Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
It is not until we leave the safety of shore and predictable, if unsuccessful, fishing grounds and launch out into something new and different and challenging and risky, that we discover real, rich catches of fish. It is not until congregations step out of their routine into new ventures that faith takes on a savor and depth that brings true growth.
Leaders in the church must be reminded that they are qualified by their call, not their perfection, that they are equipped by the forgiving presence of God. Such a radical call turns every human society on its head. It suddenly changes our understanding of the values of money, sex, power, and control, the allure of success, fame, influence, and every other value we see trumpeted on the front covers of magazines, tabloids, advertising, and spammed to us on the Internet.
What did Jesus mean by fishing for people? The governing metaphor here is the net, that encircles the fish and draws them in. The net of evangelism is God's love in Jesus Christ, that encircles people and draws them in.
The idea of fishing for many works well, but for others in our post-modern world it is meaningless since they have never fished or even see fishing as cruel. This wonderful metaphor of fishing which has worked for centuries may need to be replaced. The whole idea of encircling people with love is much more powerful when used again and again. We should not talk always about fishing but about bringing people into a loving community. We need to emphasis Jesus’ basic idea of encircling people with love.
Isaiah six presents both the mystic, spiritual experience of the prophet and his reluctance and feeling of inadequacy, two aspects of spiritual leadership with which most church officers and clergy can identify. How often, in worship or in meetings of church leaders, do we invite people to share their numinous experiences of God's presence? How often do we take time, in pairs or small groups, to invite people to tell their stories of God's immanence in their lives, in times of crisis or mountain top experiences? How dull both worship and meetings can become when we don't ask members and leaders to talk about their sense of God's presence and spiritual reality!
There is never any doubt that every person called to leadership in the Church has felt unprepared, inadequate, even completely wrong for the job. "Woe is me! I am lost, a person of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips" (Is 6:5) is a cry many of us may have uttered as we faced the sometimes seemingly impossible task of speaking truth and exercising leadership among our people. God answers Isaiah with forgiveness and equipping, reminding the prophet that God will be present with him, and indeed is calling him. God calls, and Isaiah answers, "Here I am, send me."
God knows ahead of time that the prophetic message will go unheeded, and judgment will fall upon the stiff-necked, stubborn, and recalcitrant. The words of prophets usually fall on deaf ears, since people are so set in their ways and so determined to have their way at all costs. So, leaders in the church must be prepared to meet opposition with conviction. Whenever bold or prophetic truth is uttered, there will be resistance, misunderstanding, and sometimes outright opposition. Nevertheless, God calls us to speak the truth in love.
In Luke 5 Simon Peter exclaims "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (v. 8). So, these readings are all linked by the theme of God redeeming inadequate, and even sinful, people for God's purposes. After a night of fruitless hard work, Jesus challenges the fishers to put out into deep water, where they least expect to find fish, and put down their nets. Immediately the boat is swamped with a huge draught of fish. The great good fortune at the direction of Jesus produces loyalty to him, and the fishers decide to leave everything and follow.
That following Jesus involves the risk that our lives will be changed forever, involves turning loose of the control of our lives and surrendering to him, and is the business of sinners, not the acknowledged "righteous," are ideas which are first found here in Luke's gospel, this chapter being the first account of the calling of disciples. Evangelism, as D.T. Niles once said, is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Leaders in the Church must remember that the Lord did not call the successful, the righteous, the proper, the positioned, the rich, the beautiful, but sinners to his mission. It is real, authentic, honest to God, ordinary failures, the weak, the powerless, the marginal, the plain, who are called, because they have credibility with others. They will be believed, they will get a hearing, because they know other fishers, others who work hard with minimal reward, others who stand on the periphery of society, and not center stage.
Evangelism as fishing is one of the great ways of looking at bringing people into the fold. However, we live in a world where fishing is more a sport than a part of everyday reality. We need to expand our ideas of evangelism. Sam Chan calls for an expanded way of evangelism. He calls for us to broaden our vision of evangelism. Sam Chan points out that in our post modern world we can expand our vision of evangelism beyond fishing without giving up this wonderful metaphor.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Many of the principles and methods of evangelism from the twentieth century no longer work effectively today. We need new methods to communicate the timeless message of the gospel in culturally relevant ways. Author and evangelist Sam Chan shows a way forward.
