When it comes to Christians trying to convert others to Christianity, they have a tendency to try to fly in under the radar by employing stealth evangelism strategies to avoid causing alarm and suspicion with whomever they are engaging with. They deliberately try and avoid discussing controversial theological topics that might elicit disgust, contempt and angry criticism, thus scaring away a potential new convert. The most obvious topic is that of Hell and the concept of eternal suffering as punishment for finite worldly transgressions. Generally, people (at least in Western cultures) have at least a rudimentary understanding of the concepts of Heaven and Hell which is usually gleaned by the time one reaches the age of about ten or so years. For many people not raised in the Christian faith, having the subject of Hell raised during an evangelistic interaction can be off-putting enough to completely ruin the chance of a potential conversion. In modern times, methods of evangelism have been developed that employ more stealthy and underhanded tactics and it is these sorts of tactics that pastor John Cameron encourages the members of ARISE to use.
New converts to ARISE Church tend to be teenagers or first and second year university students. Usually, the personal decision to make a commitment to Jesus Christ occurs at the culmination of either a Church service or, more likely, on the grander scale of a rally specifically targeted at youth. The service, deliberately manufactured to to elicit an emotional response, consists of a persuasive pastor, an uplifting rock band, and impressive sound and lighting, which, when combined with peer pressure, removes all inhibitions and cognitive barriers, and compels a person to surrender to their emotions and make a commitment to “follow Jesus” and to “have a personal relationship with him.” Typically, new converts are profoundly ignorant of theology and the fundamental precepts of the Christian faith. These are gradually drip fed to them during “follow-up sessions” in which occur “Bible studies outlining the basic tenets of Christianity”. The concept of Hell and eternal suffering is typically not fully expounded with new believers until they have demonstrated receptiveness and have displayed a positive response to prior Bible studies. I will have more to say on this in another post.
But in this post I want to talk about the method of evangelism that members of the congregation of ARISE Church are taught to employ when interacting with regular, albeit non-Christian people, in every day situations. The method is based on the directive given by Jesus to some of his disciples which is recounted in at least two places in the Bible [New American Standard Version].
18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them,“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Take note of the key theme “fishers of men” expressed here. In June 2012, John Cameron gave a sermon titled “Let Me Tell You Why You Are Here”. In the last fifteen minutes of it he outlined the method of evangelism that was supposed to be effective in typical day to day interactions with others. His ideas regarding this were drawn from the theme “fishing for men”. The method is essentially an exercise in supplying small “bites” of information regarding the fact of ones own Christian faith and affiliation with a church, in this case ARISE Church. The aim is to gradually “bait” the interlocutor in to a discussion about Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ. This method can, in my submission, be considered to be evangelism by stealth. It intentionally diverts the focus of the discussion to portray the actions of the church and the beliefs that it professes only in the most favourable of light. This is misleading and deceitful because it purposely avoids talking about the absurd things that one must believe in, like talking snakes, nine-hundred year old men, a global catastrophic flood, angels, demons, resurrections, speaking in tongues, and all the other beliefs that are part and parcel if one subscribes to the Pentecostal version of Christianity.
To demonstrate what I mean, I will provide quotes from the sermon with some additional comments.
See, I think at times it’s easy as a Christian to prefer to be a secret Christian. Sometimes it’s just easier, isn’t it? Some rooms you walk in-I know it’s probably more true for certain people in this room than it is even for me-but you walk in there and you’re just like, you kind of have to gear yourself up, do you know what I’m saying? It’s like, “Ok, am I gonna do this thing, this public reveal in this room or not.” Anybody know what I’m talking about. It’s family Christmas, and you’re the only believer. Anybody know what I’m talking about right now. I’m saying sometimes it’s just easier to keep it a secret.
Here John lays the ground work as justification for the stealth evangelism method. The reasoning behind it is that Christians are aware that others with different beliefs are probably hostile to discussions about certain metaphysical propositions involving sin and accountability to an invisible deity. It’s easier to avoid that situation by not mentioning ones Christianity at all. But if the Bible calls followers of Jesus to be “fishers of men”, then some way must be devised where one can discreetly reveal ones christian faith without arousing the ire of whomever one is talking to.
When you set your kids up to sleep, you strategically place lights, ‘cause if it’s pitch black, then they might not go to sleep-not my children-but if there’s too much light, they’re not gonna go to sleep either. So we want just a little bit of light, but not enough that it truly wakes people up. And sometimes it’s easier-you know where I’m going right now-sometimes it’s easier just to have a little bit of light that can kind of get you through a dark day, encourage you when you’re feeling a bit down, you know, be with you in times of difficulty, but not enough that people around you are kind of like, “Wow, that is a bright light. Let’s discuss the light. Could somebody turn off the light? And God’s looking for some Christian who’s gonna understand that they’re there to be light, he never wanted us to put him in hiding. He just wanted us to let him out so that the world would know that Jesus is alive!
Here John highlights a directive given by Jesus that his followers are to to be the “light of the world”. Once again, allusions to discreetness are made by suggesting that Christians shouldn’t shine the light of their Christian faith too brightly lest it receives the negative attention of others.
