Curing Evangelism Influenza
The following is a re-post from 2018 that is one of my favorites. The points are ones that I consistently go back to for myself and for others in my evangelism training. I hope the words are meaningful for you as well. [Dave]
Whenever the topic of personal evangelism comes up at church, the response from members can be like a sudden attack of evangelism influenza. Perhaps you have seen or felt its symptoms — queasy stomach, nausea, sweaty palms, or feeling faint. I may have a remedy for faithful believers to consider.
These symptoms are common for people because fear is part of our human nature.
There is the fear of public speaking, fear of being emotionally hurt, fear of heights, fear of snakes, and the fear of being humiliated. And that is the short list.
In a recent blog post by David Sherry, entitled “The Cure for Small Talk,” he talks about how he dreads small talk and avoids it as much as possible. It’s not the fear of people, he wrote, but the dreaded feeling of awkwardness when you don’t know what to say.
What is his cure?
Whenever you are placed in a situation where small talk is inevitable, it is helpful to understand that everybody has hang-ups. Life is tough no matter how hard we try to hide it. His solution is to listen carefully and attentively. When people express a problem that they are having at work or with a family member, always answer, “Wow… that must be tough!”
He suggests that when people place the focus on others instead of themselves, the awkwardness of small talk dissipates. People will come across to others as being engaging and sincere. They will appreciate a person who expresses care and concern by listening to them.
The same fears he expressed about small talk are like the fears people have for verbally proclaiming the gospel.
We hate feeling awkward. And as a result, we tend to avoid witnessing.
Let’s modify some of David’s cures to help us avoid getting sick with evangelism influenza.
- Everybody has fears
Everybody has fears about personal evangelism and that is comforting to know. People who appear to have the gift for evangelism, articulate pastors, and seasoned missionaries all have struggled or continue to struggle with fear. And like everybody else, we sometimes go to great lengths to hide our fears through excuses, being too busy, or completely avoiding it.
I struggle with fear also.
It has taken me a thousand doors and hundreds of attempts before I finally reached a point where the symptoms of evangelism influenza don’t affect me as much.
It’s comforting to know that it’s perfectly natural to fear personal evangelism because personal evangelism is perfectly unnatural. That’s why we need to hold on to Christ’s promises.
Many faithful Christians have a desire to share their faith with others. But, they can easily fall into a trap when they start focusing entirely on learning what to say while ignoring other components that are equally as important.
A person can learn every possible answer to every possible question from an unbeliever. They can memorize hundreds of Bible verses, but it will still not be enough to cure evangelism influenza.
Learning how to verbally proclaim the gospel starts with taking the focus off of ourselves. That can happen in two ways.
First, instead of flailing like Peter who tried to walk on water, we fix our eyes on Christ and his promises. When we step out into the scary waters of the world to share our faith, we keep our eyes on Christ to walk and stay afloat.
Second, when we fix our eyes on Christ we can see what Christ sees. His eyes are fixed on those who are lost. They are focused on furrowed fields ready to be planted with his Word. When we see what Jesus sees a potential mission field suddenly embraces Jesus words when he says, “The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.”
People in today’s world are not going to want to hear an answer for the hope we have in Christ until they know that we sincerely care about them. The eternal consequences of sin prompted the Apostle Paul to be all things to all people to win as many as possible. Evangelism starts with empathy for the lost and the ghastly eternal consequences of hell.
How can we overcome the fear of awkwardness of not knowing what to say?
Listen first, talk later.
To receive an audience, you must first gain an audience.
To gain an audience, you must first be an audience.
Evangelism is about using our eyes and ears before we use our tongue. We look for opportunities and God delivers. We listen first to what a person is concerned about, then provide answers based on God’s Word to address those specific concerns.
Faithful Christians already know the gospel. They know Jesus and what he has already done for them. People want to hear about your faith and why Jesus is real to you. When a Christian initially engages an unbeliever, they don’t want to hear a canned presentation or be bombarded with Bible verses. Be who you are in Christ.
Evangelism influenza is highly contagious because proclaiming the gospel is 100% contrary to our human nature. For that reason, proclaiming the gospel is far more God working in us and through us instead of us working for God. The cure is Christ. Out of deep love for him, we become willing messengers of the sacrificial and costly work God has already done for us through Christ.
Let’s keep our eyes fixed on him.
