Evangelism in the context of a particular theological/church tradition (Final Paper for EF1600)

Below is my final paper in my Intro to Evangelism class at Princeton Seminary…got a 27/30!

This paper will cover and describe evangelism and my tradition in discussion with one another. Also this paper will be a discussion between our course readings, my learning’s and theology, and my traditions theology and practice of evangelism. The tradition (ie: denomination) I am a member of is the PC(USA) and within that I identify with reform theology and Karl Barth’s theology especially when it comes to evangelism. In this paper I will go over my theology of evangelism in dialogue with the PC(USA), the pathways and obstacles/challenges to evangelism with my regional context which is the Pacific Northwest (PNW), what we can learn from my home church about evangelism, what my home church can learn in dialogue with our course. The overarching viewpoint I take on evangelism is relational evangelism or as a PCUSA website calls it, lifestyle evangelism. I believe that is a huge part of the way my denomination carries out evangelism.

The theology that I developed in our first paper on my theology of evangelism was largely based on Rich Richardson’s book, Reimaging Evangelism. What I described in that paper was that my theology of evangelism is relational evangelism. What I mean by that is that you become, in Richardson’s terminology, a tour guide of spirituality for someone you are building a friendship/relationship with and you guide them on their faith journey. Then when the topic of faith, religion, or spirituality comes up, then you pick up on that and go from there. Basically in this model, you allow the person to bring up the topic instead of you selling them Christianity. The way that this is relational evangelism is that you are building a relationship with this person over a long period of time before you or they bring up the topic of faith. There are many ways this can be done. Like Richardson described in his book is that if you are a barista that works at Starbucks, you can build a relationship with your customers and then bring up faith eventually. This can also be done in the context of a friendship with someone that you are already friends with or becoming friends that is not Christian. Moreover, this can also be done with your classmates, coworkers, and so forth. Basically you lead by example in this model. Another topic that I brought up in the first paper was belonging before believing. This is an important concept that every church should have in mind. Presbyterian churches do well at this because we do not force people to join our church rather we give them room for them to feel like they belong before we bring up the idea of joining the church. Basically what belonging before believing is that you allow the person to feel comfortable with the church before you get them involved with things and than once they are involved, you can bring up about joining the church.

Here is a description from the PCUSA website that describes what Presbyterians believe about evangelism: “Lifestyle evangelism is a matter of speakinginviting and receiving. We learn to speak about our Christian faith to others, to share what difference the presence of God and the support of the Christian community make in our lives…”[1] That is a very good description of what Presbyterians believe about evangelism and that basically reflects the theology I presented in the first paper. Furthermore, from the PCUSA on evangelism: “After we articulate our faith to them, or if we simply cannot yet do that, we can invite people to attend a Bible study, a support group appropriate to their need, or a church service. While not all will accept our invitations, we will find that people are more spiritually hungry and open to receive them than we are to extend them.”[2] This further reflects the theology of evangelism that I described in the first paper. So basically my theology of evangelism and my denominations theology of evangelism are in synch with one another. My theology of evangelism does not stray from the Presbyterian way of evangelism. Basically by inviting people to our church building is the way we do evangelism, when it is personal evangelism. The other way we do evangelism is local mission work with the homeless and other activities – that is another way we evangelize. “Most people go to a church initially because they are invited, and many are simply waiting to receive an invitation. When people respond to our invitations or come to our churches on their own initiative, we must receive them in Jesus’ name and way.”[3] This quote from the PCUSA basically reflects what belonging before believing is and is at the core of Presbyterian evangelism. That core is that it is all about the invitation to our church building in regards to our evangelism. Once those people are in our door we need to make them feel as comfortable as possible, like the quotes states, we should treat them as Jesus would. This all starts with the church members – they are the forefront of our evangelism. The pastor in the Presbyterian context is not the main agent when it comes to evangelism.

