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The Gospel by stealth Last update: September 2013

BY: Bob Burnett

Disclaimer: Whilst I believe the article below makes for good reading, I cannot vouch for the findings or assertions therein. The reader is advised to do their own research into the topics covered, and to apply their own mind as to the meaning of what is reported.

When the phone rings and the caller asks can he conduct a survey, my alarm bells ring. I’ve been here before. Often, though not always, “survey” is a euphemism for “marketing”; they’re trying to sell me something and the “survey” is the pheromone to draw me in so they can deliver their sales pitch. That’s not marketing, that’s marketing by stealth, and it is duplicitous and offensive.

I’m all in favour of marketing and enterprise; tell me what you’re selling and how much it costs and I’ll tell you if I want to buy one. But marketing by stealth is an affront.

Therefore, my alarm bells rang doubly loud when the representative of a well-known Christian para-church organisation rang me and asked could he conduct a survey, over the phone.

He aggressively quizzed me about my church’s mission priorities and programs. Now, I’m happy to speak about missions, and our missions strategy, in the right context, but in the course of this phone call it became patently clear that the caller couldn’t care less about my missions program. He was merely trying to sell me on the organisation for which he worked, implying that money spent with them would produce good kingdom ministry.

Again, I’m all in favour of spreading the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and the news of his coming Kingdom. But I’m concerned that Christian organisations have adopted the ubiquitous stealth method, as if the means justify the end.

If you want me to support your mission, tell me what you do and how much you need and I’ll help you if I’m able and committed to what you are doing. But to use stealth is to trash the entire foundations of Christian missions, because stealth is counter to the free offer of grace in Christ.

The Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest missionary ever, said (2 Corinthians 4:2) “… we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”

I rank the Christian survey as “secret and shameful ways”, as “deception”, which are the very things Paul had renounced and which ultimately will do Christianity more harm than good.

I know that on university campuses, the “survey” method has been used by some campus ministries to try to engage people with the gospel of Christ. But such methods should be categorically abandoned; I have witnessed the damage they cause to the ongoing work of spreading the good news of Jesus. Just try speaking about Christ to someone who’s been offended by the duplicitous “survey” method.

Evangelism by stealth, in all its forms, whether the “survey” or some kind of ministry labelled as “flying under the radar”, will further serve to sour people against Christ in a country where the church already is struggling for credibility.

In our dealings with one another, we must be straight talkers and straight dealers. In our dealings with the world we must be no less than straight talkers and straight dealers, lest we be labelled hypocrites.

If we are for Christ and represent Christ, then we need to make that clear to the people with whom we wish to share Christ. People may refuse to hear us; that’s their right. Jesus reminded us that there are more opportunities than there is lifetime.

But if you keep hammering where you’re not wanted, or worse still, approach your targets by stealth, you are detracting from the gospel and discouraging the growth of Christianity.

Tell people what you are really on about, ask them (if necessary) for a minute of their time, give them the right to refuse, but don’t leave them feeling as if they’ve been mauled by duplicitous and crooked speech.

You must always leave room for someone else to continue the gospel conversation which you began with that person, even if your conversation didn’t advance very far. At very least you should ensure that everyone’s contact with you, or your organisation, is a positive experience, for the sake of Jesus.



Bob Burnette is a pastor of many years. He is a husband, father and friend. And he is a people's man.

What I really like about Bob's article is that, amongst others, he shows that it should not be about our clever words or 'recruitment techniques' in bringing people to Christ; Firstly, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16-17). And, secondly, it is God doing the work through His Gospel - we do not have to rely on dubious techniques to make Him known (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Thanks Bob.

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Please consult the Bible and test what is written here. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in this area. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not Scriptual. Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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