7 Questions I Never Hear When I Go Canvassing
The presidential primary season is in full swing. Campaign volunteers are exercising their zeal to ultimately win the election in November. The volunteers are willing to do all things for all people to convince fellow party members to vote for their candidate – even going to their doors.
Political volunteers embrace questions at the door rather than fear them. Every question is an opportunity to give reasons for the hope they have in their candidate and our country’s future.
Faithful Christians often refrain from proclaiming the gospel because they fear questions from those who don’t believe in Christ. It’s intimidating to be placed in a position where they might not know the answer or give false information.
Faithful Christians need not fear questions from unbelievers but celebrate them.
Evangelism means proclaiming the gospel to unsaved souls. They are a different audience than those who believe in Jesus.
In my experience of going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel, the toughest questions typically come from those who already belong to a church or an avowed atheist looking for a fight.
Those who are far from Jesus and need to hear the Good News have a completely different mindset. They will make comments and ask questions that many Christians would never expect. They are a unique audience with a far different knowledge base.
Here is an example of seven questions that I never hear from the unchurched when I go canvassing to proclaim the gospel.
#1 What denomination do you belong to?
#2 What does your church teach about baptism and holy communion?
#3 Are you a liturgical church or do you sing Christian contemporary songs?
#4 How long are the sermons?
#5 What is your pastor like? Could he stop by for a visit so I can meet him?
#6 What version of the Bible do you use?
#7 What does your church teach about the end times?
These questions are more important for Christians who are church shopping, but they will not come from those who are spiritually lost or don’t have a church home.
What type of questions do I hear from those who have not stepped inside a church for many years?
Do you allow
gays in your church?
Do you have to be a member to attend your community event at church?
Does God forgive every sin?
Could your church accept someone like me?
Our world has changed so much that faithful Christians may not realize how people view the church or how little they know about what the Bible teaches. Unchurched people are heavily influenced by the media and what the world believes what Christianity ought to teach. We can’t assume they are rejecting the Truth because so many people have never really heard the Truth before. They don’t know that they don’t know. And those with a previous church background have stopped going to church because they longer want to feel judged, tired of trying to meet certain standards to be acceptable or find church no longer relevant in their life.
Christian believers should not be afraid to answer spiritual questions because people today are not bothering to ask them. Therefore, one of the greatest victories in evangelism is creating a safe and trusted environment where intrigued people who don’t have saving faith can ask questions and not feel threatened.
I am humbled and admire the zeal of political campaign volunteers. They are willing to go to the people to win votes for their candidate. Perhaps Christians can learn a lesson from them. With zeal sparked by the love of our Savior and engulfed by the power of his Word, we can go out to the people to bring Good News about our Candidate – Jesus Christ. He has already won!
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Asking the right questions
Churches can often feel stuck when they ask the wrong questions.
Naturally prone to replicate, copy, or model church programs or ideas that are deemed “successful,” churches are prompted to focus on asking the “How?” questions because they are easy to ask.
One of my favorite podcasts is called “How I Built This” from NPR. It’s an appropriate title. A host sits down for an hour and talks with people about how they started their multi-million-dollar businesses. Their stories are fascinating and varied.
Most successful start-ups emerge by meeting unmet needs that are not being filled rather than assuming that they exist. Copying other ideas often don’t lead to success. Even though starting a profitable business requires hard work and persistence, building a sustainable business is often a reflection of who you are rather than what you do. At the end of each podcast, the successful founder will usually say that their business success was a surprise. It was not so much “How I built this”, but why they built it in the first place.
I think it is the same with churches launching new evangelism and outreach programs.
They tend to focus solely on other “successful” programs to borrow their ideas, follow their steps, and construct their blueprints.
Yet, in this ever-changing world with its complex dynamics, copying what already has been done can prove to be limiting and fruitless.
A more appropriate question to ask is “Why?”
It’s a philosophical question that ultimately fuels inspiration and persistence. It helps to avoid the debilitating effect of looking for easy, quick fixes to achieve numerical success. More importantly, it’s a question that values innovation.
You can ask, “What do you do?” but it needs to be quickly followed up with a better question. “Why did you do that?”
For example, “Why did you attempt this idea to reach people with the gospel in your community?”
When you ask this question to “successful” congregations – a large majority of them will provide surprising answers in the following ways:
- Their answers will tend to focus on bringing as many people as possible to heaven through the power of God’s Word rather than scour the neighborhoods looking for new members.
- Their answers will tend to focus on who they are rather than what they do.