His evangelism handbook Evangelism in a Skeptical World reveals at least twelve ways evangelism is changing, which we review below. But the book goes farther than that: it offers actionable advice with real-world examples to get past people’s defensive posture toward Christianity, so they can seriously consider the claims of Jesus and understand how his gospel is good news for them.
1) No one-size-fits-all evangelism
The twentieth century gave us some helpful ways of sharing the gospel. Unfortunately, well-meaning Christians often get stuck on one method. Whether tent-style crusades or crisis evangelism, some methods are believed to be the only or best way to evangelize.
Chan reminds us, however, “In the Bible, there is no single method of communicating the gospel; instead there is a variety of methods.” For example, Parables by Jesus, One-on-one conversations, Discussion meetings, Public speeches, and Miracles.
2) Evangelism as a lifestyle, not a one-time activity In the past, evangelism has been viewed as an activity we add to our lives, such as telling someone about Jesus during lunch or holding an evangelistic event. Instead, “we need to change our lives so that we live an evangelistic lifestyle, not a life with add-on bits of evangelism.”
Chan illustrates with a story about three non-Christian doctor friends. His Christian friends would come over, hang out, and get to know them. When his doctor friends went out to a movie, his Christian friends were invited. After two years of relationship building, his doctor friends started coming along with him to church, eventually giving their lives to Christ. “It took two years! That’s about how long it takes to form a network of trusted friends. That’s why I’m arguing for a lifestyle change, not just something we tack onto our lives.”
3) How we share our testimony (story). Typically, Christian testimonies have one of two key elements of a story, but not the other: “They tell you the events, but without a grid, so it becomes a rambling incoherent sequence. Or they tell you a grid, but with no events, so it becomes an abstract, formulaic, theological presentation.” Chan outlines a new approach that combines them, so that we tell our testimony as a story:
4) Emphasizing salvation differently. Various evangelism methods have emphasized differing benefits from salvation: deliverance from hell, forgiveness of sins, the gift of heaven. “But Graham Cole,” Chan observes, “believes that the umbrella metaphor for all of these salvation metaphors is peace or shalom.” Peace, connecting with the ultimate existential cry of every heart. Chan explains: Because of the curses in Genesis 3, we are not at peace with our work, our identity, our roles, the environment, our bodies, our friends, our family, and ultimately God. Today’s society has so many fractured relationships at home and work that we are longing for peace. Every aspect of our lives is affected by disharmony, disruption, and despair. Peace is the opposite of our lives. Given our twenty-first century existential angst from wars, recessions, and alienation, we should emphasize peace in our evangelism.
5) Emphasizing sin differently. We should also emphasize sin differently. Given that the Western world is moving away from the guilt model of sin, since people no longer believe in absolutes, Chan suggests we should emphasize shame when we talk about sin. “I’ve been using the language of shame—we have ‘shamed God,’ we have ‘not been honoring God’—and the room is silent. All eyes are on me. They get it. It’s personal.” He also contends it might be more helpful not to use the word sin at all. Not only because “Jesus himself often doesn’t use the word sin to describe sin.” But also, “as with other words in English whose meanings have changed over time—thong, gay, dumb—we can’t expect our listeners to hear the intended meaning when we use it.”
6) Adapting to a different age: postmodernity. Just as Western missionaries must adapt to the cultural customs of African tribes when sharing the gospel, so too must Western Christians adapt to the cultural customs of our new age, postmodernity.
At some stage in the last few decades, we moved away from foundationalist reasoning. And we became suspicious of metanarratives and claims of ultimate truth. We moved away from the age of modernity into the age of postmodernity. The methods of evangelism that once worked so well in the 1980s no longer had the same appeal in the 2000s. Post moderns are asking new questions and looking for new answers. We need to adapt to this new culture in order to help them find Jesus. Helpfully, in his book Chan explains the precise differences between modernism and postmodernism to help you evangelize.
