And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” —John 1:3b—34
This week our congregation’s leaders made what I think is another fabulous decision to engage in the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) that has so wonderfully served the mission and ministry of our neighbors at Grace Episcopal. Medford. You can read all about that program and see a video of the Grace experience here: diomassleads.org. I hope you saw the email I sent everyone inviting you to participate in that program—there is a lot of info in that invitation about why I believe it is going to help us discern our call and come to our bold decision about the future.
But another reason I am SO excited is that we will have a team of leaders who have been trained in the community organizing practices of Marshall Ganz. Those practices, at their core are about a) learning to understand and tell our stories in a way that motivates others to join us and b) building robust relationships with others that enable purpose, meaning, and outcomes. The training will help us both get to our bold decision AND help us to share the exciting and really good news about the new thing that God is doing here in our faith community.
Now you may already know where I am going with this—but before I say it, I want to make sure you are sitting down, are you sitting down? Think about it, telling our stories in a way that motivates others to join and building relationships that enable purpose, meaning and outcomes…. does that sound like something we Jesus Followers would want to do? Of course it is! We’ve got some seriously good news to share about God’s amazing grace and Jesus’s love and justice for all of God’s people. Yet, in the vernacular of the Christian Church we call it evangelism and we mainline church folk really do not like to hear that word. As long as I have been a pastor, progressive Christians have talked about reclaiming that word from Evangelicals and yet as we have progressed through Crossroads, I have heard many of you admit to being uncomfortable with the idea of sharing your faith or inviting people to join you at church (and seen a couple of you cringe at the use of the E Word.
My favorite weekly blogger, David Lose wrote about this as he reflected on the gospel lesson for this week: “…most of our people not only have little experience in evangelism but are downright frightened of it. And that, of course, cripples our ability to reach out with the good news…John’s story of Jesus’ baptism might be the perfect reading to invite us not only to admit our dis-ease with evangelism but also begin to overcome it.”
Dr. Lose observes that in John’s account of Jesus’ baptism we get a second-hand account from the testimony of John the Baptist. “He sees the dove descend upon Jesus and tells others what he sees. That’s it. Andrew later does the same. He tells his brother what he and John’s other disciples saw — the person they believe is the Messiah — and invites Peter to come along and see for himself…when it comes to our relationship with Jesus, our primary job is to see and share. Not threaten, not coerce, not intimidate, not woo or wheedle or plead, but simply to see and share.”
And Lose suggests it may be that simple, “At its heart, evangelism is noticing what God is doing in our lives, sharing that with others, and inviting them to come and see for themselves.” I love this further connection that Lose makes, “It’s also what Jesus does. When Jesus notices some of John’s disciples following him, he asks them what they are looking for. They, in turn, ask where he is staying. He doesn’t give an answer. He doesn’t question further. All he does in response is make an invitation: “Come and see.” “Notice. Share. Invite. These are the three elements of evangelism, sharing the good news of what God has done and is still doing through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us and all the world.” Lose goes on in his blog post to acknowledge that we do not know how to do this, and encourages his constituency (Working Preachers) to develop the skills and practices that will get us comfortable with the elements.
Transforming the e word…Not strong arm or manipulate or judge someone else’s faith journey but notice, share, invite. Notice the presence of God in the world and in you day and if that is too hard, notice the places you wish God was present in the world. With practice, you will begin to find God all over the place! Share with someone in a meeting, over tea, when you arrive for worship, during prayer time that which you noticed about God’s presence or action. The only way we will get more comfortable is to practice this and I will try to invite us all into more opportunities to share. Invite someone to come and see. Dr. Lose writes that, “…we invite people to things all the time. To join a book club or play tennis…or to come over for dinner…[etc]… We’re actually quite good about inviting folks to come to things … just not to church. …we invite people to those things we really like and think others would, too. [so] what elements of our church life do we most value? … Then, our task is simply to think about who might also enjoy this event or activity and invite them.”
It will take time of course, but if we can be deliberate about it and consider it a spiritual practice, we will develop the skills to notice, share, and invite. Think about how huge an impact this had on the early church…John testified, Andrew testified, Jesus testified and the world was changed forever. Your one small story, your one simple share, your one invitation will change the world too!
With blessing and prayer, Rev. Wendy Miller Olapadeemail@example.com/617.592.5853