- Their answers will tend to be within the context of how they see their mission rather than launching activities to enter a mission field.
- Their answers will tend to be based on a mission strategy that seeks to meet specific needs rather than assume they exist.
- Their answers will tend to develop approaches that fully exercises the gifts and talents of their members rather than pigeon-hole them into acts of service.
When congregations see another congregation that God is blessing with successful outreach programs and numerical growth it’s important to try and understand the context of their vision versus what they are doing.
Praise and Proclaim has been blessed with launching outreach initiatives and providing personal evangelism training across the country. With every initiative, Jesus is proven to be right. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. The challenge is that people are no longer coming to church on their own. They need personal contact. They need to see faces. They are more willing to hear the reasons for the hope believers have in Christ rather than listen to a sermon. They need to hear answers to the “Why?” questions in life. “Why do you go to church?” “Why do you believe in Christ?” “Why do you have peace in your life that goes beyond understanding?”
When congregations start asking and answering the “Why?” questions they are positioning themselves to uniquely gain an audience to proclaim the Good News.
Stranger evangelism versus Friendship evangelism
The Bible seems to suggest that personal evangelism is more about making yourselves available than it is about manufacturing moments. Believers are encouraged to be prepared to provide an answer for the hope we have in Christ to “anybody who asks”. (1 Peter 3:15) The emphasis in this verse is on being prepared and God will orchestrate opportunities by providing people to ask a question.
Philip and the Ethiopian provides a compelling example. (Acts 8:26-40)
While travelling Phillip made himself available to be used by God. The Lord provided an opportunity by prompting him to meet a man on the road. God’s Word was already working in the man’s heart with the Truth and God provided him with a willing servant who was prepared to answer.
The essence of evangelism is to be prepared to provide a short answer and be available to be used by God. The Lord then orchestrates opportunities to comfortably and confidently provide a gospel message.
People say that friendship evangelism is the most effective form of proclaiming the gospel because a bridge of trust has already been built with that person. They are more willing to receive an invitation to come to church or hear a reason for the hope we have in Christ.
Yet, one of the greatest fears about evangelism is the fear of rejection. Relationship evangelism is perceived as too risky and prompts many to remain quiet. Is relationship evangelism easier than stranger evangelism?
People say that stranger evangelism is effective because a person doesn’t know them. Yet, it is is perceived as too risky for the fear of messing up or saying something wrong. Is stranger evangelism easier than friendship evangelism?
There is not a good answer because evangelism is never easy.
A better question may be, “Which is more comfortable?”
When a believer has prepared themselves to give an answer for the hope they have in Christ, it really doesn’t matter if it is stranger evangelism or relationship evangelism. It’s not about concentrating on what is perceived to be the most effective – or easier – but what is the most comfortable.
Witnessing to strangers
When Praise and Proclaim leads a door-to-door proclaiming experience it’s always impressive to see how surprised church members are when they see the amount of awareness about their congregation. People typically drive by their church every day. They read the signs and message boards. They notice when there are cars in the parking lot. They gauge the amount of activity.
They also discover that most strangers are polite and friendly when they quickly find out that the person knocking on their door is from the church down the street. They usually will come across a person who has been waiting for an invitation to come to church. Sometimes, they are going through a personal or family crisis and the Lord sends the right person at the right time. The Lord provides a window of opportunity to hear some Good News.
God orchestrates opportunities by sending the right person at the right time to deliver Good News to a stranger.
Witnessing to friends
Friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members carefully observe and notice how a friend who confesses their faith in Christ deals with a personal or family crisis. A calm assurance during life’s storms is a powerful testimony to a life in Christ that remains steadfast in Christ’s promises.
Witnessing rarely feels like its manufactured but a natural overflow of a faithful heart that cares about their friend.
Prompted by love, a spiritual conversation can start. Being a light for Christ has set the table to introduce Christ through the power of his Word. A calm conviction opens our lips and eases our nerves to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ to listening ears.
Being prepared to witness to friends or strangers is a powerful form of evangelism. Yet, Jesus is right. The harvest is “plentiful” and the workers are few. Well-intentioned, faithful believers in Christ tend to stand in the shadows and remain silent because they are uncomfortable.
Witnessing to friends and strangers
The most comfortable and effective personal evangelism strategy is proclaiming the gospel to strangers who are friends.