7) What persuades: from clever arguments to hospitality and life stories. While the most important question for moderns is “Is it true?”, for post moderns what matters is “Is it real in our lives.” Which means “a postmodern person is less likely to be persuaded by our clever arguments…but they might be persuaded by our life story.” Post moderns care whether we are living consistently and coherently with our beliefs. In other words: are we being authentically true to ourselves; do we walk the walk as well as talk the talk? Evangelism shifts, then, from propositions we assert to hospitality we practice. Not only does hospitality provide” the space in which gospel conversations can happen in a friendly and safe environment… Hospitality also shows that the gospel is real.” “Moreover, our testimony demonstrates that the gospel works.” Postmodern people are likely to accept personal testimony as valid knowledge.
8) “Livable” leads to “believable” leads to “true”. Because post moderns are more interested in whether something is real than if it is true, the evangelistic pedagogical method has changed. With moderns, we used to employ the logic of Truth, Belief, Praxis. In other words: This is true, If it’s true, then you must believe it, If you believe it, now you must live it. But with post moderns, Chan offers a better pedagogical sequence: Praxis, Belief, Truth. Which translates: The Christian life is livable, If it’s livable then it’s also believable, If it’s believable, then it’s also true. When non-Christian see how the Christian life works they will discover it is livable, leading them to see that it’s believable. “And if they see that, they might also acknowledge that it’s true.”
9) Evangelism requires cultural hermeneutics Although “Just give them the gospel” is a well-meaning Christian aphorism, Chan argues it is at best simplistic, and at worst naive. Because at its heart is the idea we don’t have to worry about culture. Yet Chan contends, “If we understand another person’s culture, then we have a better chance of being understood.” Evangelism requires cultural hermeneutics—the act and art of interpreting and understanding culture—for several other reasons: “The gospel will be interpreted and misinterpreted differently by each culture” “The gospel will be applied differently in each culture” “We ourselves as evangelists are also enculturated” Bottom line: “If we are to present the gospel to someone, we need to be educated in cultural hermeneutics. We need to be able to exegete the Bible’s culture, the culture we are seeking to reach, and our own culture.” Chan teaches you how to read and reach our culture.
10) Borrow from culture to complete their storyline. Just as Paul quoted to the Athenians their own cultural texts and poets (see Acts 17:16-34), evangelism is leveraging the texts of our own culture to find common ground with people and share the gospel. Chan has found three immediate payoffs in quoting from such sources as the New York Times, Harry Potter books, and Malcom Gladwell: Creates immediate common ground, many authors of such texts are respectful of Christianity, many cultural texts borrow from the transcendent Christian worldview. “We can use these books to articulate and affirm our audience’s cultural storyline. And then we can show how their storyline still requires transcendence: hope, purpose, love, forgiveness, community. And then we can show how the gospel completes this storyline for them.”
11) Tell the gospel with storytelling. When sharing evangelism, consider you have two different audiences with two different preferred learning styles: abstract learners are typically literate learners, preferring to read and learn from information; concrete-relational learners are oral learners, preferring to watch and listen to stories. While neither style is better than the other and the Bible gives us biblical texts that relate to both styles, consider this: four out of five people in the Western world prefer concrete-relational learning; nine out of ten non-Westerners prefer concrete-relational learning. “So if we wish to reach these majorities as evangelists,” Chan writes, “we should communicate more for the concrete-relational learners than for the abstract learners. Moreover, the content of the gospel—which is a story—is better suited to the form of storytelling than propositional communication.” Chan not only explains why leaning into this change benefits evangelism. His book offers concrete steps to telling the gospel with stories.
12) Moving people from ‘hostile’ to ‘loyal’ through a journey to faith. Chan has a friend who wasn’t always a Christian. He compared his journey to the Christian faith to that of a buyer’s journey, identified by seven categories along a spectrum: hostile, open, considering, trying it out, entry level, switching, and loyal. This wasn’t always the case with evangelism. In the past, it was all about gaining a commitment, then and there—often through pressure. However, evangelism has changed, and Chan argues our role as evangelists should take people through the above journey, from one group to the next: Most people journey into the Christian faith. Their journey consists of a series of moments rather than one key moment. Whether we like it or not, this means that people behave as a Christian first and then identify as a Christian later. They find belonging first and then believe later. Often the entry point is wisdom, and along the way they find salvation. (https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/modern-evangelism/)
If you want to be a successful fisherman, you don't look for the most comfortable spot on the lake, said Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Instead, you go to where the fish are and you make it as easy and attractive as possible for the fish to swallow your hook.