The context that I will describe in regards to my tradition, the PCUSA, is urban and suburban contexts. That is where I see my ministry taking place and that is where my home church and the church I am currently attending, Nassau Presbyterian Church, align themselves with. The cultural setting that I will focus on in this paper is the Northwest urban/suburban church because that I what I know best. Which now brings me to what pathways and obstacles does your tradition face in regards to evangelism within the context you will be describing? I will describe two pathways and four obstacles for evangelism in the Pacific Northwest in this paper and I will also include how churches and Christians evangelize in this region using the pathways and obstacles as starting points. The pathways that my cultural context, the Pacific Northwest, provides for evangelism are the following same-sex couples are legal to marry, people are looking for authentic community by them going to lots of meeting places which to chose from. Those are the two major pathways in the PNW that lead to evangelism. A first pathway is that it is legal to marry same-sex couples in Washington, Oregon, and California. In addition, the PCUSA accepts homosexual clergy and now pastors can marry same-sex couples in states where it is legal to do so due to an Authoritative Interpretation of the Book of Order from General Assembly. This is a pathway to evangelism because it shows that our denomination is trying to make itself be more inclusive in regards to homosexuality. However, this is causing a schism in the denomination but that is bound to happen since Presbyterians historically have done so in America. This acceptance of homosexuals to ordained offices of the church and allowed to be full members of the PCUSA this provides a pathway for the PCUSA to evangelize to these groups of people in the LBGT community that have been ostracized by the church in the near past. This provides the church a new group of people, that are more than likely already a part of the church, to reach out to and officially welcome to the church. Also being able to marry same-sex couples, right now anyways, is a step in the right direction because it shows that our denomination accepts same-sex couples because they have full rights in our denomination. The same-sex marriage authorization is still up for debate because the language to be added to the Book of Order in the Directory for Worship is still being voted on by presbyteries.[4]

Another pathway for evangelism that my cultural context provides is that we have a tremendous amount of cafes, pubs, and bars that lots of people gather at. People usually gather at these places because (1) looking for community, (2) buying a beverage or food item at the café, (3) having a meal and an adult beverage, and so forth. The reason this is a pathway for evangelism is that in the Pacific Northwest these are places where people often gather for meals, studying, drinking, people hanging out, and so forth. People these days are looking for places that provide authentic community, so they gather at cafes, bars, pubs, etc to provide that community. So due to the fact people are looking for authentic community, we Christians can take advantage of that in various ways, which I will describe. Which brings me back to Rick Richardson’s befriending model of evangelism, this is the type of evangelism that can be done very effectively at a bar, pub, or café. The ways that this can be carried out is that the evangelizer can befriend the barista or waiter that they frequently come in to contact with and build a relationship by just small talking. A way that this can be carried out at a café is that the pastor goes to a café and prepares and writes their sermon there with the bible and commentaries all open – that might bring up discussion with customers and employees of the café. And when those people come up to you – you can build a relationship this way, especially if they frequent the café. Another option for evangelism at a café is having small group meetings, leadership meetings, and bible studies at the café. That might gain interest of customers and they might come join in on the conversation. Again this is even better if the bible study happens weekly at the same café and the same people frequent that place.

Another pathway that I mentioned is a bar, pub, or restaurant. Throughout the Pacific Northwest and even here in Princeton, NJ there are groups that meet at bars and pubs that have the theme of a Theology Pub where there is a discussion on theology, faith, religion, and so forth. These groups usually do a book discussion or a topic discussion while meeting at the bar, pub, or restaurant. One reason that groups throughout the country are doing this is to attract people that normally wouldn’t be attracted to Christianity to come check us out. This sort of is a gain member tool but also it is a way to evangelize due to the fact you might attract people who wouldn’t normally be attracted to organized religion. These groups are usually not designed to just go out together and get drunk, rather they are groups that are intended to build community where community is already taking place. The same goes for meeting at cafes. A café can be a place where a Theology Pub happens as well if people are not confortable with alcohol. There is no pressure, however, for people to drink at these meetings. As you can tell by my description of these places, these are places that already community building is happening at and where you might meet people that would not be caught dead in a church but attracted to theological nonetheless. So this is a good tool to use for evangelism because you might reach people that would never be reached in the first place. Jesus did not define the church as a building rather all Christians are the church, so wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Christ there is the church.