In my experience of partnering with congregations and providing personal evangelism training, the most comfortable witnessing opportunity is with friends of your church. It is low risk because it is stranger evangelism. It is powerful because its friendship evangelism.
Friends of the church are people who have expressed interest in learning more about your church. They are young families who send their children to preschool or a youth outreach event. They may have recently attended a worship service or attended a family event. They are friends of the church who have already expressed a willingness to hear a reason for the hope that you have in Christ.
Witnessing to strangers who are friends of the church is commonly referred to as a follow-up visit. Most of the time, a connection has been formed with the pastor or teacher. And that is good. But the best way to further a relationship is when members become involved. We need not be bashful because they have already given the church permission to build a relationship with them by providing their contact information. And like any relationship, sometimes that takes time.
We don’t manufacture as much as God orchestrates a person’s interest in your church. Comforted by this truth, believers can discover how meaningful these evangelism visits can be.
- Be prepared to give a short succinct answer for the hope we have in Christ.
- Be available to be used by God to provide that answer by being gospel intentional in our daily lives.
- Be willing through Word and sacrament to be used by to God to advance his kingdom – and you will be used.
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)
I cleaned out my office during Christmas break.
Books were re-arranged. Folders were reorganized. Shelves were dusted.
Inside my closet required a purge. Notebooks bursting with old notes, training materials, office supplies and various odds and ends were bit of a mess. On the top shelf gathering dust included more articles, notes, and hand-written journals. Tucked away amidst the clutter was a brown, hard-bound manuscript.
As a young man struggling to find purpose, raise a new family, and flailing in his profession, the manuscript I was holding in my hand represented a pivotal point in my life.
It all started with a well-known quote.
“Every man should plant a tree, have a child, and write a book. These all live on after us, insuring a measure of immortality.” (attributed to the Talmud or Jose Marti)
The Lord had already blessed me with two children, a tree was recently planted in my front yard in Minnesota, so it seemed at the time that writing a book was the next thing I needed to do to build a legacy.
Since I was a new father and had little idea what I was doing, I felt that writing a book about fatherhood would be an appropriate subject. I knew there were young men like myself who were struggling with materialism and the pursuit to be somebody. We were inadvertently following in our father’s footsteps by not knowing how to be an engaged father. Weary of reading “how-to” books that mostly made me feel guilty about what I was not doing, I wanted to write a book of encouragement. For two years, I arrived early at the office to research, write and re-write.
The studying and research led me to this conclusion. The best way a Christian father can be the father he desires to be is to trust Christ’s promises and steadfastly remain in his Word. Only Christ takes away the baggage that hampers our ability to be a God-pleasing father and husband. Only Christ takes away the guilt. He takes us – the complete mess that we are – and molds us to be his own. By remaining in Christ and committed to the task God ordains for us, we will be a good father whether we feel like it or not.
The manuscript that carried this truth was sent to dozens of publishers and rejected by all of them.
When it appeared that the Lord was closing the door on this project, I needed to move on. The manuscript was bound for safe keeping.
After wiping away the dust, I asked myself, “Was this project a failure?”
Nobody was impacted by its words, but it certainly changed me. A spark was created – a desire to proclaim the message of the cross. It spurred me to consider becoming a full-time servant of the gospel. And the Lord miraculously opened a door for me to serve.
Success is defined by faithfulness.
Whether it be a father struggling to figure out how to be a good father, a young man attempting to establish a career, or a called servant out serving in the field, God does not judge a person’s effectiveness by outward success.
I wonder how successful Daniel felt when he was sitting alone in the lion’s den.
I wonder how successful Moses felt while wandering in the desert.
I wonder how successful Paul felt while under arrest in Rome.
Success is much more about being and remaining in Christ rather than planning and doing.
Success in God’s eyes is determined by faithfulness to the task for which God places before us.
This thought is totally contrary to our human nature. We desire – even demand — fruits for our efforts. When they do not appear according to our timetable, we tend to wring our hands and consider ourselves as failures.
Faith trusts God’s work on our behalf but faithfulness always works.
Faith rests in God’s promises but faithfulness never rests.
It’s a life-long quandary that only can be sharply defined by what can be perceived by our human nature as a failure.
There was a king born in a lowly manager in the small town of Bethlehem.
The long-awaited Messiah then disappeared in Nazareth for thirty years.
The Son of God revealed himself, then lifted on the cross.
In humility, in what was perceived as total defeat, there was victory!
