The Hard Truth About "Soft-Sell" Evangelism

By Rabbi Michael Skobac

Shakespeare captured it best when he observed, “A rose by any other name is still a rose”. When it comes to salesmanship -- which is essentially what evangelism is all about -- the “soft-sell” is still a sales pitch. The “soft-sell”, however, seeks to disarm us by short-circuiting our natural defensive instincts.

Over the years, many Jewish people have acquired a healthy suspicion regarding missionaries and cult recruiters. We know that they are out to convert us, so we are able to actively ignore them or prepare ourselves to resist their overtures. Now, after repeatedly running into brick walls, missionaries are using inventive ways to fly under our radar screen.

Their innovative “soft-sell” evangelism deliberately takes advantage of our popularly held stereotypes about how missionaries work and what they look like. As in the practice of judo, indirect or “soft-sell” proselytizing uses our own preconceptions against us. For example, we assume that if someone isn’t carrying a large Bible and preaching endlessly about Jesus and the need to be saved, then that person really isn’t interested in converting us. Taking a page out of today’s sophisticated advertising and sales techniques, today’s low-impact missionaries avoid direct hyping of their product and prefer to simply create warm’n’fuzzy impressions and positive branding.

Occasionally, these “soft-sell” missionaries experience “loose-tongue syndrome” and clearly articulate their strategy. Joe Dean, founder of an American Christian-Zionist organization, explained in an interview that, “By standing with the Jewish people in love and support, we can provoke them to jealousy, as the apostle Paul said, so as to win them to Christ. Not by cramming the gospel down their throats, but by showing that our faith produces faithful works. I have told the Jewish agencies that we are not an evangelical group as such, and this is true. We are not actively trying to win Jews to Christ – but by taking this stand, the Jewish people don’t run away from us, and we are able to witness to them indirectly.

Chosen People Ministries is one of the largest Christian missionary organizations in the world that specifically targets the Jewish community. In a recent letter sent to their Canadian supporters, they explained how their staff was using an “undercover” approach to make meaningful contact with Jewish people. One missionary in Montreal “found ways to touch Jewish hearts with the Gospel by taking Hebrew classes and befriending her classmates and teachers.” Another missionary from their Toronto branch spent a year in Israel where “she worked in an Israeli hospital and had some extraordinary opportunities to share with her co-workers.” Rather than working in the hospital as an overt missionary easily identifiable by her Jewish targets, the “soft-sell” style understood that working covertly as an “imbedded” missionary is a far more effective approach.

Israel’s Hope”, operating primarily in Ontario and Quebec, is another missionary organization reaching out to Jews. An article in their current newsletter outlined how they were pursuing a more “indirect” approach to sharing their faith with the Jewish community. “There are many approaches to sharing the gospel with the Jewish community, from direct cold-turkey (sic) evangelism to the longer relational style of evangelism. The latter is more akin to a lengthy dialogue.” The writer then discusses several examples of this type of evangelism, including his participation in inter-faith humanitarian meetings regarding the Darfurian crisis in the Sudan, as well as Christian-Jewish discussion groups focusing on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Their obvious agenda is to actively seek ways to subtly inject the gospel message into those inter-faith humanitarian meetings and discussion groups with large Jewish attendance.

For years, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) has been respected by the worldwide Jewish community as a steadfast friend and supporter of Israel. Every year, they organize a Feast of Tabernacles program after the High Holidays that attracts thousands of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. The Embassy has always portrayed itself as an organization with no connection to Jewish evangelism. However, in previous issues of our Lifeline newsletter, Jews for Judaism has documented the ongoing involvement of the Embassy in efforts to convert Jews.

We recently acquired tapes of meetings from a Feast of Tabernacles program run by the ICEJ. One of their sessions was entitled, “Fulfilling the Great Commission”. (In the Christian Bible, the “Great Commission” was the mandate given to the church to spread its religion throughout the world). At the end of the program, a female participant identified herself as a missionary to the Jewish people in Israel who focused her outreach on members of the Israel Defense Force. She spoke about the passage in Isaiah Chapter 40 which says, “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God”. She went on to explain, “This is the way that we are going to win the Jews to Christ. It’s through comfort. Not through telling them what the Bible says and does not say. They are only interested in love.” Following her remarks, the entire room burst out in applause. Her approach to evangelism is not through Biblical preaching, but through an indirect emotional connection that is less likely to raise any suspicions.

Another session at this ICEJ event focused on evangelistic activities in Eastern Europe. One of the panelists, a minister working in Hungary, spoke of their activities “witnessing” to Jewish people in his country and the successes they experienced. After listening to the programs at the Feast of Tabernacles, the conclusion was obvious. Even though the Embassy has strived to cultivate an image of being singularly focused on political advocacy for Israel, its true passion is for winning souls and spreading the gospel.

The 2004 Feast of Tabernacles celebration organized by the ICEJ attracted over 4,000 pilgrims from 70 nations. Pat Robertson, the famed American televangelist recognized as a great supporter of Israel, was one of the featured speakers. And it was precisely because of his strong, outspoken pro-Israel reputation that his remarks sent shockwaves throughout Jewish communities around the world. “Jews need to begin to cry out for their Messiah. I’ve met wonderful Jews in Siberia, Brazil, the United States, here in Jerusalem who are all saying ‘Yes, Jesus you are our messiah.’“ What makes Robertson’s statement even more troublesome is that he was merely articulating a sentiment that all Christians in attendance heartily endorsed, but are reluctant to actively and publicly proclaim for fear of exposing their true agenda.

Not all Christians who seek to work and dialogue with the Jewish community have a hidden evangelical agenda – but there are many who do. We must be vigilant and avoid any interaction with individuals or organizations that conduct their missionary activities under the cover of interfaith cooperation. While we can be thankful for the genuine efforts that some of these groups make on behalf of Israel, nevertheless it is shortsighted to run joint programs with any individuals or organizations that can put Jewish people at spiritual risk. Jews for Judaism regularly and carefully monitors numerous missionary and evangelical organizations and individuals. If you have any questions concerning a particular group, event or individual, please consult with us.