I have traveled across our denomination a good bit over the last six weeks, and I have had a good experience in every gathering of Presbyterians. There is hope in the church. People do want to do evangelism! It's just the way in which it has been done that has turned people off. However, there is another problem when it comes to evangelism:something is missing in our churches; we have not helped people encounter their own stories of faith and learn how to share them. Part of the problem is that for too long we have invited people to serve, teach, and attend church activities, but we have not helped them engage the life-changing story of God's love in Jesus. And we have not provided the kind of community that would help them grow up as Christ followers.
James Byan Smith has written a beautiful and simple book on discipleship. He describes disciple making as a Holy Spirit driven experience that includes these things:adopting the narratives of Jesus, engaging in soul-training exercises, and participating in community. He writes that we all grow up with stories about God that are not true. It is the life of Jesus that corrects these stories. One of the stories we grow up with is that God causes bad things to happen to us if we go against God or sin. And Jesus is clearly opposed to this line of thinking. In Jesus we experience God loving us as we are. Period! But then we are loved way too much to be left as we are. So we enter a community in which we experience the spiritual disciplines that help us die to the old ways and be raised into new life.
Being a follower of Jesus is critical to our journey. It's more that accepting a system of beliefs. It's more than praying a prayer. It's about being healed, and creation being healed, too. All we have to do is look at our own lives, our communities, and the oil spill in the Gulf to see that brokenness is all around and inside of us. However, when we encounter Jesus, we experience the one unbroken person in all of creation. In a relationship with him, we find our real and lasting lives. We experience healing, and we are part of Christ's body for the healing of the world.
It's interesting that when John's disciples ask Jesus, "Are you the one we've been expecting or are we still waiting" (Luke 7:19), he does not respond with a belief system or a prayer. He points to healing: "The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth have God's salvation hospitality extended to them" (Luke 7:22-23). When evangelism is the by-product of discipleship, our communities are healed, relationships are restored, and creation is cared for. Christ followers not only serve out of love, but have the words of the story that have transformed them as a gift to share with others.