Which now brings me to what are obstacles or challenges in the Pacific Northwest for evangelism? The four major things in the PNW that are obstacles/challenges to evangelism are (1) postmodernism, (2) intellectualism (high level of education), (3) “most un-churched” region in the country, and (4) conservative churches (this is an obstacle for Christians that are not conservative evangelicals). Postmodernism is a challenge and obstacle for evangelism in the whole United States context. In postmodernism people tend to be antiauthority, anti metanarrative, no one truth, and more individualistic. A basic definition of postmodernism is: “in Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.”[5] Thus, this is a major obstacle since it is a major paradigm that our country operates with. So Christians, in evangelism, have to object to postmodernism and show that there is a truth and that truth can be found in the bible and in the word made flesh, Jesus Christ. There is often push back, negativity, and violent tendencies from people who totally object to Christianity, atheists, when we try to evangelize them. The way, historically, Christian dealt with this issue is that we created a field in theology known as apologetics. Apologetics, as defined by Merriam-Webster is: “(1) systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine) and (2) a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity”.[6] When trying to evangelize in the PNW with the obstacle and challenges of (1) postmodernism, (2) intellectualism (high level of education), and (3) “most un-churched” region in the country, apologetics is a good strategy to use after building a relationship with the person you are trying to evangelize. Apologetics is effective, for the most part. However, it can also turn people off to Christianity. So when bringing up apologetics in the PNW, to deal with the issue of conservative churches, you can bring up the depth and breath of Christian beliefs so that the person you are evangelizing sees that there is more than one way to express faith. However, you would go over the basic tenants and tell them these are essential and than go from there. Furthermore to work with these challenges and obstacles in the PNW churches can have speakers come in and do a dialogue between differing viewpoints like Darwinism and Christianity, Harry Potter and Theology, Similarities and differences between Christianity and Buddhism, or even have a discussion on Theology and End of Life issues. Having presentations like these at churches can show that we Christians embrace intellectualism and that we do really think deeply about theology and so forth. Also Presbyterians can show people that our history shows that we have always been about the life of the mind. Presbyterian churches throughout the PNW and even here in the North East do these kinds of discussion between different people or the pastor or some other speaker leading a class. If you have a church sign out front – you can put this kind of thing on it.

Which now brings me to my home congregation, First Presbyterian Church Vancouver WA to put into conversation what I have learned in this course, with our readings, and with what I have described above. Our current pastor has been with us for over a year now, this pastor has is very missional minded and has a DMin in missional leadership from Fuller Theological seminary. Before he came to our church, we were already missional and serving the other, that is a part of what attracted him to our church in the first place. First off, my home church has no official evangelism program or strategy. However we do a lot of missional work which can be evangelistic, those programs and activities are: (1) food ministry to the homeless every Saturday, (2) can/no perishable food drive, (3) Habitat for Humanity, (4) a part of an organization of Presbyterian churches in Vancouver called Churches in Partnership (which is centered around Habitat for Humanity and our community garden), (5) our community garden, which has turned in to a community farm which is located at the Washington State University extension agriculture campus that provides food for the Food Bank and other organizations, (6) welcome committee that welcomes people to worship on Sunday mornings, (7) follow up/through with visitors, and (8) our Wednesday night dinner and education program called FEAST. Those are all the most effective missional and evangelistic activities and programs my church does. In this paper I will focus on three of the eight things my church does well when it comes to evangelism. Those two topics I will cover are: (1) our welcome committee (which includes a visitor’s welcome station, greeters, and ushers) and (2) our FEAST Program.

Which now brings me to describe the first thing my home church does well when it comes to mission and evangelism which is our welcome committee which consists of greeters, a visitor’s welcome podium, our before and after worship fellowship time, ushers, and our members are also very welcoming. As Rich Richardson would put this, is that this worship committee allows those who are visiting or are regular attenders to feel like they belong before they believe (or join). This is one thing I have heard from people who have visited my church is that we are more welcoming than the other Presbyterian churches in the area. Also our membership is pretty welcoming at different church events, on Sundays, and various other times. My congregation realizes that they are the “forefront” of the evangelism for my church – they witness to visitors and all who come in the doors. They show the love and hospitality of Jesus to all. This reflects the theology of evangelism that the PC(USA) reflects. Here is a quote to describe what I am talking about more fully: “From the moment visitors enter the church property, their ease in navigating the facilities, the way they are greeted, the understandability of the service, the relevance of the message, the response of people to them after the service, the follow-up calls, letters or visits — each is a positive or negative witness to the gospel.”[7] My congregation and welcoming committee takes that quote to heart! Our ushers and members help visitors on Sunday mornings navigate our building, members during worship help visitors understand the worship service, visitors are always welcomed warmly with the love of God, our members and pastor always are welcoming to visitors after the service – members do this by guiding them to fellowship time and introducing them to people, and our pastor or deacons always follow up with visitors with a phone call, email, or note in the mail. In addition, our worship liturgy and sermon are easy to understand and navigate for all. In our sanctuary we have a huge projector screen to allow those whom do not want to use the bulletin or hymnal still be able to follow the liturgy. One of the reasoning’s for the projector screen was to allow young people to feel more welcome. The best example I can think of that reflects my church as welcoming is that a few years ago a parent of two boys with autistic tendencies called my pastor, who was an interim at the time, to see if she and her family would welcomed at our church and he said absolutely! When they came to our church they were fully welcomed by the whole section of pews that they sat in, by the pastor, by the deacons, and by my family (my sister worked one of her sons at a summer city sponsored sensory camp – they came to our church by happenstance). They are now members and attend regularly. And the mom is a deacon now, she got immediately involved when she and her husband joined and the husband I believe is on one of our Book of Order mandated session committees. When the mother of the two boys with autistic tendencies called other local Presbyterian churches to see if they would be welcome, those churches were not as welcoming as ours.

