Evangelism

How I Kissed Evangelizing Goodbye

Robsonphoto/ Shutterstock.com
Robsonphoto/ Shutterstock.com

I went to the mecca of evangelicalism for college — beautiful campus in the suburbs of Chicago, where I received a scholarship from none other than the Pope of Evangelicalism, Billy Graham, for my work in street evangelism. As in, speaking to random strangers on the street in order to convert them to Christianity. Post graduation, I became a missionary, the Protestant equivalent of achieving sainthood.

I look back on that girl on fire and marvel at her earnest faith. If I could, I would reach back and massage the tense knots out of her high-strung shoulders, weary from carrying the weight of her neighbors’ eternal destinies. I would wistfully explain to her that the first person she tried to witness to, that gentle, drunken, homeless woman named Kathy, needed more than my rehearsed Roman Road to salvation. Then I would break the Temporal Prime Directive and reveal to her that one day she would become more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing.

The truth is, I’m just better at being evangelized. It’s probably how I was so easily converted at the tender age of 12. The young Christian is expected to learn how to share their testimony: their story of how God changes your life. By the time I was in my twenties, I had given my testimony a bajillion times.

But my own story often bored me.

Nursing Home Evangelism: Preaching at the Last ‘Bus Stop to Eternity’

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
Lay evangelists review their visit to a Washington, D.C.-area nursing home. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Rhonda Rowe and her team gathered around a diagram of the nursing home’s floor plan and determined how to split up to avoid praying with anyone twice.

Rowe made her way to a room where a 93-year-old woman lay in her bed while her 87-year-old roommate sat in a wheelchair. Rowe knelt between them and went through her “Nursing Home Gospel Soul-Winning Script.”

“Fill me with your Holy Spirit and fire of God,” the 93-year-old repeated. “I’m on my way to heaven. I have Jesus in my heart.”

Rowe was soon off to the next room, but before she left, acknowledged that she might never see them again on earth. “I’ll see you girls in heaven!” she chirped.

Welcome to the world of nursing home evangelism, where teams of lay evangelists target senior citizens for one last chance in this life for glory in the next.

VIDEO: The Good News Club

In public schools across the U.S., children are threatened with fire and brimstone while attending the “Good News Club,” an afterschool program sponsored by the Child Evangelism Fellowship. In “‘Get Them When They’re Young!’” (Sojourners, August 2014), Asra Q. Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, writes about her experience working with a group of interfaith mothers to challenge the Good News Club in their community.

To get an inside look at the Good News Club in action, watch this video featuring their training materials and curriculum.

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'Get Them When They're Young!'

LAST FALL, I WALKED INTO Room 154 at my son’s public elementary school in Great Falls, Va., for the inaugural meeting of a new after-school club. The club’s lead organizer, a parent at the school, eyed me as she stacked Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies snacks and asked about my son, a fifth-grader at the school: “Is Shibli here?”

“No,” I responded, quietly taking my seat. I’d come out of curiosity. Our school administrators had emailed parents a flyer advertising a free, exciting, fun-filled hour of “dynamic Bible lessons,” “creative learning activities,” and “inspiring missionary stories,” with a pledge to teach our children “respect for authority,” “moral values,” and “character qualities.” Would this club be a good experience for my fifth grader?

At 3:17 p.m., three minutes before the dismissal bell, the mother-volunteer said: “Asra, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. This is a kid’s club, and you don’t have a kid [here].” My curiosity turned to suspicion. Instead of leaving, I called the school district’s public affairs office who confirmed that the club, held on public school grounds, was in fact open to anyone, with or without a child.

The mother ran out of the room and returned with the school principal. He bee-lined to me, yelling: “Right now, you are disturbing the children.” I looked around. The children were happily munching on their Cheddar Bunnies. He moved the club to the gym. When I followed, he blocked my way.

This was my introduction to the Good News Club, a private Christian organization founded in the 1920s for children age 6 to 12, run by the Child Evangelism Fellowship.

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GO: The Biggest Word in the Great Commission

Pair of shoes, moomsabuy / Shutterstock.com
Pair of shoes, moomsabuy / Shutterstock.com

Our son, Mattias, is a complicated kid. He’s sweet, creative and remarkably intelligent. But to say he is strong willed would be underselling his capacity for intransigence.

When he was in preschool he, like many kids, went through a “naked phase.” He never wanted to have his clothes on at home (which was no small issue with regard to our furniture’s upkeep), and getting him dressed in the morning was part chore and part all-out war.

“We have one of these kids every year,” said his teacher, a seasoned veteran. “What you have to do is call his bluff.”

Go and Make Disciples — Not Converts

The Roman Road, Barry Barnes / Shutterstock.com
The Roman Road, Barry Barnes / Shutterstock.com

I have never really understood personal evangelism. Maybe it’s because I have never really been good at sharing my faith — at least not with complete strangers. I have never stood on the street corner preaching to all within earshot. I’m not the guy with numerous stories about how I shared my life story with the person sitting next to me on the plane, inducing a tearful admission that he needs Jesus. (I am not condemning these types of encounters, nor am I condemning these practices altogether.) To be completely honest, I don’t think I have even one story like that.

