“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Amen to that. It doesn’t matter what your feet actually look like—when they arrive carrying you, the bearer of the message of Jesus Christ, they are going to seem beautiful to the person who finds eternal life through your words.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, some of what I write here today has been written on this site before. I want to get it down in a new way, however. In particular, I want the new congregation I serve to hear it.
In our Scripture reading today, Paul uses what now sounds like elaborate language to communicate some core points about Christianity. Salvation, he tells us, is a matter of believing Jesus is Lord and then confessing that belief openly. Salvation is for all; God doesn’t distinguish among types of sinners.
Someone has to make the declaration, however. Once-thirsty people have to tell the parched how to find the living water. Otherwise, the parched will die.
As church people, we have to get this concept, and then we have to live it. When we fail, we stop being the church. We instead become the equivalent of a Ruritan Club operating under a Christian name.
I’m going to give you a basic strategy for Luminary UMC, one rooted in Paul’s words. It’s a big-picture strategy, and it should drive every other decision we make.
Step 1: Stop inviting people to church. Never do that again. “Church” is perceived by the lost as a place, a building on a piece of ground. The people inside might even seem old or out of touch to many of the lost. It is just one of many places they may or may not choose to go.
Step 2: Start inviting people to a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, known through his radical teachings and his sacrifice, is attractive to all when properly understood.
Every other appeal I might make would be rooted in this change in attitude. Understand the difference in these two invitations, and everything else we do as a church will fall into place.
Now, like I said, this is big-picture stuff. I have no doubt that many of you just said to yourselves, “I can’t do that,” or maybe even, “There’s no way I’m doing that—I’m not going to look like a fool.”
I understand. I’ve been there. I don’t have time today to teach you in full how to share Christ with others, but let me promise you this: It’s easier than it sounds. I learned, and I’ve never once felt I was embarrassed or perceived as weird while helping people learn who Jesus Christ is.
You know how to make friends, right? First, you simply need to be relational, to be open enough to get to know people and let people get to know you. It also helps to pray for a heart open to people different from you.
The next part is learning to talk naturally with others about your relationship with Jesus Christ. This is mostly about trusting that the Holy Spirit has arrived ahead of you in the person’s life—you simply have to follow God’s lead.
As I learned to tell others about Christ, I was astonished at how I mostly was in the position of answering questions. I’ve never had to be pushy or calculating; I’ve never forced my beliefs on anyone. People are hungry for some word from God, for some assurance that life is about more than 80 or 90 years in pursuit of stuff. Tell God you’re willing to be open about your relationship with him, and people will actually invite you to answer their questions.
Sometimes in a particular church, a few people embrace these ideas and remarkable events begin to happen. I saw this happen at Salem UMC, a church in Kingsport, near my last appointment.
For reasons that will become obvious, I wanted to get to know Salem’s pastor, Will Shewey. Will has since moved on to participate in a new church start in the Kingsport area.
Over a period of about four years, Salem’s average church attendance grew from 90 to well over 200, and most of that growth was from first-time professions of faith. For example, in the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost in 2013, Will baptized 26 people. Similar numbers have continued into this year.
Will said that people he had never met before would walk into his office asking for baptism. They had encountered one of Salem’s parishioners in one setting or another and found their way to life with Jesus.
“So you’ve got your people trained to evangelize?” I asked.
Will laughed. “I’ve got five or six who take it seriously,” he said.
That’s the kind of impact just a handful of people can have. Imagine a church where a significant percentage of the church’s members agree to do what Jesus called all of us to do—tell others about Christ.
I preach this message here at Luminary UMC expecting a very specific response. Will you be one of those people? Are you willing to learn? Will you let this new attitude become the basis for our decision making here?
If so, I’m willing to teach you, with full confidence that Christ will take care of a faithful church.