Warren said the same is true when fishing for men: "Unfortunately, many churches don't take the time to understand the people they want to reach, and they don't have a strategy. They want to win people to Christ as long as it can be done in a comfortable way."
"If there was only one fish in a lake or stream my dad would catch it," Warren said. "As I got older, I realized his secret: My dad understood fish and caught them on their terms. In contrast, I never had a strategy whenever I went fishing. I'd cast out anywhere in the lake hoping something might bite. While my dad would crawl through brush or get wet up to his waist in order to get to where the fish were, my fishing spots were usually determined by what was most comfortable to me. I had no strategy and my results showed it."
Know What You're Fishing For. "The kind of fish you want to catch will determine every part of your strategy," Warren said. "Fishing for bass, catfish or salmon requires different equipment, bait and timing. You don't catch marlin the same way you catch trout. There's no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to fishing, and the same is true in fishing for men."
Warren noted that when Jesus sent his disciples out on their first evangelistic campaign, he clearly defined the target. Matthew 10:5-6 reads, "These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: 'Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.'"
Go Where The Fish Are Biting. "It's a waste of time to fish in a spot where the fish aren't biting," Warren said. "Wise fishermen move on. They understand that fish are not hungry all the time."
Sometimes unbelievers are more responsive to spiritual truth than at other times, Warren said, noting that the apostle Paul's strategy was to go through open doors and not waste time banging on closed ones. Don't focus your efforts on people who aren't ready to listen, said Warren, adding, "There are far more people in the world ready to receive Christ than there are believers ready to witness to them."
Learn To Think Like A Fish. In order to catch fish, it helps to understand their habits, preferences and feeding patterns, Warren said. "Jesus often knew what unbelievers were thinking," Warren noted. "He understood and defused the mental barriers people held. This is the reason he was so effective in dealing with people.
"We must learn to think like unbelievers in order to win them," Warren continued. "The problem is, the longer you are a believer the less you think like an unbeliever. Your interests and values change. You must intentionally change mental gears when seeking to relate to non-Christians."
Using church advertising as an example, Warren said most of it is written from a believer's viewpoint, not from the mindset of the unchurched. "When you see a church ad that announces, 'Preaching the inerrant Word of God,' who do you think that ad appeals to?" he asked.
Warren said he considers the inerrancy of Scripture as a non-negotiable belief but the unchurched don't even understand the term. "If you're going to advertise your church you must learn to think and speak like unbelievers," Warren said. "The spiritual terminology that Christians are familiar with is just gibberish to the unchurched."
Catch Fish on Their Terms. Warren said too often cultural differences between believers and unbelievers become barriers to getting the message out. He said for some Christians any talk of "adapting to their culture" sounds like theological liberalism.
"But this is not a new fear," Warren said. "It's the reason the apostles held the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. In those days the issue was, 'Do Gentile believers have to follow Jewish customs and culture to be considered true Christians?' The apostles and elders answered with a clear 'No way!'
"The gospel is always communicated in the terms of some culture," Warren noted. "The only question is 'Which one?' No church can be culturally neutral. It will express some culture because it is composed of human beings.
"The problem with many churches today is that they're stuck in the culture of the 1950s -- using bait and hooks that worked in that era -- and they're wondering why the fish are no longer biting," Warren said.
Use More Than One Hook. Warren said people have a myriad of choices today, yet many churches offer only two choices: Take it or leave it!
"It's not pandering to consumerism to offer multiple times or even styles of worship services," Warren said. "It's strategic and it's unselfish. It says we will do whatever it takes to reach more people for Christ. The goal is not to make it as difficult as possible but to make it as easy as possible for the unchurched to hear about Christ."
