This I Used to Believe: Evangelism done well

May 12, 2009

This is Part 2 of a series on This I Used to Believe.

How can the same person be so good at evangelism, and also so bad at it?

Let’s look at the good first:

The radio show This American Life aired an episode called This I Used to Believe. The segment “Team Spirit in the Sky” begins with a description of a most unusual football game in which a coach at a Christian high school got his team’s fans to cheer… for the other team! Chances are good you’ve read about it, because this story went viral on the Internet:

Had you read that before? Well here’s a local television news report I hadn’t seen:

View more news videos at:

This coach did an amazing, Christ-like thing, and was recognized for it. Sort of “How Would Jesus Coach,” isn’t it? I would like to learn what you thought:

  • What was your reaction to reading/seeing this?
  • I have been loosely calling this evangelism. Is it?
  • What image does it paint of God?
  • Does it help repair the image of Christ’s followers? Is that important?

Please weigh in with your thoughts about any of the above.

(In part 3 I’ll look at the bad: How this same coach botched not one but two evangelistic opportunities.)

This I Used to Believe series:

  1. Introduction
  2. Evangelism done well
  3. Evangelism gone wrong

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

7 responses to This I Used to Believe: Evangelism done well

  1. Well, since you’d like me to “learn what I thought:” 😉
    * My reaction was sorta’ “Wow, that was kinda radical and risky, but totally cool” I also sniffled quite a bit. maybe that was the background music and slow-mos, but I did.
    * It was DEFINITLEY evangelism. Whether it was even intended to be or not, it certainly was, in that NBC picked up the story and it really demonstrated Jesus love for the lost.
    * It’s awesome to see a story about Christians loving God extravagently with a positive spin! So yeah, it does “repair damage,” somewhat. And yes, that IS important, but is not to be expected normally through the worlds eyes.
    thx for sharing this!

  2. Starr,
    Ugh, thanks for catching that typo (now fixed). I dunno, sometimes it’s important for me tolearn what I think! 😛
    I sniffled just reading the article. I also read it aloud to the family over dinner and got choked up, because it is so beautiful. Which makes the coming Part 3 even more potent…

  3. I like how you are approaching this, focusing on not only the bad parts but the good also. I would tend to just criticize the mistakes.
    At first, I wondered if the kids would even care if someone was cheering for them. But then when I saw the kids’ reaction, I thought it was amazing. It just said “We love you and believe in you”, to kids who really don’t get to hear that at all. And it required stepping outside of themselves, and not cheering for their own kids, which must have been hard.
    Is it evangelism? I think so. It is showing God’s love and not asking for anything in return*, which I think is the most powerful form of evangelism, which is also where the coach missed the boat in his phone calls (but that is for your next post.).
    *Like, “yes, we’ll do this nice thing for you, but now you have to sit down and listen to this 20 minute message.” Isn’t it better to just love people, and then if they ask why, tell them?
    * Does it help repair the image of Christ’s followers? Is that important?
    It shows that Christ’s followers are not always (or even usually) judgemental, standoffish, rigid or uncompassionate people. I think we get portrayed that way in the popular culture. I think it is important for people to see Christ’s love in action, which they don’t see often enough unfortunately.

  4. Sami, I look forward to what you have to say about part 3 (whenever I get there…)
    Your comments opened up a new realization for me: I had not considered how this game changed the families who cheered.
    In evangelism the way I learned it, I (the evangelist) am the benefactor who benefits you (the lost sinner) by conveying the truth to you, and you will be changed.
    In evangelism the way I am re-learning it, I experience Truth with you, and we are both changed.

