As I mentioned in my April article, we set out as a church to be more evangelistic this year. At that time, we were in the beginning stages of that process. We wanted to be people who shared the Gospel with our friends and neighbors, so one of the first steps was for each person to sit down with pen and paper and write what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to each one of us. As we shared these short gospels with one another as a church, it was awesome to see what facets of the Gospel each person emphasized. For some, the focus was forgiveness of sins. For others, they emphasized new life and the joy we experience in Jesus. Still others talked about participation in the kingdom of God. My personal spiel was mainly about the resurrection and victory over death and disease that we will one day see fully realized. The Gospel is a big, profound thing. The biggest, most profound thing, in fact. There is room for all of these different things to fit inside, so I think it’s ok if one person focuses on one part and another on what most affected him or her. Hearing from each person in the church painted a beautiful, multi-faceted picture of this weighty thing we call “the Good News.”
Some of us on the team have been working through N.T. Wright’s book, Simply Good News. I’d highly recommend this resource to you if you’re participating with us in this evangelism goal. One of Wright’s main pushes in this book is to help us regain an understanding of what news is. “Most people in the Western world think of Christianity as a system: a religious system, a system of salvation, or a system of morality. Most people do not think of it as news – a message about something that happened, as a result of which everything is now different.” Wright argues that there is a lot of value in returning to an understanding of the Gospel as news, and I think he has a point. Contemplating how that news has changed us personally and collectively, and how it brings us hope for the future can rekindle our excitement about sharing it. It can also simplify our message and put the ball in the hearer’s court to believe or not believe rather than having to be convinced to buy into a complicated religious system.
This summer, Peru elected a new president. Political campaigns and debates were all the buzz. One thought experiment we found helpful for defining the Gospel during this election season was, “If Jesus became president of Peru tomorrow, why would that be good news?” There would be hope for the future. There would be someone we could trust at the helm. Of course Jesus is King of Kings, but framing the question in terms of president seems to hit a little closer to home, doesn’t it? If Clinton and Trump both lost to a surprise candidate named Jesus of Nazareth, why would that be good news for the U.S.? I wonder who his running mate would be. Peter? Matthew (for his tax expertise)? Nah, probably the Holy Spirit, huh?
Another exercise we as a church did was to make a list of family members, friends, and acquaintances that we want to share our gospel with this year. We began praying hard over this list of people and asking God to prepare their hearts to hear it and give us opportunities to share. We’ve tried to have our eyes open to these opportunities as He presents them.
From there, the conversation turned to strategy. First we talked about obnoxious and off-putting ways to share the Gospel, or what not to do. Standing on the street corner with a bullhorn shouting “turn or burn!” was something that we thought might be more damaging than helpful. As we’ve talked about before in newsletter articles, development of trust, or “confianza” is a big contextual factor in Peru. We want to start with the people that are already in our lives that we have confianza with. Based on how most of us came to faith, this seems to be a very effective method. The strategy question then becomes “Who do we already have confianza with and how do we develop confianza with others?”
Jeremy and Katie set a great example for the rest of us in the church with their neighborhood pizza nights. Hospitality to neighbors in the form of pizza and good conversation around the dinner table has already born fruit in terms of confianza developed and Bible studies started.
At the outset of the evangelism conversation we talked about obstacles to sharing faith. One obstacle several people mentioned is lack of Bible knowledge. “What if someone asks a question I don’t know the answer to?” This vulnerability can be a greater strength than weakness. What if our response to a question like that was “I don’t know the answer but I’d love to study it together with you and see what the Bible says”? After all, isn’t being vulnerable and weak one of the main things Jesus praised in his disciples?
If someone wants to learn more about this Gospel you’re preaching, what next? We spent a week or two going over some resources and ideas for what to do. Some like to start with the Gospel of Mark. We’ve also found that people here are interested in reading through the whole Bible in a year and that has become an evangelistic tool. Others start with basic questions of faith the person might have like, “Why did Jesus die for our sins?” Every person will be different and as we see with Paul in Acts, you might explain the Gospel one way to a Jew, but in a completely different way to an Athenian. We also spent time talking about the importance of repentance and baptism and the difference between making “converts” and making disciples. What we mean by “convert” is someone who makes a one-time decision to follow Jesus, gets baptized, and then is left to fend for themselves and expected to attend church once a week. Becoming a disciple, on the other hand, seems to be much more. From what we see in the New Testament, it seems to be something that is an ongoing, life-consuming process. Discipleship, or apprenticeship, to Jesus must continue well past the point of conversion.
Our last Sunday on the topic of evangelism was a role-playing exercise. We paired off and took turns role playing scenarios in everyday life, working Jesus and the Gospel into the conversation. That was a lot of fun and really helpful. Our aim is to be a people so enamored with Jesus’s Gospel that we can’t help but incorporate it into everything in our lives, even the seemingly mundane things like the weather and our jobs. I think this requires much reflection and contemplation on just how much the Good News has affected us and less beating ourselves up for not being the Christians we ought to be. Then, the Gospel will flow out of us naturally and not feel so much like an obligation.
We continue to pray for the people on our lists and pray that by exercising faith-sharing, we will grow and mature in our seed-planting abilities. We invite you to participate in the Arequipa church’s goal to be better messengers of the Good News this year and we’d love to hear stories about how that goes for you. Please pray for us here that the Gospel would take root and change lives.