But Jesus said, Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” He never said I will make you anything else. “[Speaking as Jesus] I’m not making some people fishers and other people teachers. I’m not making some fishers and other people pray-ers.” There’s only one form, one image, one likeness that Jesus is making you and I into, and that likeness is his likeness and he said you can characterise that likeness as being like a fisher of men.
Here John explicitly stresses the need to follow the directive given by Jesus to be a “fisher of men.”
But over summer I had to learn about fishing ‘cause my son, whom I love. I’m in to rugby, that’s awesome. I get to stand on the side of the pitch. I participate in the practices. He does soccer now, I’m into that. Fishing…? I love my son. So we’re out there, you know, and I realised some fundamentals.
John establishes the fishing setting where his realization occurred.
Alright, okay, to go fishing, you basically, you just need a rod, a reel, line. Then the key things are you need a hook and you need some bait. Fishing 101. Many Christians think that when Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men”, they think he was meaning I will make you dynamite fishers of men. You’ve met them haven’t you, the dynamite fishers. You know they kind of light the fuse, wait for it to burn down, throw the stick in to the water. And the fish are either number one: caught dead, or number two: getting as far away as humanly possible from the explosion that just went off. And I don’t think for a second Jesus wants our church to be dynamite fishers.
Okay, here I would like to point out a fairly glaring discrepancy in the analogy that John uses here. John refers to using the line and hook method of fishing. But in the verses of scripture where the directive from Jesus is taken, the brothers Simon and Andrew employed the fishing method of using a net, the only method that was employed in Biblical times.Notwithstanding this rather obvious error, John goes on to disparage the method of brazenly and overtly sharing ones faith; that in doing so, one destroys any chance one had of having a favourable interaction with a non-believer.
But, you know, fishing is actually pretty simple.
But basically to fish there’s something that’s up to the fisherman, right? You’ve got to fish where fish are, right? So the prayer meeting is a bad place to fish. Okay, alright. Take mental notes right now. But where you are, when you are where fish are, to be a fisherman basically means you have to take your hook and your bait and you throw it in the water. Listen. The rest is up to the fish. Jesus didn’t say I will make you catchers of men, he said I’ll make you fishers of men. To be salt and light is not a heavy deal that every person in our church needs to go around in a neighbourhood like, “[speaking as brazen Christian] Got my dynamite fuse lit, tsssss…DO YOU KNOW JESUS!…boomph.” It just means you take the hook, you put on the bait, and you throw it in the water.
Here John adds some detail to the method by mentioning the steps of using a hook and bait, and using it as an enticement for a potential faith sharing interaction.
So this is what I do. This is what…I fish every day, I fish for men. Every day. Whenever I meet people, I’m sitting down on the plane, the person next to me says, “What do you do?” For me it’s easy. I got it right there. I could say I am a communicator. I’m in voluntary sector management. Na man, I just say, “I pastor a church.”
C’mon, when people ask me my email address. I’ve got two. I’m ?????@arise.org.nz , that works, it gets to me. But I felt like god just said to me about two or three years ago,
“Why do you use that one?”
“Because it’s quick.”
“No no no, ‘cause you don’t have to fish.”
Because I’m enrolling my son, you know, in to rugby. I don’t know, maybe he’s a hater at the other end of the phone, but I’m like,
“My name is ?????@arisechurch.org.nz . ARISE Church, write it down, ARISE Church.”
“Okay, so you work for a church.”
“[noise to indicate line spooling off a fishing reel when cast].”
The line’s in the water, now what’s gonna happen?
C’mon man, I’m just fishing. Look, if the bait is not delicious, then they’re not gonna bite, alright.
Here John states that in his interactions with others, for his hook and bait, he uses either a statement that indicates he’s a pastor of a church or he tells people his email address which includes the domain name arisechurch.org.nz .
See, god just wants you to fish church. Every day he just wants you to fish. Being salt and light is just about having normal people who don’t know Jesus in your world.
Here John briefly reverts from specifics back to the big picture.
So then what happens? Sometimes the flight attendant, when she finds out I pastor a church and we’re sitting uncomfortably row, you know, you’re un…you’re uncomfortably close. You’re in row number one and they’re in an exit aisle that’s right there. And you kind of feel the need to, you know, shuffle to one side of your chair. Sometimes when I say I’m a pastor she’ll go, “Oh.” [audience: laughing] Man, I…I mean, I’ve…I’ve had them, they’ve cried, you know. Taken the opportunity to talk to a pastor.
Not once have I led somebody to the Lord on an aeroplane, but I reckon I’ve led a lot of people closer to the Lord on an aeroplane. I can’t catch ‘em but I can fish for ‘em.
Here it is revealed the success, or lack of, in regards to the effectiveness of this method in sharing ones faith on an aeroplane. It’s reasonable to assume that what was most likely politeness being shown by whomever John had happened to engage with, was perceived by john as indicative of being led “closer to the Lord”.
And so when I went to England, you know, I just gracious enough on the ticket and people that we’re, you know, putting it together and helping it make it happen. Flew me to England business class, which I’ve gotta say is awesome.
