John, Bill, & The Umbrella Cleaning Pickle: Effective (and ineffective) Evangelism in Today’s Culture

We all have beliefs, particularly about sin. But what happens when our beliefs about sin become beliefs about people, or worse–about friends? How do we share Truth without looking like cold, uncaring people?

Let’s be hypothetical here, shall we? Let’s say I believe that cleaning an umbrella is wrong. (What, don’t you ever clean your umbrella? No? YOU SICK, SICK PEOPLE!) Anyone who cleans their umbrella is, in fact, “sinning”. So say someone, we’ll call him John, jumps into “sin” and begins cleaning his umbrella every day, even when it’s not dirty. It soon becomes a regular act for John. In fact, at some point, it becomes a part of his routine. It becomes normative (that’s a fun word—kinda rolls off the tongue). The sin of umbrella cleaning is no longer just a hobby for John, but rather, it becomes a lifestyle.


Meanwhile, on Bill’s side of the tracks, Bill speaks out against umbrella cleaning. Bill believes it to be wrong and sinful. Yet as Bill, along with many others, believes and proclaims this truth, the masses are slowly accepting umbrella cleaning as a normal part of life. Bill sees all of this happening, and it troubles him, but he is an outsider looking in, or an insider looking out, not sure which—either way, he is disconnected from all umbrella cleaners, and from John. Bill exists within his little bubble of dirty umbrella holders. All Bill’s acquaintances carry dirty umbrellas, and pride themselves in their ability to avoid cleaning said umbrellas. They are happy with their dirty umbrellas, and as long as they don’t know any umbrella cleaners, railing against such sinful actions is easy for Bill and his friends.

So, they create their billboards:

They hold up their misspelled protest signs:

Protest Sign

And they update their Facebook statuses:

“I just saw someone cleaning their umbrella in the middle of Chick-fil-a. What is this world coming to?!?!?!”

But at some point, everything changes. Because suddenly Bill meets John the umbrella cleaner, and in fact, they become fast friends. And remember, John doesn’t just clean his umbrella every now and then…he cleans his umbrella ALL. THE. TIME. Umbrella cleaning is not just an act John sometimes commits; it is a LIFESTYLE for him. It’s all he knows. Some of Bill’s dirty umbrella friends nearly disown Bill for befriending the umbrella cleaning John. But their friendship is real, and Bill is convinced that he needs to continue his friendship with John, despite their umbrella cleaning differences.


Now Bill suddenly realizes that when he speaks against the act of umbrella cleaning, he is actually speaking against his new-found, umbrella cleaning friend. And he is not merely asking John to change his actions, he is asking John to change his entire life. Bill’s belief is no longer just against a specific action, but rather, it is against a specific person. Bill is in an umbrella cleaning pickle (a phrase I never dreamed I’d write). How does he speak against umbrella cleaning without speaking out against his friend John? How does he talk to John about what he believes without completely tuning John out?

And THIS is the question we must begin to answer as Christians. Some are very good at proclaiming how wrong and sinful things can be. But when they proclaim their beliefs against certain actions, somewhere along the line, they are proclaiming their beliefs against PEOPLE, individuals, and yes, even friends. And the problem is not that they are seen as being against sin, the problem is that they are seen as being against PEOPLE, against “rights,” and against happiness. The dirty umbrella holders understand that this simply isn’t the case, but how do they make that clear? How can they separate actions from people? I’m not sure they can. And perhaps there’s the problem. Perhaps some are more concerned with the action than the person. But consider this…

What if one day you found out that your son, daughter, brother, dad, grandma, or other loved one was an umbrella cleaner? How would you approach the subject with your loved one? I’d venture to guess we wouldn’t address their umbrella cleaning ways through billboards, protest signs, and Facebook statuses. I have a feeling it would be done through loving conversations had in the midst of loving relationships, sitting on park benches or around dinner tables. At least, that’s how it SHOULD be addressed.

bench couple

So, here’s my challenge: go make some new umbrella cleaning friends. Jesus was actually accused of being a drunk and a glutton. Why? Because he was found often associating with such people. When our evangelism becomes entrenched in our relationships, suddenly our lifestyle means more than our words. Jesus spoke the truth, but he also LIVED the truth. Speaking the truth is easy, but in a world that doesn’t believe in Truth, it’s not quite as effective as it once was. For this reason, I am convinced that today truth is best shared through the way we live as much as (or more than) what we speak, which makes us all accountable for our actions. And I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

Now, go dirty your umbrella, you filthy umbrella cleaner. REPENT OF YOUR WIKED UMBRiLLA CLEENING WAYS! THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND!

Oops, that’s not how it’s done.

Do as I say, and not as I do.

Happy Evangelism.

And here’s to hoping this final pic in no way tempts you:

Umbrella Cleaner

If you’re still feeling sinful, try reading this:
How To Clean An Umbrella

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