Julie and I spent a great weekend with the Highland Church in Memphis. We have so many good memories of Memphis: dear friends live(d) there; Ryan was born there; we were shaped for ministry there both at Harding Grad School and at Highland Church.
Highland invited me to participate in a seminar called “Go! Simple Steps to Sharing Jesus with Others.” Leslee Altrock of Let’s Start Talking also came for a special emphasis on women’s evangelism. I talked about the nature of evangelism, engaging non-church spaces, and developing missional rhythms in life. Here are a few things I learned or was reminded of in my preparation:
- In the words of Terry Rush, a minister in Tulsa: “God is at work, so relax!”
- Evangelism is a community task, not an individual one
- From Bryan Stone’s Evangelism after Christendom (awesome): Evangelism is first about faithful embodiment of the gospel by the people of God before it’s about results and conversions
- Evangelism is much more holistic than verbal proclamation (though it certainly includes it): 1 Corinthians 11:26 speaks to how the church’s just and merciful practice of the Lord’s Supper is evangelism – literally the proclamation of Jesus’ death
- God does the “growing”
- Evangelism begins on the turf of people who are not a part of God’s people
- Michael Frost’s weekly missional rhythm from the book Exiles, which he calls BELLS: Bless (people every week); Eat (with people every week); Listen (to God every week); Learn (about God and theology every week); Sent (engage non-church spaces with an eye for divine appointments).
Here’s hands-down the most challenging quote I came across:
It is important, therefore, to state and argue for the following premise as clearly and straightforwardly as possible so as to avoid any misunderstanding: while evangelism seeks to draw persons into the life of the church as a way of inviting them to a journey of conversion, the quantitative growth of the church is no positive indication whatsoever that God’s intention of creating a new people is being fulfilled or that God’s reign is breaking into history. It may be in some cases a negative indication, for even cancer may be characterized by rapid growth. It is quite possible to practice idolatry and to grow as a church at the same time. Likewise, the proliferation and growth of churches that perpetuate social divides can hardly be characterized as an extension of the missio Dei. Simply put, the quantitative growth of the church can tell us only that people are attracted to what they find in the church or are having some perceived need or want met by the church. It tells us nothing about whether the politics of God’s reign is being embodied or whether a conversion to that reign is taking place. (Bryan Stone, Evangelism After Christendom, 271)
Whoa. That kind of comment will send you back to the drawing board!
The great thing about a speaking engagement like this weekend is the way it personally enriches me, and hopefully the way it will enrich Storyline in the future.