Growing churches offer multiple programs, multiple services and sometimes even multiple locations, Warren added, and they realize it takes all kinds of approaches to reach all kinds of people. (http://www.bpnews.net/10930/lessons-from-fishing-apply-to-evangelism-warren-says)
Alan Miller, a UCC Conference Minister, once referred to Jesus' fishing instructions when talking about the difficulty churches have with change. He noted that some churches seem to be working very hard yet do not find new members coming into their midst. They are frustrated, but if someone suggests doing things differently, they are resistant, as was Peter to Jesus' instructions to move to deeper water. Yet it only makes sense to try something new if what you have been doing for years at great cost is not resulting in new people discovering the joy of worshipping and serving God in the church.
The popular expression "coloring outside the box," meaning innovating and brainstorming without a lot of self-criticism, is the same kind of thing as putting out in deep water, trusting God, trusting the gifts God has given you, thinking beyond the conventional.
In extreme sports, it is the risk of danger that thrills. Bungee jumping, hang-gliding, snow-boarding, heli-skiing, technical climbing, all these require "deep water" for the thrills they confer.
"No pain, no gain" is a popular axiom related to exercise. Unless we push ourselves to the point of great exertion, there is very little therapeutic effect. Unless the heart rate is elevated above a certain threshold and sustained there for some time, little aerobic benefit is realized, and fitness is not achieved.
Bigger fish live in deeper waters. Fishermen have to take some risks, for a greater payoff.
Sometimes the Spirit leads us to do what is counterintuitive, like the fishermen who complained "But we've been out here all night and caught nothing!" Nevertheless, they obeyed him, put down their nets in the deep water, and swamped the boat. The risks of pushing for social reform are often great, including loss of life, as in the case of Martin Luther King, Jr. But the gains in equal opportunity have been great, though much is left to be done.
Millard Fuller's Habitat for Humanity is an example of seeing resources where others saw lack. Unleashing the power of love by asking contractors, wholesalers, and private citizens to donate what others must pay for, while requiring that the recipients of the new homes also contribute some "sweat equity" has revolutionized housing around the globe. Not only are these homes great values, they are often better built than other homes in the same markets. Fuller had to launch out into the deep water, by leaving his former profession to realize this dream of providing good housing for everyone. But Habitat has had a marvelous evangelistic effect, impressing the world with what dedicated Christians can do in the power of the Spirit.
Sometimes "deep water" means going beyond our current level of expertise to attack a problem. Jim Jackson of Littleton, Colorado, visited a clinic in Brazil and saw the great need for medical supplies. Impetuously, he promised the doctor in charge that he would find a way to supply his clinic. Flying home, he was embarrassed and frightened that he had made such a rash promise, but when he met with friends shortly thereafter, they realized that millions of dollars of supplies and equipment are thrown out every year by hospitals and clinics around the country. For example, surgery packs are opened, and only parts of the supplies are used, sending the rest to the trash. Using his own pickup truck and spare time, Jackson began to collect these hitherto discarded items, and Project Cure was born. Today, twelve centers across the country send containerized shipments to more than ninety countries, as supplies are requested. Volunteers in these centers sort the supplies, so that they can answer the requests. More information about Project Cure can be found on their web site, www.projectcure.org.This is a Christian organization, and the gifts are a powerful tool in God's hands, sending the message of God's love along with the supplies.
Ordinary people, like people who fish for fish, best do evangelism. Many think that it is necessary to memorized hundreds of Bible verses, be able to answer all the tough questions, and be a great debater. The fact is, people are impressed more by sincerity and love than they are through arguments. And thoughtless or mean-spirited Christians turn more people away from faith. When people say "I don't believe in God," I ask them what kind of God they don't believe in. Often I can answer that I don't believe in that kind of God either, but I can share with you the kind of God I do trust.
Many go through life with blinders, unable to see God's blessings all around them because of troubles in their lives, or self-absorption or cynicism. This is why efforts to reactivate inactive church members are often futile: something has distracted the believer, or disillusioned them, or they have begun to live without God. But catch them in a crisis, and often they return spontaneously. Most of those reactivated in my experience, had a new experience of the love of God through God's people that was impressive enough to overwhelm their objections. Fishing for people involves loving them when they are receptive, more than arguing with them when they are not.