Gospel ministries flourish and they close. God opens doors and closes them.
I sometimes have experienced ministry “success” and yet, it’s never enough to satisfy my ego.
I have often experienced ministry “failure” and yet, it’s always enough to keep me humble.
If I said that I have been blessed with four adult children who are making good life decisions, remaining in Christ, and not carrying excessive baggage, I would risk patting myself on the back and proudly take the credit.
If I said that all four of my children were making difficult life decisions and have turned away from Christ, I would risk scourging myself on the back and take all the blame.
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)
Success is defined by faithfulness – even when we feel like a failure.
Though our human nature demands results – visible monuments of our labor (successful work, ministry, or children) – our new nature in Christ trusts that our labor for him is never in vain.
Trusting in Christ – committing your work to the Lord — and his plans will be established.
Through his tender grace and everlasting mercy, God allows us to wrestle and pray, live and stay, so that he may begin a good work in us, for us, and through us according to his will and purpose. And that good work never ends until he calls us home to his eternal presence in heaven.
Gaining an Audience to Hear the Word
I wonder if Peter thought Jesus was crazy.
An experienced fisherman, he knew where and when fish were most likely to be caught. When Jesus told him to go back into the deep waters and throw the net out, it was probably the stupidest idea he had ever heard. Worn out and exhausted from a long day of catching nothing, Peter was probably in no mood to try an idea that he thought had little chance of succeeding.
Especially from a carpenter!
“But because you say so, [Peter replied] I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
When hearing the call to proclaim the Good News, disheartened, seasoned believers can balk like Peter. Holding an empty net in their hands after another outreach event, they look at paltry results and empty pews and mutter, “What’s the point? Nothing seems to work.”
And then they hear a crazy idea.
“You want me to go out into the deep waters of this world to throw a net? You want me to talk to unchurched people who appear to be disinterested, disengaged, and disrespectful of organized religion?” Worn out and exhausted, they think to themselves, “Nobody cares. They are not going to listen! Trust me, there are no fish to catch!”
“But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
In this oversaturated world with information overflow, there are many nets in the water already. Fake news, click bait, and empty promises routinely snag unsuspecting browsers.
Companies and start-ups struggle to capture the attention of potential buyers. The successful ones who are separating themselves from others are painstakingly building credibility – a reputation of quality. They call this “branding”. It’s not about designing an attractive logo but gaining an audience by delivering on promises one customer at a time.
Gaining an audience to hear God’s Word is a mighty struggle.
People are disengaging themselves from the church for a variety of reasons. Many of them have had bad experiences at church or have observed professing Christians behaving badly. The next generation is rejecting their parent’s notion that they must go to church for the sake of going to church. The perceived brand of a church is unwelcoming, judgmental, money-hungry and irrelevant.
It’s not that the Word no longer works, but the Word is struggling to get out.
What are some ways for churches to gain an audience to hear the Word?
We gain an audience by building a platform of trust.
Trust compels people to try you out.
In the business world, it’s about creating a “set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decisions to choose one product or service over another.” (Seth Godin)
Gaining an audience is not about making a church attractive but being real. It’s about presenting yourselves – stains and all – as real people who are daily trusting and immersing themselves on the message of the cross.
People today are willing to invest themselves in people, not ideas.
We gain an audience by welcoming and accepting broken people.
Churches tend to communicate something they are not. They use stock photos of beautiful people who look put together. Christian catchphrases that are meaningful for seasoned believers can come across as “churchy” to the unchurched. People are not looking for phoniness whether its unintentional or not.
A welcoming church takes on the attitude of “being all things to all people so that by all possible means they might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22) This means preparing to welcome and accept people who are not like themselves.
Broken people are desperately seeking for a place to belong. Many are biblically illiterate. It’s not that they are rejecting the Truth, it’s that they have never heard it clearly communicated before. They don’t know that they don’t know. And many times, people are not willing to admit that they don’t know until life throws them a curveball. Broken and shattered, they desperately are looking for answers that the world is not providing.
Those are the people who are walking through church doors on a Sunday morning.
If Christians think its scary going canvassing, it is even more scary for an unchurched person to come to church on a Sunday morning when they don’t know anybody. They are making a huge personal investment. They are taking an enormous risk. They are giving your church a “free 30-day trial” to test your product and service. They are savvy shoppers who typically look for any excuse to lose their trust.
We gain an audience by being welcoming and transparent. We keep an audience by telling our story.
