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Archive for the ‘Outreach’ Category

I recently had the opportunity to engage 33 pastors from five denominations in two events that featured intentional conversations about what I call the “dirty words” of the church: stewardship and evangelism. Martha Grace Reese, writing in Unbinding the Gospel, notes that a good many people have taken to calling evangelism the “e-word.” I heard recently that someone else had called stewardship the “f-word,” that is, finances. There is reluctance in the church to engage these topics. These conversations also revealed that there is hope, if we can address them not only from a “gathered church” perspective, but from the viewpoint of the “scattered church” as well.

To facilitate and report back on the conversations I used two similar worksheets, “Redefining Stewardship” and “Redefining Evangelism.” There were two columns on each worksheet; on the left participants were asked to define topic at hand “in institutional terms”; on the right they were asked to define each topic in “life in the world” terms. Based on one participant’s comment about the unfortunate pejorative connotation of “institutional”, and in keeping with the overall direction of my recent work, I’ve changed the left column to “in the church.” If you make it to the end of this report, you’ll find that I’ve changed it even further based on what I learned.

With each worksheet I asked participants to work alone on the left column for a few minutes to establish a baseline understanding of the topic. I told them that I expected they would write down legitimate, theologically valid definitions of stewardship/evangelism in the left column definition. I then told them they had permission to add jaded, stereotypical definitions as well. (more…)

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A friend of mine in St. Louis had an unusual part-time job, staffing the Sunday morning nursery of a congregation that gathers in a massive stone church. What a building it is! Except for the clearly Protestant designation on the monumental sign out front, one could easily mistake this majestic structure as an historic cathedral, occupying an entire city block.

What made my friend’s job so unusual was that, despite her assumptions when she first walked through the grand doors of the place, my friend never had more than two or three children to care for in her nursery. Often, there were none. In fact, the huge sanctuary, with seating for more than 1000, seldom saw more than 50 or 60 people in worship.

As she described this situation to me, I couldn’t help but wonder: How does a tiny faith community continue to function in such a huge facility? (more…)

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Final part of the ongoing series

riskJohn Bowen (in Evangelism for “Normal” People) writes about rediscovering the stories of the first witnesses to Christ’s life, death and resurrection in the book of Acts, and realizing that evangelism is inevitably linked with risk:

The risk of leaving the nest
The risk of going to people
who are different
The risk of being different
The risk of physical danger
The risk of breaking the
rules

Deep down inside we know this, and it is perhaps one of the primary reasons why we steer clear of evangelism. It’s risky to share a story, it’s risky to reach out and help someone, it’s risky to admit that we don’t know all the answers. But still, Bowen says, “The fact seems to be quite simply that the kingdom of God does not progress unless Jesus’ people are prepared to take risks.” (more…)

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[Part ten in an ongoing series]

SandbaggingTelling others what God has done is as central to our calling as it was to Jesus’ mission. Certainly we cannot avoid the fact that evangelism means speaking words of faith. But Jesus not only told others about God, he also demonstrated God’s love.

In John 5 we find the story of Jesus being criticized for healing a paralytic on the sabbath. In response Jesus answers, “My father is still working, and I also am working… Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing, for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” “Jesus’ mission then,” Bowen says, “is not only a mission of words but also a mission of works… (more…)

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[Part nine in an ongoing series]

DSC00580In previous posts, an underlying assumption has been that evangelism is the work of the whole Christian community. I don’t want to sound like I’m completely contradicting that understanding, but evangelism also relies on each individual Christian doing her or his part. The problem is, viewing evangelism as the work of “the whole Christian community” can lead quickly to the conclusion that evangelism is somebody else’s job and not mine. (more…)

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[Part eight in an ongoing series]

in-outThe doorbell rings; we open the door and a stranger demands of us, “If you die tonight, do you know if you will go to heaven or hell?” This kind of approach—while being a form of flasher evangelism and running contrary to everything we’re saying about good evangelism—is also based on the assumption that people are either “in” or they are “out.” Other forms of evangelism, such as asking people to “make a decision for Christ,” are also based on this kind of either/or thinking.

Is Christian faith a matter of either being “in” or being “out”? Or is there another way, a more helpful way to approach this? The answer to these questions will have a large impact on how we view evangelism and fulfill our call as witnesses. (more…)

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[Part seven in an ongoing series]
prayerEvangelism that is built on trusting relationships also requires that we be attentive to the discipline of prayer. We can begin by praying, “God make me aware of the people around me who are searching and want to hear about your love.” Bowen writes, “Whenever I get to know individual non-Christians…I am completely convinced that I find God already at work in their lives.” Since evangelism is based on God’s passion to “seek reconciliation with those who have set themselves up as his enemies,” our role can only be seen as God’s instrument for reaching and inviting people to come home. Prayer is the place we begin as we seek to discover who it is in our lives that God wants to invite home.

Prayer is also the place where we give up on our own desires and yield to God’s desires; prayer is the place were we open ourselves to hear—from God—what it is that the people in our lives are asking, and what it is they need to hear. A prayer such as, “Give me courage to engage in conversation and to answer questions, without preaching,” is a good place to start.

See also

Evangelism: something we wouldn’t inflict on a dog, much less a friend

What Evangelism is Not

Evangelism: God’s relentless pursuit of us

Evangelism is a result of vibrant faith communities

Evangelism is built on trusting relationships, and it takes time

Evangelism calls us to listen

Evangelism is a matter of helping people move toward Christ

Evangelism is personal

Evangelism is a matter of words and deeds

Evangelism is inevitably linked with risk

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