Sometimes people accept Christ when we're not expecting it, or in ways we think are too quick or easy. Pastor D. James Kennedy tells the story of a man who witnessed to his barber, presenting God's love in the predefined pattern taught in Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion. Right then and there, the man stated that he wanted to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. Bowled over, the first man blurted out "it's not that simple!" But sometimes it is that simple!
Just as Jesus launched Peter into "deep waters," so in the Star Wars Trilogy Obi Wan
Kenobi and Yoda send young Luke Skywalker into deep waters of an adventurous faith. When Ben rescues Luke in the desert and takes him to his home, he tells Luke about the mysterious message from captive Princess Leia and about the Force. Ben invites Luke to go with him to rescue the Princess, but Luke hangs back. Even though he had been yearning to leave his uncle's farm and enroll in the space academy, now that he is offered an opportunity to leave, he does not jump at the chance. Finally, he does, and he is soon launched into a series of life-changing adventures in the great struggle against the oppression of the Empire. In that struggle Ben gives up his life to save his friends, and soon Luke finds himself on another planet, where he discovers a new mentor, one mentioned earlier by Ben. The little Jedi master Yoda takes Luke further into deep waters of the Force. Luke finds that his apprenticeship is a difficult one, and that Yoda, though small, is a hard taskmaster. When Luke fails in his attempt to use the Force to lift his spacecraft out of the quagmire into which it had crashed, he gives up, with Yoda chiding him for it. Only after long effort and several life-threatening adventures does Luke emerge as a competent Jedi.
In Entertaining Angels French peasant-philosopher Peter Maurin launches journalist Dorothy Day into the deep waters of a social justice ministry that offers concrete assistance for the poor. He had been impressed by Dorothy's writings for left-wing newspapers, so he shows up at her Manhattan flat one evening and tells her that she is going to start a newspaper. Dorothy has no faith that she has neither enough money nor or the skills for such a venture, but Peter does. With barely enough money scraped together for one issue, Dorothy follows Peter's orders, and the Catholic Worker is born, a newspaper still going after more than sixty years, despite a myriad of crises over those years. Next, Dorothy finds that she is to be involved in not only writing about the issues of poverty, but also actually feeding and sheltering its victims as well. One day when she returns home, she finds the small apartment shared with her daughter, sister, and brother-in-law filled with shabbily dressed strangers. Peter is stirring a large kettle of soup on the stove. He informs her that they must help these homeless people whom he has met in the streets. And thus, was born the first of a series of worker houses that spread across the country, places where the friendless and cast off received a warm welcome and food, clothing and shelter.
How do you evangelize teenage girls these days when it seems that so many of them devote their full attention to the fashion and pop culture magazines that line the supermarket check-out lanes? To compete with those glitzy, and sometimes suggestive, covers a new version of the Bible has recently been released that is specifically targeted to teenage girls. The $14.99 New Testament is called Revolve. It consists of 400 glossy color pages and sports a "hip" look on the cover, with brief blurbs inviting readers to look inside at articles titled "Are You Dating a Godly Guy?", "Beauty Secrets You've Never Heard Before!" and "Get Along With Your Mom." The publishers are hoping that the eye-catching presentation of the Scriptures might attract the attention of young women who currently have their eyes drawn to Cosmopolitan or Teen Cosmopolitan. Newsweek (September 8, 2003) reported that when Revolve hit the market in the late summer of 2003, it immediately became one of the top five bestselling Bibles in the nation. The same company is now looking into producing a similar publication for teen boys.
