China or Syria or Cuba. They will pray.

On Monday morning, many in “Evangelical America” will get up and take their kids off to a church affiliated school, having chosen to remove their children from declining, failing and secular government schools. Others will wake and teach their children themselves, sometimes combining with other parents to home-school.

On Sunday morning, many curious newcomers will probably go into a church not called a church lest it deter them, where they will experience a Christ who may or may not be as the Christ they seek who is and was when they were young and more open to receiving him. The conversion of the flock is not as difficult when done at an early age when the mind is still open to the miraculous.

What evangelicals will most likely not do at all this year is write a check to send a stranger’s child, most likely a minority, in a public school to a Christian school. This is one of the greatest failures of the evangelical church in America.

Long before the Protestant church took up the cause of life, their Catholic brothers and sisters were on the front lines of the abortion fight championing children still to be born.

In fact, much of the Protestant church was indifferent to or supportive of abortion rights. But as mainline denominations began to crumble under the weight of their increasing embrace of the world and evangelicals increasingly became the voice of American protestantism, the Protestant Church began to take up the cause of life with Catholics.

Catholics have also led the way in America in sectarian educational missionary work. It has not always been successful and in some cases has become unrecognizable from secular institutions. But much of the work the Catholic Church has done to fund schools that the poor can go to has been successful. Often, the Catholic Church has done more with less than the surrounding public schools.

By contrast, much of what amounts to Christian education among evangelicals in America is educational separation from the secular world. In this separation, though, they have not been great missionaries to the outside world.

While some opportunities exist for poor children in public schools to go to Christian schools, they are of limited purpose. The number of evangelical schools in America designed as tools of missionary outreach to a secular world are few and far between.

Christians in America will fund missionaries to China or Appalachia, but in their own backyard are poor children in broken homes whose only way out is through education. Christians should start schools tomorrow across America to try to pull the future away from the precipice.

The missionary dollars of “Evangelical America” are needed as much in this nation for teaching children increasingly removed from presuppositional Judeo-Christian values so many once took for granted. Evangelicals should stop ceding ground to secular failure or stop lamenting the creeping secularism in a nation whose children are taught in morally relative public schools.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Erick Erickson is a CNN contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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