And "fun with evangelism", too!
Yesterday I led one of my Ladies' Bible Study groups in the "Lutheran Woman Today" Bible Study, found in the May 2011 issue. In the past, I've had many an issue with the material provided, so my expectations as I opened the magazine to preview it were pretty low. Especially when the Table of Contents revealed that the topic was "evangelism." Oh Lord, here we go...was my precise thought, as I flipped to page 32.
Imagine my surprise when I found a really solid study on - and call to - evangelism. I mean, truly, given what we'd endured over the winter ("mother Earth," "how to be nice to gay people," and "rooting out racism"), I had to check the cover and make sure this was still the same publication. The thing I liked most about the study was that it was very clear that we are called to be witnesses to Christ (Acts 1:4-8), and that worshipping, learning, and serving, while good and valuable, are not evangelism. Evangelism is actually telling people about Jesus, and communicating that nothing else matters without the transforming power of Jesus Christ in a person's life.
I thought it was an interesting choice of text - it's probably not what I would have picked, but it worked fine. Some of their suggestions of the duties of an "evangelism task force" don't really work in our context (It's hard to have a three-pronged evangelism team when you live in a town of 50 and have, at best, 20 people in church on Sunday morning.) But the main point - you are supposed to be telling people about Jesus - came through loud and clear.
So I was all excited about this, and couldn't wait to work through it with the ladies. When I got to the home Bible Study was being held at, I found my normally friendly ladies to be quite grouchy. "We're glad you're here, because we don't like this. We were all just talking about it before you got here, and none of us like it."
After listening to them for a few minutes, I suggested we just read through the study and see what happens. First, they did not like the idea that service is good but it doesn't substitute for evangelism. Upon further reflection today, I wonder if this comes out of an exaggerated application of the "we'll know they are Christians by our love" principle combined with the "two things we don't discuss in polite society - politics and religion" principle. Nonetheless, I stuck to my guns, and we moved forward.
Pretty soon, we got onto some sort of discussion about "evangelism begins at home" or something, which turned into a rant about kids who get confirmed and never come back to church. Interesting...veddy interesting... I thought to myself. So I asked, "Why is this important? Why do we care if kids come to church?" I got the usual answers: to hear the sermon, to pray, to worship, to be with other Christians, to have your faith renewed, etc... So I push again, "Ok, but why is that important? I mean, who cares if 'your faith is renewed'?" At this point, some of them thought that I was actually arguing that these things aren't important, so I corrected that, noting that I hadn't said that at all, that I was just asking questions.
Anyway...eventually these ladies get to: faith is important because you need it to get through the daily stuff of life, I don't know how anyone who doesn't pray can survive the day, you need the good news of Christ when there's a tragedy or death, how can you go to a funeral without the hope of the resurrection, and so on... I let them talk that angle for several minutes before I interrupted and said, "This, by the way, what you're all doing right now, is evangelism." They looked at me in complete shock. I had completely caught them off guard. "But we're just sitting here talking with each other." Bingo.
After that, the ladies started sharing some other instances of when and where they are sharing their faith - "back when I used to work at the courthouse, if somebody's relative died, we would talk about church and what we believed..." "there's this lady I have coffee with who says she's an atheist, but I tell her things, and she listens and asks questions, she seems kind of interested..."
Somewhere along the line, these ladies got the idea (like most of us, probably) that "evangelism" = standing on the street corner, shouting "REPENT!!!!" Hearing that it's not really that at all, but this kind of natural "sharing your faith" was a completely new idea. However, I think a lot of them are really struggling still with the difference between "being Christian" and "being a nice person." Ah, well, I guess that's what this week's Gospel lesson (I am the way, the truth, and the life) is for...
Interestingly, also, two of the ladies (the only 2?) who are not originally from the community but moved here when they got married, shared stories that the first time they attended church here (these are all older ladies, so probably 40 years ago or something), not a single person said hello or welcomed them in any way. Now, they kept coming because they were married, and they were "church people" already, and whatever. But I think it got the attention of the rest of the group to hear that they are not necessarily as "nice" and "welcoming" as they like to think.
All in all, a great Bible Study. Good work, LWT.