The first step in evangelism is often finding the right way to strike up a conversation with that other person. CNN reported in July about two people-Liz Barry and Bill Wetzel-who have spent the last year in New York City doing nothing but offering to talk with people. All day long the two of them sit at various locations around Manhattan with a big sign placed next to them that says, "Talk To Me." Every day dozens of people do. In the midst of a crowded subway station or along a busy avenue, strangers accept the invitation and sit down and share what's on their minds. Some talk about relationships that have gone sour. Others prefer to talk about world events. Still others discuss personal problems they're having. Barry and Wetzel don't accept any money from the people they talk with. They arrived in New York over a year ago with $1,500. They had no definite plans about where they would be able to stay once they got there, but as time has gone by, friends and friends of friends have offered to put them up in spare bedrooms and on sofas. When their funds were eventually depleted, a women on the Upper West Side offered to fund them at a rate of $14 per day, which gave them enough money for each of them to buy a cheap meal each day. Although many passersby are perplexed by what the couple is doing, hundreds of native New Yorkers and tourists have greatly appreciated the fact that someone was willing to speak with them when they really needed it.
Although many churches throughout the United States receive new members each year, true evangelism isn't necessarily taking place. According to A Field Guide to U. S. Congregations, authored by Presbyterians Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, only about 7% of church "newcomers," people who have joined the church within the past five years, are new Christians. The distinct majority of new members to most churches-about 75%-are people who are simply transferring their membership from one Christian congregation to another. Another 18% of new members are people who at one time had been church members, had dropped out, but are now returning to active participation.
Evangelism became more difficult in Malaysia this past year. According to the Canadian CNS News (4/7/03), the government in Kuala Lumpur decided to ban the Bible in the native tongue of the indigenous people who live in the eastern part of the nation. The Iban-language Bible was one of 35 publications that the government banned, deeming them to be "detrimental to public peace." Malaysia also banned other Christian books in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia languages. In addition to proscribing Bibles, the government action further prohibits the importation of translations of English-language Christian works, including books by authors such as John Stott and J. I. Packer. The edict makes the "printing, import, production, reproduction, sale, circulation, distribution and possession of books listed under the schedule" banned from the country altogether. Violators of the new law could face up to three years in prison and be fined up to $5,200. Of the 23 million inhabitants of Malaysia, only about 9% are Christians. Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, although its federal constitution technically guarantees freedom of religion for all. However, the government reserves the right to restrict the freedom to practice Christianity and to evangelize among people who are Muslims.
One of the first reactions that Peter had when he encountered Jesus was fear. It seems that fear is a fascinating subject to many people, so much so that a popular television show has arisen about the subject, Fear Factor. For those who have not seen the program, the basic premise is that people are put into situations where they are forced to face their worst fears. In one episode a man was put into a pit that had forty rats in it. Apparently to help decrease the risk of the fellow actually getting bitten, the rats were given a lot of food just before the scene was taped. The contestant was also told that the best thing he could do to keep safe was to not be afraid. He was told that if he started to fear and began kicking the rats or stepping on them, then they might try to attack him. In another episode people were asked to put their heads into a 17-inch square box that contained 50 tarantulas. The contestants were informed that they would be just fine as long as they didn't get afraid and start moving around. A bald participant seemed to fair the best, while those with long hair had to endure the tarantulas burrowing into their hair. The show's popularity must in some way indicate that while we don't like to be afraid personally, we find it entertaining to watch other people face their fears.
Peter, like three of the other original disciples, were fishermen. In current times, though, fishing is not as popular as it used to be, especially among younger people. According to USA Today (7/3/03), there are about 44 million fishing enthusiasts in the United States. Of that number, however, very few are teenagers, who seem to be more interested in video games, television, and organized sports. Some wildlife officials and fishing equipment companies are trying to turn that trend around. In particular, they're trying to let people know how fun fishing can be and how inexpensive it is to get started.
A black Baptist church in Louisiana took a rather unusual approach to evangelism this past summer. The pastor of the Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church in Shreveport announced that he would personally pay white people to attend services at their church on Sundays and Thursdays. The 5,000-member church has been almost exclusively black since it was founded in 1958. The pastor doesn't think that's the way Jesus would want it to be, so he came up with this idea as a way of changing the complexion of his congregation. Shortly after the minister announced his new program, the church received more than 100 phone calls from white people saying they were interested in coming. Some declined the offer of the $10 to attend the services, while others gladly accepted the money. The pastor, Bishop Fred Caldwell, said, "Jesus said that we're to fish for men. I'm just using money to fish with." Because he said he only had a couple thousand dollars to work with when he started the program in August, Caldwell announced that only white people would qualify for the money at first. As time goes by, however, he said he hoped to be able to expand the offer to Hispanics and other non-black ethnic groups.
