By the Rev. Pedro Suarez
Is the whole idea of evangelism to convert people? If so, convert them from what into what?
I remember when my family and I were new living in the United States; a good non-Latino friend of mine accompanied me to buy a car. I ended up buying a Ford. She laughed happily and jokingly said, “Now all you need is to like baseball and apple pie and you’ll be an American!” Well, the truth is that I did own several North American cars before in my country of origin, I always have liked baseball (don’t follow it as much as I would like to), and my Mom made the best apple pie ever!
In the same way, some people may think that evangelism is solely “presenting Christ” to someone that doesn’t “know Christ”. That is true, but not entirely. If someone has not heard about the wonderful life of living in communion with God through Jesus Christ, by all means this is true! We need to share our exciting experience of our life in Christ with them. However, we live in a culturally “Christian” culture. People have heard about Jesus in many ways, and yet many churches are shrinking and shrinking. That is true of many denominations not just the ELCA.
Maybe, we are thinking of evangelism in the same way we might erroneously think of “assimilation,” which implies that someone must shed her culture to adopt ours. It might be easier if we have a clear understanding of integration and acceptance.
However, in evangelism, being innovating, contextual and re-rooting in the community is a tough job. Most of us, and yes, even in our congregations, probably need to repent and convert again and again. The truth is that we all need to be evangelized day-after-day. I need Jesus every day, I need His love, strength, compassion and support so I may also follow His steps in presenting and living in the kingdom of heaven here and today. But many simply don’t want to “look like” some of the people in our pews.
On the other hand, we see new churches emerging and growing all around us, and we could get frustrated if ours isn’t and think that evangelism is a thing for the “experts.”
Steven M. Pike, National Director of the Church Multiplication Network, in a recent article was sharing how planting new churches is so effective and challenging older congregations to start and support the beginning of new ministries. What implications does that have for the long existing churches?
Although I don’t agree with some of his terminology like “the lost”, “reach out”, and so forth, I think he’s got some valuable points worth looking into. Pike asks, “IF NEW CHURCHES ARE BETTER AT REACHING THE LOST, SHOULD WE SHUT DOWN ALL EXISTING CHURCHES AND START OVER?” In an interesting way, Pike continues, “No. Existing churches do reach people for Christ. The solution is not either/or. It is both/and. Healthy existing churches do have some ministry advantages over start-up churches.
Healthy existing churches have:
• established track records in their communities that create a platform of trust from which they can launch effective ministry efforts to reach the lost.
• acquired significant people and financial resources that allow them to meet community needs with strong solutions.
• often been able to provide a diversity of small-group ministries and programs that equip them to connect to a greater cross section of the population than a start-up church can typically serve.
• benefited from years of building their technical infrastructure and are often able to host significant ministry events that bring together large numbers of seekers and saints.
• the potential to make great parent churches.”
Now, in our TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod, we are trying to think outside the box, and we are reminded that evangelism is done in different ways, individually and collectively. We can be more powerful when we unite our strengths.
I encourage the efforts of the seven synodical Conferences, and pray for wisdom and good ideas as each one plans their local area mission strategies.
Please, prayerfully consider supporting one of our redeveloping efforts or one of our new ministries in our own synod, together we can evangelize in ways that might surprise us.