Life-long Christians baptized as infants have wonderful stories to tell.
The greatest stories are not necessarily how an unbeliever receives faith, but how a seasoned believer remains in the faith.
People watch and observe. They are willing to hear how you weather the storms of life, keep temptations at bay, and exhibit peace, hope, and love when the world seems dark.
Despite what believers perceive on the outside, people are willing to hear reasons for the hope that believers have in Christ.
Rooted in Christ, our stories center on Christ and trusting his promises. Believers don’t have to paint a rosy picture of themselves to make Christ attractive, nor present ourselves as wise and eloquent, but point to the source of our Trust lest we rob the message of its power.
Businesses grow by word-of-mouth. Churches gain an audience by developing a powerful Word-of-mouth network. Reputations are built and stories are told. And people remember stories and faces far more than they remember facts.
Personal evangelism is a crazy idea.
Jesus told the disciples “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This charge is given to all who believe in him and reiterated in the Great Commission. To be fishers of men means you don’t wait for people to jump into your boat, but you go out into the dark, murky water of sin and put nets into the water.
Word and sacrament gospel ministries that are overflowing with grace and peace can’t help but take Christ at his Word. With pure thankfulness for what Christ has done, we prayerfully consider crazy ideas.
Go into the world and make disciples of all nations seems like a wild notion.
Yet, believers do so, not because they think it will work or not…
“But because you say so…”
Proclaiming the gospel in Nampa ID
Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho recently celebrated its twenty-fifty anniversary. The Lord is blessing the gospel ministry and give thanks to him for almost six hundred baptized members.
The WELS Board of Home Missions is providing support to help Cross of Christ begin a second site. With explosive growth in the Treasure Valley, there is now an estimated 700,000 people living in the area. It is expected that the population will exceed one million people in the next twenty years. It is perfect timing to start another WELS congregation in the north side of Nampa. Rev. Kurt Wetzel from Cross of Christ-Boise is spearheading the outreach efforts.
Earlier in the year, a ministry center was leased in an office complex in the targeted area. Several different outreach activities were carried out to introduce Cross of Christ Lutheran Church to the surrounding community and gather a list of people who may be interested to be a part of the new campus site. Bible instruction classes along with Grief Share and Divorce Care meetings were held at the new ministry center.
The first worship service will be held Sunday, November 24th at JaK’s Neighborhood Grill located only a few blocks from the ministry center. Each Sunday morning, the restaurant is allowing a team to set up a worship space and conduct worship services beginning at 9:30 a.m. The space will comfortably hold 50-60 people to help the new campus site get started.
Praise and Proclaim Ministries had the privilege of partnering with Cross of Christ to help enhance their gospel ministry by providing personal evangelism training the weekend of November 15-16.
In working with Cross of Christ, a new postcard was developed that incorporated the theme, “A Place to Belong.” This theme will be utilized and made available for all future outreach initiatives in 2020.
On Friday evening, the training emphasized general evangelism. The following day, participants attempted to incorporate the evangelism methodology by going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel. In the afternoon, participants received an opportunity to make personal visits with new friends of Cross of Christ. These individuals and families had attended outreach activities held during the summer or attended workshops at the ministry center.
The Lord blessed the gospel activity. Many people we met at the door remembered receiving the postcard in the mail. One young mother who received a follow-up visit was thrilled to hear that worship services were going to start only a few blocks from her apartment complex. She volunteered to help get the word out by hand-delivering our half-page invites.
It was powerful to see members from Cross of Christ to experience an opportunity to verbally proclaim the gospel. Many of the participants were already experienced canvassers. However, they now felt comfortable and equipped to give reasons for the hope they have in Christ with people they met at the door. They also discovered that there is power in a face-to-face contact with people from the community. We ask the Lord to bless the new second site in North Nampa. May they continue to aggressively spread the Word in the community and provide Good News about what Christ has already done for us.
Proclaiming the gospel in Glendale AZ
Arizona is pleasant place to visit in November. With temperatures in the lower 80’s, the warm dry air feels comfortable to the bones to those travelling from colder climates. Praise and Proclaim gives thanks to God for travelling to Glendale and partner with Grace Lutheran Church.