The Czech Republic is one land where the work of evangelism is proving to be challenging. The Los Angeles Times reported that while the nation has an abundance of cathedrals and impressive church structures scattered throughout the land, most Czechs are rather cool toward organized religion. One Czech person commented, "People don't know about God anymore. They don't know what Christmas is about." He went on to point out that when people see paintings in the art museums of the crucifixion, they don't understand what they see. One girl reportedly looked at a painting of the crucifixion and asked, "Who did that to him?" Her friend replied, "The Communists." A Marianist brother, who was in the Czech Republic to evaluate the possibility of his Catholic order expanding their work there, stated, "There's a hostility toward what religion did to them in the past. The Czechs say they're the most atheist country in Europe, and they say it with some pride.... This is how Western civilization may look in 50 years, because people here believe they live a full life without any religion." A poll conducted by the European Values Study revealed that fewer Czechs have a formal connection to an organized religion than people in any other European country, except Estonia. Only a third of all Czechs belong to a religious denomination, and less than 12% attend services at least once a month. Although Roman Catholicism remains the largest Christian presence in the Czech Republic, the church is having a difficult time reaching the people of that land. The average age of the priests there is 67, and only half of the country's 3,000 parishes have a resident clergy. Part of the resistance that the Czechs have toward the church is over what happened to Jan Hus on July 6, 1415. It was on that day that Hus was burned at the stake. As a rector at Prague University, he had led a campaign to allow lay people to receive the wine as well as the bread in communion. Nowadays the practice is commonplace, but back then it was considered to be heresy. The church eventually silenced Hus by having him killed.
"God is not saving the world; it is done. Our business is to get men and women to realize it." (Oswald Chambers)
"People matter so much to God that everyone warrants an all-out search." (Bill Hybels)
"The truth is that we do not truly understand the Gospel if we spend all our time preaching it to Christians.... The Gospel is communication of news to those who do not know it, and we only really understand it as we are involved in so communicating it." (James Lesslie Newbigin)
"There is a net of love by which you can catch souls." (Mother Teresa)
"The Gospel is nothing but a frozen asset unless it is communicated." (J. B. Phillips)
"Go for souls and go for the worst." (William Booth)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Guide us to and through the deep water of living, Great God, so that we may be safe in danger, secure in adventures, ready for risks. When we get afraid, take us by the hand and touch our fear. Make us more afraid of fear than we are afraid. And grant us Your guidance and our ability to follow it. Amen
We come to confess risks not taken, fears that paralyze us, living shallow when the times are deep, forgetting how much You love us, Mighty Sea worthy God.
Forgive us. Grant us that rare kind of courage that Your son knew and showed. Let us be eager for the deep water, more afraid of silence than we are of speech, more afraid of risks refused than risks taken. And let our witness keep another from drowning. In the name of Jesus, who plumbed the depths so that we would know the way, Amen.
These gifts are lighthouses to some, life jackets to others, and life lines for us. Bless them, Holy God, and know the generosity that is their source. Amen.
We come in prayer for the late shift at the nursing home, the tired worker, whose pay is delayed, the tired mother who still has to find the shoes before she can put her children to bed, the father who knows the car is failing but can't bear to tell its truth to a worried family, the son whose report card is going to be bad, the daughter whose soccer game is terrible and whose parents can't take the news,
We pray for all people who live in disturbed and deep water, for their fatigue and their persistence through it.
We ask for courage, for patience, for trust, for the refusal to substitute addictive calms for the real thing. We ask that You bless all who struggle in small and large ways. Bless our nation's leaders and politicians that they may find a way to stand tall in short times. Bless those of us who go to the polls: may we know the privilege. May we remember any country where the franchise has been lost only to be regained by the blood of citizens. Bless the deep water in which we live that it be fruitful of our faith, courage, and Your abundant grace. Amen.