  5. Jon,
    Sorry, I probably won’t stick to your 4 topics. I will try, but I am not very good at following directions.
    I want to discuss my reaction to the Original story regarding the game first, and then the points brought up during “This I Used to Believe” second.
    It thought what the coach encouraged his team’s fans to do was inspired and inspiring. I believe that his beliefs led him to the idea and his faith gave him the courage to make it happen. The gift he was able to give the young players on the other team could potentially turn some of them around from the self destructiveness that they were apparently on. It could even save some of their lives. But, I think he gave something even larger and more impactful to his team, their families, friends and families. He taught them how simple things we do can have an impact on others. Things that can have a dramatic positive effect on others don’t have to come from million dollar endowments that only a few privileged people can do, but from small, personal demonstrations of compassion and respect.
    The Piece “This I Used to Believe” I found fascinating, enlightening, and reminiscent of so many interactions or discussions that I have heard or been a part of.
    The two players in this story each had their own agenda. I don’t mean that in a bad way. They both felt that they needed to do something and did not want to fail at it. The woman had lost her faith. She attributed it to the loss of a friend to disease and she could not understand why God would let that happen. I have always disbelieved that you can use that as a reason to stop believing in God. I stopped believing in God a long time ago, and that would seem to me to be an convenient reason to tell others why you lost faith, but I can’t understand it. I believe that she never lost her faith, she only lost the energy to maintain it. When she saw what the coach was able to do, she felt he could possibly be the inspiration she needed to come back to her beliefs. Her struggle was with herself. Her insistence of the coach to tell her why God let her friend die like this was her own roadblock. I think that she knew the answer was that no one can tell her why. The coach was right on when he told her that. He should have stopped there.
    The Coach, on the other hand, had another agenda all together. This is where I flashed back to so many discussions I have heard in the past. As soon as the coach moved from telling her that no one could say why God let her die (I have problems with that implied connection), and started speaking of the evils of the world, he was grinding an ax that sent the whole interaction off at a 90 degree angle.
    He was no longer trying to help her regain her strength in her faith, he was trying to get her to validate his view of the world by seeing his biases. Right or wrong, he was taking advantage of her vulnerability to convert her to his view of the world.
    So, to try to address your points. I see a few examples of evangelism here, but maybe a more general use of the term. What the coach did for the game was definitely evangelism, not of Christianity, or even religion. He was showing, by example, compassion and helping the crowd see how they can make a difference. The second example of evangelism displayed was the type that makes me angry and I believe gives people of faith a bad image. He was arguing his point of view and then took it to, what I felt was, an illogical extreme.
    I found it interesting that the actions of the host and self described non believer, Ira Glass, is what seemed to enable her to ultimately regain the strength to renew her faith. Which is what she wanted all along.
    I don’t thing the piece painted any image of God, only the people with opinions about him/her/it.
    I don’t think that it repaired anyone’s image of Christ’s followers. It may have hurt or reinforced it, which makes me sad, because I don’t believe that the coach was a good example of a typical follower.
    And, yea, I think it is important.
    Sorry for the long comment. I have baggage.

  6. Tim,
    Wait, wait, you’re jumping ahead to my part 3! But that’s what I get for dragging this on for so long. 😉
    Thanks for your all thoughts on this. We should have lunch again sometime. I’d like to hear more about your baggage and the story behind it.
    So you think it’s important to repair the image of Christ’s followers? I’m curious, why?

  7. I do think that Christian followers have gotten a bad image. I think that the few have tainted the majority, but that few is very vocal.
    I have seen, not just Christianity but many faiths, be a positive influence and strong foundation in many peoples lives. Sure, it has been used as a justification for a lot of terrible things over the centuries too, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
    Peoples faith gives them strength, and if that strength makes their lives better, or the lives of others, I can’t and won’t argue with that. Even it I don’t believe in the same thing.
    My baggage is probably best referred to as my experiences growing up in a rigidly Catholic family, attending a Catholic school, and have seen many hurtful and cruel things done by some Christians to others using their faith as a sanctimonious justification. I think we can all think of examples we have seen from our own experiences.
    I prefer to judge actions in an ethical (with a secular meaning) rather than a moral (with a spiritual or transcendent meaning) context.
    Looking forward to part III.
    And pick a day for lunch. I will treat.