I pull out my, I pull out my, you know, my laptop, my Apple laptop, my iPad. I pull out my iPhone. I put them down and this lady on the other side of the aisle says, “You know, can you help me with my iPhone”, ‘cause she saw all my Apple stuff. I said, “Sure I can.” And it’s like this little cone of the plane. There’s twelve people there I think, or sixteen, and everyone’s kinda got their own little space you know. So I get up, I cross the aisle. I’m loud, you know me, I swallowed a megaphone when I was born. So I’m just like, “Well this is what you do, you know”, and she’s trying to send a photo to a friend. I’m like, “Oh, you don’t text it, you email.” You know, I just set her up and send the thing. She’s like, “Thank you.” I’m like, “No worries.”
Here John recounts the time he flew business class for a church trip. He helps a lady with a technical issue to do with the operation of her phone. This has the effect of piquing the interest of a couple sitting adjacent to him.
I sit down, you know. I get lost in the flight. We take off, you know. I’m, I’m listening to stuff. Eat my dinner. I take my headphones off at the end of dinner and there’s a couple sitting next to me, married couple. And ah, the husband-their sitting on either side of their table kinda having dinner- and she says to me, she says ah…he says to me, “We’ve been trying to work out what you do.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because, you know, you’re the youngest guy in the cone of this plane.” I’m like, “Thank you, thank you.” You know, “And we’re thinking, ‘How did he get up here’.” And they said, “We thought, we thought you must be either in IT”, ‘cause I helped the lady right, “or your in media, because you’ve got every known apple device known to man.” No, no, I’m just a sucker, alright. So I said to him, “You guess, you guess what I do.” He says, “Alright, I’m up for it. We’ve got fourteen hours.” You know what I’m saying.
The couple adjacent to John start up a conversation with him. After a few verbal exchanges John has established a enough rapport with the couple that the man John is talking to has no qualms about playing guessing game.
We spend the next thirty minutes, the next thirty minutes. And he’s like, “Are you in this?” I said, “No.” And I just started dropping in clues, you know. Ahh, you know, we whittle it down. It’s like, you know, finally I said to him, “No, I’m not, I’m not, I’m in a, I’m in a not for profit. I’m in a not for profit arena” So he’s like, “You’re a not for profit who’s in….” And then, you know, then he keeps on going. He’s like this and that and it was just, it was building it. And then, and then I, you know, “Would I have heard of you?”
“You might have.”
You know, he’s like, he’s asking me all these questions and I’m just telling him more and more and more about…”It’s only nine years old”
“Nine years old. I might have heard of it. It’s based in Wellington. He lives here in Wellington.”
And we’re just talking; he couldn’t get it. And eventually thirty-five minutes later I’ve told him the whole testimony of ARISE Church without telling him that I’m a Christian or that I pastor a church. “We have thousands of volunteers. We’re involved in the earthquake in Christchurch.” You know, I’m telling him everything. You know, Salvation Army came to us for help, Red Cross came to us for help, the city council… “So, the Christchurch City Council were handing out business about the organisation that you lead.” He’s trying wrap his head around it.
John keeps the guessing game going for thirty-five minutes, supplying a steady stream of tidbits of information. It’s notable that John emphasizes that he works for a not-for-profit organization. It has the sense of trying to give the appearance as someone with a high standard of morality and character by piggy-backing on the perception of genuine charities as being exemplar ethical organizations. He goes to talk up ARISE Church’s charity credentials by name dropping Salvation Army, Red Cross, and city council; organizations which they collaborated with during the Christchurch earthquake four years prior. John is rather chuffed with himself that he’s been able to erect an image in the mind of his interlocutor that his organization is primarily a charity, rather than honestly stating the true purpose of ARISE Church that he drums in to his congregation three times every Sunday, which is to “win people to Jesus” and to “see people come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and ultimately to “win a nation to Jesus”. This is deliberate misleading and insincerity and of the most promiscuous and exorbitant variety.
Thirty-five minutes later I said to him, “I am a Christian and I pastor a church in Wellington.” His jaw dropped. Then we spend another thirty minutes talking about Jesus and God and people coming to faith. It was an absolutely awesome time. C’mon man.
How many people know you don’t have to get a different personality? God’s not asking you to dress it up. He’s just looking for every person in this room to wake up every morning and just say, “Today, I’m going fishing. I’ve got my light, and I’m not putting a bushel over it. I’ve got my salt and I want people to taste it. I’m gonna walk in every room knowing that Jesus is with me, and I’m gonna do some fishing today.” And church, everybody in this room is here for a mission. We’ve all been put by God on this planet for a mission. The reason why we are here is for a mission.
So once the foundation was laid and John had successfully contrived an agreeable yet misleading perception of ARISE Church he then used this as a platform to introduce Jesus and God in to the picture. John has deliberately perched himself and his church on a moral elevation so that it is immune to criticism. Now any dim view of Christianity and Church that the man might have had previously is effectively nullified because he would be, in effect, detracting from the engineered status of ARISE Church as a charity with genuine and noble objectives in this realm. Well played John Cameron. You have perfected the method of stealth evangelism.