Goodbye Evangelism

by Frank Powell

Dear evangelism,

I’m saying goodbye to you. I can’t do this anymore. Often times when one side wants to sever ties with the other, that person will say something like, “It’s not you. It’s me.” That doesn’t fit here, though. Full disclosure: it is you. I’ve tried to hang on, to rally the man in the mirror, to convince him to hang around, to be “a force for change” or whatever. But you don’t want to change.

I must say though, and you know this, evangelism, the sermons preached from your pulpits awakened me from my slumber. They turned a shy, slumbering young man into a pastor, one with a voice and purpose. So, yes, I’m leaving you now. But I must also say thank you. Thank you for giving me a purpose, for challenging me to live for something, anything other than myself. That message changed my life. Would I be nestled in my office scribbling these words without you? I doubt it. I really do. 

So, what happened? A valid question that deserves a valid response. Here it is.

Why I’m Leaving You

Everything began to crumble when I got sick. 

My plight arrived without warning, and leeched the life from my every cell in my bones. In a  short time, I went from pastoring a church and running marathons and all that to writhing in pain, fighting to get out of bed. 

The God you sold me, evangelism, is a God who blesses people. God heals, you said. I liked that God. He worked fine when my life worked fine. But when I lost everything, the God you sold me couldn’t deliver. He failed me. 

I prayed without ceasing. I prayed on my knees. I asked the most faithful men and women I knew to pray for me, and they did. I had someone pour oil on my head and pray for me. I prayed upside-down and right-side up. But God didn’t care. Or he wasn’t listening. Or I wasn’t praying correctly. 

I became angry with God. Pissed off. Why. Was. God. Not. Answering. My. Prayer? Why? 

He saw my agony, right? I’d lived a faithful life. I gave up a stable career for full-time ministry – the opposite of a stable career. And when I needed God, how did he respond? Crickets. Silence.

I became depressed, cynical and bitter. Can I keep it real, evangelism? Of course I can. This is my letter. I thought very seriously about taking my own life. 

I didn’t, though. And here’s why. I realized the God you sold you me was a lie. I realized a deeper, truer, more meaningful God existed beyond the one whose primary goal is to bless your life. I realized that the true image of God is Jesus, who breathed his last as blood spilled down his corpse. Your God rests at the top of the ladder. He loves upward mobility. He loves the construction of massive shrines. A large church building is the mark of God’s blessing. 

The God I found in Scripture exists in the depths of my despair. In muddy pits, not ivory towers. Robes and crowns? Pssh. This God wears rags and shards, and he places his arm around my shoulder while I weep in pain and he says, “I can’t remove it, but I’m right here with you, and I’ll stay with you as long as it takes.” 

I eventually recovered my health, but I never recovered the relationship we had. There are a lot of specific reasons I’m leaving. I won’t name them all. But I will name the big ones. 

You leave no room for doubt or uncertainty. 

The two largest wounds I’ve suffered in my life came from inside your walls, evangelism, from leaders, men selected by the people inside your communities. I was young and curious and naive. I didn’t know asking questions made me a bad leader. But it did. The moment I traversed outside the box you created for God, people told me I was a bad leader. One called me a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Another said my family was in danger of spending eternity in hell. Still others said I was leading their community astray. One person even threatened to hurt me. All because I dared to ask questions, to venture out in the abyss of the unknown. 

Evangelism, you’ve given people a place to belong, an on ramp to a spiritual life. That’s a good thing. Praise-worthy. Three slow claps for you. 

But the very thing that makes you a healing balm for new believers makes you a cancer for curious Christians like me, people who must ask questions and explore. You shame people for asking questions, make them feel less than, unworthy, unfaithful. And that’s not okay. 

If God is who God says he is, who we proclaim him to be, then we’re just touching the outermost tip of his beauty and love and grace. And I don’t want to touch the tip. I want more. That means leaving the status quo behind. That means embracing the unknown. 

I used to tame my curiosity because I thought a curious mind was a dangerous mind. You taught me that. I no longer leash my curiosity. It runs free, and I follow it, and it leads me to strange and new and unknown places. But that’s okay. Because I believe God is found outside the walls of my certainty. 

You want to convert the world without converting yourself 

Evangelism, you’ve commissioned people to the ends of the earth to “convert” every nation and tribe. And, again, I must confess that this hasn’t been all bad. You’ve given people hope. You’ve built homes and villages and wells for clean drinking water. You’ve transformed communities. For that, you deserve praise. 

But, you’re braggadocios posture has created as many problems as you’ve solved. You’re convinced you have the only “true” message, which means you have no desire to learn or grow or understand the needs of the community. I’m not even sure you care about the people. The only goal is to convert them.

You assume this is “God’s plan,” the only right way to go about the Christian life. Meanwhile, you have no desire to convert yourself. You remain shallow, superficial, self-righteous. What I’ve come to see, evangelism, is that you want to convert every human on earth into Christian, but you don’t want to convert yourself. 

