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Building relationships: evangelism is about risk-taking and self-giving.

He approached me immediately following worship and, in a calm but confident way, declared that he would never be a member of this church because he could never believe in Jesus. I often wonder why someone that confident about what they don't believe ever bothers to show up in church. Subsequent conversation with "Brownie" revealed he had recently been through a difficult marriage breakup and, on the arms of some friends, had initially shown up at a Friday evening Celebrate Recovery event. One of the most memorable and joy-filled times of my ministry was the Sunday he stood before a congregation of 500 and declared his commitment to Christ and to service in His church. Evangelism--the process of helping an individual to find their way from skepticism and doubt to personal faith in Christ--can be seen more clearly when there is a face like that of "Brownie" attached. In relating his story, we come to understand the kinds of components which position a church for effective ministry in this arena.

I. A commitment on the part of Christians to build meaningful relationships with those who are not believers.

This becomes particularly strategic when an individual is experiencing a traumatic life event and, often for the first time, is expressing a sense that life isn't working very well for them. Other people cannot expect to be of practical support and encouragement in that kind of situation if they have not made a significant investment in the individual's life prior to this time. Brownie didn't show up for the first time with strangers or on his own initiative. He came with trusted friends.

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II. An entry point which is relevant to the needs of those without a faith base for their lives.

During the last several years, our congregation has seen significant numbers of individuals come to faith in Christ either through our Alpha program or Celebrate Recovery. The former is a well-known introduction to the basic tenets of the Christian faith and is used effectively by many congregations. The latter is intentionally designed for those with "hurts, habits and hang-ups," focusing particularly on enabling individuals to walk through a 12-step program that is deeply rooted in Christian principles. In his wounded person, Brownie needed a safe place where he could know and be known.

III. An invitation to a church service where the participants actually looked like they were enjoying the experience.

An individual whose life is weighed down by personal pain does not need to be put in a context where the music is funereal, the message is irrelevant and laden with theological terminology and the people appear overwhelmingly bored. All the while that Brownie held to his convictions that he could never believe in Jesus, he continued to show up on Sundays because the aliveness appealed to some of the inner parts of his life which seemed to have died.

IV. A deep resolve to walk the ongoing journey to Christ-likeness with individuals who cross the line of faith.

It would be both foolish and naive to try to pretend that life is easy and uncomplicated for Brownie these days. It is anything but that! Yet he is in a context of individuals who openly acknowledge their ongoing struggles for faithfulness and share his struggles without judgment or disdain.

Rick Warren aptly described most Christians when he suggested they have a great desire to catch fish, but they want them to be pre-cleaned. Developing a church with a heart for evangelism is no easy task. It is not a matter of a session decision. It does not result from forming an evangelism committee. It will not be empowered by a new line in the budget. It will arise only when the hearts of individuals within the congregation develop a heart devoted to the calling. Robert Quinn, in his great book Building the Bridge As You Walk On It, states that organizations, in current culture, will move either towards deep change or slow death. He truly believes those are the only two options. Four things are identified as characteristic of the slow death path. These include the tendency to be self-focused, to be internally closed (denying the signals which call for change), having leadership that is consumed by a desire not to offend or cut off and having an excess of longing for comfort. Any congregation eager to embrace the evangelism challenge in current culture will require a cadre of people eager to develop relationships of a type rarely known. They will be other-focused, risk-taking, discomforting, self-giving and often formed with people in difficult circumstances. The reward, however, will come from seeing a wounded, unconvinced human being transformed into a wholehearted Christ follower. Bring on the "Brownies"!

Rev. Chuck Congram recently retired from St. Andrew's Lakeshore, Tecumseh, Ont.
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Title Annotation:EVANGELISM
Author:Congram, Chuck
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:800
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