Recently, I have been trying to better understand the Great Commission. I have to tell you what I hear Jesus telling me in that particular passage. You might be surprised to find that he isn’t telling me to share the Gospel with all who will listen (although, that is part of it); rather he is telling me (and you) to go and make disciples. The former is really just words; the latter is words and actions, ultimately culminating in a relationship.

Bearing Burdens: From Evangelism to Immigration Reform

Cinder brick laying, Lou Oates / Shutterstock.com
Cinder brick laying, Lou Oates / Shutterstock.com

I became interested in the politics of immigration in about the most innocent way possible for a student at a conservative Christian college — good ol’ fashioned evangelism. Working on an “impact team” with a local Columbian pastor, we had a few nights of evangelism in large apartment complex that was almost exclusively Honduran. On the first night, I struck up a conversation with a (very) drunk man sitting on a park bench named Carlos. Over the next few months our relationship grew, and we became close friends. Eventually, he had an experience with Christ that changed his life and we came brothers. As members of the same body, this now meant that his burdens were my burdens (Rom 12:15; Gal. 6:2). As Carlos was an undocumented immigrant living in the south, this means that it sure didn’t take long for my burden to become immigration reform

Months after our initial meeting, I looked down at my phone and saw that Carlos was calling—but as I picked it up, the voice on the other line didn’t sound anything like my friend. Instead of a loud and happy voice calling me gringo, the voice was strained, quiet, emotional. I tensed up at the sound of his quivering voice — recognizing immediately that something serious was wrong.

To the Dying Church: Do What You Came Here to Do

Stained glass window & crucifix, benztsai / Shutterstock.com
Stained glass window & crucifix, benztsai / Shutterstock.com

To the dying church,

I think I missed the moment. It was a pretty big moment, too. At least here in the United States, you were a force to be reckoned with until a few years ago. You helped form the fabric of our society. Pastors were well-respected people of authority. They built great big sanctuaries, and people wore respectable clothing on Sunday mornings. To be fair, you didn’t — and don’t now — always live up to the hype. Sometimes you hide your head in the ground when it’s time to stand up against racism and homophobia. You’re still not so sure about the equality of women. You sometimes sell out to political agendas.

But regardless of the good and the bad, the moment is now over, and you’re dying. Or that’s what they tell me. All that power and influence is fading away. It sounds like some churches are having trouble even keeping the lights on. I know I should mourn for you, but allow me a moment of self-pity here too. What, you thought it was all about you?

You see, I’ve been getting ready for a few years now. A bunch of us have. Some of us have grown up with you, and some of us have just met you recently, but we’re all lining up to serve you. Somehow we all have this nagging sense that we’re supposed to be with you in these days, so some of us went to seminary and some went to college to learn youth ministry. We went to conferences and gave up our evenings and weekends to church basements with committees and youth groups. We read books and studied Scripture and prayed and imagined the kingdom of God breaking into the world through you. They call us emerging leaders, and we had a lot of hopes for you.

To the Dying Church: Use Your Words

Small church, via CreationSwap.com
Small church, via CreationSwap.com

To the dying church,

The ongoing decline of American Christianity is well documented. A quick Google search of “mainline decline” provides statistics, commentary, and variously tried and discarded solutions related to the struggles of liberal protestantism in the United States. More recently, these trends are showing up in conservative Christian circles as well. The attention of the media, religious scholars, and cultural warriors has been captured by the rise of the “nones,” the “spiritual but not religious,” humanists, and evangelistic atheists.

It is clear who’s ascending and who’s falling. Organized religion is doomed. You, dying church, are in trouble.

I have seen your sickness up close. The congregation where I was baptized — once full on Sunday mornings — now barely hangs on. The church where I preached in college has long since closed its doors. My pastor friends spend their days worrying about shrinking worship attendance and a lack of financial resources for carrying out their ministry. Denominations pause from fighting and splitting just long enough to make budget cuts and lay off staff.

What can be done? What should be done? Is this a new reality that we simply must accept?

You Can’t Point a Person to Christ with a Gun

AR-15 front combat site, Artifexx / Shutterstock.com
AR-15 front combat site, Artifexx / Shutterstock.com

During the Crusades, conversion by the sword was a common practice. Today, it’s conversion by the bullet.

A growing trend in evangelism among some more conservative churches is to promise people a gun in exchange for attendance.

Some more prominent examples from the past few weeks: In Kentucky, several churches are hosting “Second Amendment Celebrations,” which feature a steak-and-potatoes dinner followed by a conversion sermon preached by a former pastor, outdoor TV host, and gun enthusiast. Attendees are promised the chance to win a firearm in exchange for showing up and staying to the end of the event. In New York, one church is planning to end its Sunday worship service with a raffle for a free AR-15 to honor “hunters and gun owners who have been so viciously attacked by the anti-Christian socialist media and antichristian socialist politicians the last few years.”

The organizers of these events claim they’re an effective way to bring people to Christ. By uniting gun culture with Christianity, they’re reaching out to an unchurched population to lead them to salvation.

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