You think that as long as you convert people, God is okay with the way you treat your spouse or the addiction you have to porn or whatever.

You also can’t fathom that the people you’re going to evangelize might already know more about God than you do. 


That’s right. If you stopped and listened, you might realize God exists in a myriad of forms. And in a myriad of ways. And just because someone hasn’t learned the five steps of salvation doesn’t mean they don’t know God. 

Pride abounds in you, evangelism. Pride abounds in me as well. But I recognize it. And I want it purged from my every cell in my body. I’m not sure you can say the same. 

You would rather convert the world than protect your flock

Evangelism, you’ve built a model of church that allows Christian leaders, mostly white and mostly men, to serve the masses without accountability. Because these men can spin gold with words, you raise them above us, where they can meander to and fro, untethered from the actual lives of people. This is a dangerous and toxic thing to do to a person and to the community that person leads. Its bound to create leaders who hurt others. 

And it has.

In the wake of your belief that great speakers are great leaders stands a growing pool of abused, shamed, deeply wounded humans. I’ve read the stories. I’ve seen the headlines. I’ve heard people describe the horror of sexual abuse at the hands of their pastor. I’ve heard the stories of verbal abuse from the mouth of a man they trusted and followed. 

These are real people, whose lives are forever changed, who will take the shame from the abuse they received and transpose it onto God. How could they not? These men were supposed to speak for God. It’s despicable. The level of evil exceeds the human capacity for language. 

Leaders are supposed to protect their community, not prey on them. Leaders are supposed to walk with the community, to live as one of us, as Jesus did, not hover above us. 

I can no longer stand idly in the wake of these hurt and wounded souls and say nothing. My heart hurts for them. Their lives damaged at the hands of your “leaders.” It pains my soul. 

You value competence more than character. 

Evangelism, your Sunday mornings are spectacles. They’re powerful and emotional. Your musicians have incredible gifts. I’ve already talked about the pastors and their ability to spin gold with their words, powerful enough to awaken a bear from a winter’s nap. 

Your Sunday mornings send a clear message: worship is for professionals. Only the best of the best make the final cut, which is fine, except that’s not at all the model Jesus used to gather and grow his community. You believe corporate worship must be engaging and without flaw or else people won’t turn to Jesus. 

So, the goal then, becomes competence over character. Excellence over integrity. Who cares what kind of person the musician is when she’s off stage. When she’s on it, her voice can summon angels. Bring dry bones to life. And maybe that’s true. Maybe her vocals can summon the dead. That’s not the point. The point is you’re sending a message to the rest of us, the other 99%. We don’t matter. Integrity doesn’t matter. Humility doesn’t matter.

And they do. They matter far more than excellence or competence. Those aren’t spiritual virtues. They’re your virtues, evangelism, and we’ve worshipped at your feet for so long, we’ve equated them with godly virtues. 

You value self-sacrifice more than self-care

I’m nearing the end of my scribbling. This point is personal. Evangelism, you told me that sacrificing myself for others was a great gift to God. So, I did that. I crucified my well-being on the altar of service. 

My body tried to warn me. “Hey man, this is not okay. I’m not doing well. I’m tired. You don’t have unlimited stores of energy. You need to take time for yourself, to rest and regroup. Go for a walk. Say no. Please.” 

I didn’t listen. You told me not to listen. You told me that sacrificing my body glorified God.

Then, my body broke down. It collapsed in spectacular, mic-drop-style fashion and it’s deeply ironic – at least to me – that my stunning decline left me unable to serve in your church. Evangelism, I spent the next seven years of my life in total hell. I lost everything. I writhed in pain, an indescribable pain that I’d never felt before and wouldn’t pray on my worst enemies. Yes, that includes the entire state of Texas. Prideful bunch, they are. 

Self-care, evangelism, is not more important than self-sacrifice. You lied. Self-care is the anti-thesis of selfish. Self-care is the greatest gift I can give to myself, an act of worship to God. Self-care is good stewardship of the first and most important gift we bring into the world: the reflection in the mirror. 

What good is it if we build up everyone around us but destroy our body? Tell me, evangelism, what good is that? It’s not good. How you treat your body reveals what you believe about God. God created your body, after all. 

You need us to sacrifice our bodies to keep your machine running. You need more converts so you can bring in more money so you can build larger buildings so your pastors can brag to their peers about how much their church has grown. 

You leave no space for self-care. And self-care is the foundational of a thriving spiritual life. I must listen to my body because I believe its language is the voice of God. I trust its longings now. And I will never again sacrifice myself to save someone else. 


I’m still a Christian. I still have a desire to share my understanding of Jesus with others. Is that not why I write? 

But I can no longer follow you, evangelism. 

Thank you, again, for laying a good, solid foundation for my faith. But we must part ways. 


Frank Powell

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