With a wonderful mixture of old and new, Grace Lutheran has a long history of gospel ministry. The church and school are located only a few blocks away from the old downtown district of Glendale. With roots dating back to the 1920s, the congregation now has almost 700 baptized members and a K-8 School with seven teachers and a principal. They also offer an early childhood program that enrolls over twenty preschool students. In 2006, a beautiful new sanctuary was completed. This includes a narthex area and a spacious multi-purpose room.
A focal point for the personal evangelism training was to prepare members to engage guests who will be attending the annual Living Nativity that is held in early December on the campus of Grace Lutheran. This event has become a part of the city’s tradition. At the center square of old downtown Glendale, several horse-drawn wagons take visitors on a hayride to watch and listen to the Christmas story. Hot cider is provided along with an assortment of fun activities. Last year, a line of people a block and a half long waited patiently to go on the hayrides. It was estimated that a thousand to fifteen hundred people attended the two-day event.
The evangelism committee at Grace wanted to use the evangelism training to personally engage the guests who will be arriving at the Living Nativity. Along with the help of 90 members who participate in conducting the event, our goal was to help prepare a small team to comfortably interact with people, personally invite them to Christmas Eve services, and provide a few reasons for the hope they have in Christ.
A major component of the Praise and Proclaim training includes opportunities for members to immediately put their training into action. After two and a half hours on Friday evening, members arrived the following Saturday to experience stranger evangelism in the morning (door-to-door witnessing) and friendship evangelism in the afternoon.
Friendship evangelism meant making visits with people who were considered friends of Grace Lutheran Church. They are guests who have visited the church on Sunday morning in the past year. This was an opportunity to learn how to comfortably engage friends and have members participate in future follow-up activities. Members from Grace discovered that their personal visits were well-received and appreciated.
With every outreach initiative, the Lord typically provides a spark of hope and encouragement. This happened in Glendale. As time approached the noon hour break, a two-person team knocked on the door that was answered by a middle-aged woman. After inviting her to come to the Living Nativity, she asked if a person had to be a member of a church in order to attend. She told the team that she is not a church member and hasn’t been to a church in years. After assuring her that she would be most welcome to attend, she handed back the invitation and said, “There is no way Jesus could ever love me.”
The opportunity was granted to share with this woman the depth of Christ’s love and grace that is extended to all people. Upon hearing this message, she asked, “Can I ask you a question?” She revealed to them that after re-marrying her husband a second time, she had caught him committing an act of adultery two weeks ago. Her daughter and only grandchild quickly left their house to live in another state. Alone, devastated, and with tears of hurt and hopelessness rolling down her cheeks she asked, “What do I do? Should I leave him? Ever since I was in Kindergarten, everything bad happens to me. How can Jesus be a part of all that has happened to me? He always seems to turn his back on me.”
When placed in these circumstances, a believer can rest in God’s promises and assurances. He can provide wisdom and words whenever we ask for help. The Lord answered that prayer and helped provide an answer for this hurting woman. The team shared,
“I am so sorry. That must have been devastating. I can only imagine the hurt and betrayal you are feeling right now. Please let me assure you that Jesus does love you. He desires to embrace you and hold you close with his love. He knows your pain and your hurt. He wants to give you peace for the present and hope for the future. I’m glad you are receiving professional help right now (she told them they she had started to see a therapist last week). But I want you to know that there are members at Grace Lutheran who are ready to love and embrace you. They will not judge, but continually pray for you. You don’t have to be alone or feel isolated. But more importantly, Jesus is a Savior who washes away the guilt, sin, and feelings of unworthiness. He fills you with hope and peace through his hands of forgiveness that he has won for you on the cross. In the meantime, let’s take one hour at a time and one day at a time. And in your journey to find healing and hope, I want you to be assured that Christ walks with you.”
The conversation lasted about fifteen minutes at the door. Comforted by the words, she took the invitation back that she had originally returned. Buoyed with the possibility of hope, she agreed to give her contact information and would welcome a text from the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.
This is an example of what happens when church members step out of their comfort zones and into the world. God provides amazing opportunities to spread his message and his love to others. He uniquely provides opportune moments to engage hurting people who may be struggling mightily on the inside while trying desperately to keep a calm demeanor on the outside. Meeting this woman was a wonderful source of encouragement for members to continue to go out into the community to bring the Word to people.
May the Lord continue to bless the gospel ministry at Grace Lutheran Church and the group of “mighty warriors” who are willing and ready to introduce Christ in the community. And may they take full advantage of the number of people who plan on attending the Living Nativity this year by giving them the reason for the hope they have in Christ.