I’ve spent a lot of time the last year encouraging church members to rediscover the lost art—and I should also say, the joy—of telling others about Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Yes, I mean evangelism, where we do what God tells believers to do, witnessing to the Christian truths we claim to hold so dear. Somehow, it has become a frightening concept to many otherwise committed Christians, a strange development in a nation where we supposedly are free to say what we think.
When someone is brave enough to complain after I’ve asserted the importance of evangelism, I usually hear something like, “I’m just not cut out to do that.” By this, they mean they’re too shy, or not biblically learned enough, or not quick enough when faced with questions, or, frankly, afraid of being labeled as some kind of religious nut.
Well, of course you aren’t cut out to evangelize. Neither am I; when it comes right down to it, none of us in our sin-tainted, time-bound lives is really equipped to show people the way to a holy, eternal God. Blessedly, God does the real work. As children of God, we’re just being told to help, the way our parents might have told us as children to hold something while they did the real work of building and repairing.
In doing so, we get to glimpse how God works, and we begin to grow into the image of God we were created to be.
Our Exodus text today is a good example of what I’m talking about. The story is pre-Christian, of course, but God is working through Moses and Aaron to declare his power over all creation, including Pharaoh and mighty Egypt.
Moses’ concern is straightforward. He does not speak well, complaining in a literal rendition of the Hebrew that he has “uncircumcised lips,” possibly a reference to a physical or psychological speech impediment. In other words, he’s saying he’s not cut out for the job. It’s the second time he’s made the complaint to God.
God’s answer is twofold: I’ll give you help, in the form of your brother Aaron, and I’ll make you “like God to Pharaoh.” God was saying his power and majesty would shine through Moses despite his human frailties.
It is much the same for us today as followers of Christ. If we will stop complaining of our human frailties and fears and trust God, his power and majesty will shine through us as we tell what Christ has done to rescue us from the power of sin.
When this understanding of evangelism takes hold in a church, mighty things begin to happen. One example is not far from Cassidy UMC, at Salem UMC, just four miles away.
Will Shewey, Salem’s pastor, said worship attendance there has grown from about 90 people four years ago to 208 halfway into 2013. Now, growth in worship attendance can happen in a lot of ways. For example, a large number of Christians may simply transfer into a church because they’ve moved into nearby developing neighborhoods or left a church in the area they didn’t like.
Salem’s growth seems to be genuinely evangelism-driven, however. In the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost this year, 26 people joined Salem UMC after declaring their faith in Jesus Christ and undergoing baptism. It’s a pattern Salem has seen repeatedly in the last four years.
Pastor Will passed along the names of two lay people at Salem who have been very active in bringing others to Christ.
Linda Archer has connected with many young adults through a non-traditional Wednesday night Bible study, one inspired by questions her nieces first brought her. The key, she said, is having a heart for all types of people, regardless of what they look like or what their current mode of dress or lifestyle may be.
“I don’t have any manuals to use,” she said. These young adults have questions, and Linda tries to find them biblically grounded answers. She said it’s also important to invite young adults in personal, specific ways to get involved in the ministry of the church—they want to explore faith by living it.
“To make disciples of Christ, number 1, they’ve got to be comfortable with you,” Linda said. “The Lord can do the rest.”
Judy Kregar reaches others with the message of Christ by paying attention to the people around her, particularly at work or in public. “A lot of them look lost, like they need someone to talk to,” she said.
By doing so, she said, she’s helped bring nine people to baptism in the last six months.
Raised Roman Catholic and now 65 years old, Judy said she’s learned to share her faith in just the last couple of years, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide her.
“Sometimes there’s just something that tells us we need to talk to that person, and we need to listen,” she said.
Both my reading of the Bible and my conversations with the people at Salem UMC tell me the path to a new Great Awakening in our communities is not complicated. It doesn’t require elaborate planning or committee oversight.
All that’s really needed is a faithful response from people who already have experienced the love of God, and are willing to take the story of that love to people desperate for answers.