the case for grace-based evangelism

excerpt from a sermon on John 21:1-14

We live in some pretty crazy and interesting times.  There is a lot of skepticism about organized religion and the church in particular.  And if we are being honest with ourselves we deserve some of it, maybe even most of it.  Polls have shown that millennials see the church as a place of judgment, a rigid institution and that it is irrelevant to their day to day life.  And yet, most of this generation identify as spiritual but no religious.

Within the church there is a lot anxiety about our future, whether or not we can turn the ship, so to speak, and get people to come back and occupy our pews.

But, I think, we have a different opportunity in the midst of these times.  I think we have so much to offer our neighborhood and our city.  I think that we have Good News to share and proclaim and I think that there are folks in our neighborhoods and our lives who desperately need to hear Good News.

As we think about what it means for us to share good news, to be evangelists, I’d like to propose thinking about it on two levels, as a community and as individuals.

The story we heard this morning shows us that sometimes we have to shift our perspective, orientation or direction in order to see some new results.  We are in a time and a place where we have an amazing opportunity to cast our nets on the other side, to shift our mindset, in order to share the good news of God’s love for all people.  And ultimately, at the heart of this shift, is changing our agenda when it comes to evangelism, it’s something that I like to call-grace based evangelism; or to put it another way, to love our neighbors without any agenda other than loving our neighbors. 

Let’s take a moment to unpack this.  For a long time the larger church in the United States has functioned with an attractional model of ministry, meaning that one of the underlying reasons for organizing events, doing ministry andoutreach was to attract people to the church and eventually make them one of us.  We see this manifested in many different ways including, but not limited to, this phrase we sometimes hear repeated:

‘it was so great that all these new people come to this wonderful life-giving event, now how do we get them to come to church on Sunday morning?’

See the underlying condition, if we do X,Y or Z, then we can get people to occupy our pews.  But our God is not a God of conditions, our God is a God whose love and grace is unconditional and whose call is always invitational.

As we live into this new world we need to rethink the model of attraction and shift to focusing on ways our church community can be an offering of grace and love for our neighbors, without any other agenda other than loving our neighbors and proclaiming the good news of God’s love and peace for all people.  This shift does not mean that we change what we do necessarily, we’re still fishing, but were doing it differently, we switched to the other side of the boat to cast our nets on the other side.

So, as a church, we choose to intentionally focus our outreach ministry on building loving relationships with our neighbors and showing Christian hospitality.

We continue do things like, host Easter Egg hunts to offer a safe place for families to be in an intergenerational community and share in the joy of children’s laughter,

we build a community library for our neighborhood because we think that our neighborhood is enriched when we share stories and knowledge with one another,

we open up our facility for prayer, walking the labyrinth, or yoga to be an open and constant place for spiritual solace and formation,

we create simple opportunities for worship beyond Sunday morning at 10am because we recognize that work or soccer or brunch with non-church going folks sometimes becomes a priority.

we provide a simple pot luck meal and some crafts for the homeless families in transitional housing to share our lives with one another and to give working parents a break from cooking one meal a month.

We offer ourselves freely, as a gift of grace, loving our neighbors without any strings attached or any other agendas, because we believe the Good News of God’s unbelievable grace for everyone.

Now as disciples, I want to challenge each of us to be willing to share what we find here with people in our lives, our friends and our families; to share from a place of personal genuine faith why you come here for worship, for prayer, for community to find God.

To paraphrase Tony Campolo, an amazing Christian thinker, writer and evangelist, ‘no one ever came to faith because they lost an argument; they came to faith because of a relationship.’  Take a moment and think about your own life of faith.  What comes to mind, a place, a book, or is it a people, a person?  The story of our tradition, from the get go is a story of God’s grace entering into every type of human relationship and blessing it with God’s life-giving love.  We are relational beings drawn into community.  Each of us has the opportunity to share our own good news, the good news of God’s love for all people with another person, to share how and why this church community challenges you to be part of making a better world, how this community of faith has embodied the life-giving love of God for you and your family.  Think about it, pray about it, someone in your life who might need good news.  Offer your story to them without any agenda other than love, and let God do the rest.

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