Another powerful example of my church being a welcoming church is that we have a few members who have developmental and/or mental health issues who are in the eyes of most as “special”. Before these people joined the people who were there early would always welcome them with arms wide open. I was apart of that group since I used to unlock the building every Sunday morning. These people would arrive on public transit, sometimes, shortly after I arrived at the church. These people were invited to my church by a person that was already a member who as a Bipolar Disorder. One of the friends who eventually joined the church, is a women has Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). Hence, sometimes she is totally coherent and with us, other times she is like a little child and brings a baby doll with her. She attends our Godly Play time with the children during worship where my mom built a relationship with her and she goes up to children’s time during worship as well. Eventually she brought up that she wanted to join the church because she loves Jesus and Jesus loves her. My mom is a mentor to this person. This person ultimately became a member. The baptism of this person was my interim pastor’s most unique and powerful experiences at my church during worship. She and one of the other people who come early to church (a lady in her 60s) have built a friendship where the lady sort of mentors this person. Their friendship is something beautiful to watch before worship. They exchange stickers and the lady buys the person things sometimes (mostly kid type stuff like coloring books). Most of the members of the congregation are very welcoming and kind to her – they seem to understand that she has a mental disorder. As you can tell from my descriptions of my church being welcoming is that we are very welcoming to everyone. Normally churches are not so welcoming to people with psychological problems, special needs, mental health problems, and development issues but as you can tell my home church is an exemplar in this. All these situations have been great learning experiences for me.

Secondly, one of the major church programs that is an effective evangelistic ministry for my home church is our Wednesday night dinner and education program called FEAST; FEAST stands for friends eating and studying together. The goal of this program is not to gain membership or even officially evangelize visitors, however it is a program to allow people to feel welcome and belong before they commit to attending worship or anything else. So in the words of Richardson, this allows them to belong before they believe. People who have become members of the church have stated that FEAST is one of the reasons they joined and the other reason is us being welcoming. The basic structure of this program is a meal and than a program adults, children, and youth. The adult education piece is on any topic from the bible to local politics. The goal of the adult education part is to educate people on topic they are interested in or not familiar with. This is a way my church addresses the intellectualism obstacle of the PNW. People invite their friends and family members to FEAST all the time, there are always visitors. Some of these visitors are already Christian and a member of a local church that heard about our program through the grapevine. We have gained some new members through this program since its inception. Moreover since the program’s inception we have also had regular attenders of FEAST who don’t come to worship but come to FEAST. This program also somewhat reflects the relational/lifestyle evangelism model that the PC(USA). So in a way, our Wednesday program is a reflection of PC(USA) theology of evangelism.

Which now brings me to what can my home church learn from our course work in EF1600? The following concepts and ideas that my home church can learn from our course work will come from the book A Mission Shaped Church, from chapter 4: Fresh Expressions of Church. The two items I will pull from that chapter are café church and youth congregations. Like I have described above my church is good about helping people belong so they will believe, we are good at being tour guide and spiritual friends, we are very welcoming, and we have events that get people in the door. However, what my home church is not so great at is new ideas of doing church. The first new way of doing church that may work for my home church is café church (I described theology pub above in the pathways section; this relates to that). What is café church you ask, well it is: “…label is an attempt to group examples that seek to engage with café culture and whose external characteristic is a deliberate change of ambience and ‘feel’ when people meet corporately. In short, gatherings are around small tables rather than in pews.”[8] So café church is more informal than regular traditional church (ie: worship). This is how it is more informal: “People characteristically sit and talk, rather than stand or defend their personal space. Interaction rather than spectating is encouraged. The venues are often secular: community centres, youth clubs, cafés and pub rooms.”[9] Like I described above café church can be done basically anywhere outside of the church in the community. Café churches are an attempt to build authentic community that is centered on Christ. Café churches are happening all over the country, some of them are a part of the denominational initiative 1001 Worshiping Communities. So why use this as a option for a new way to do church you ask, well here is why: “Café church is different from Seeker Services, because café church is primarily about creating a sense of community…”[10] Besides that is exactly what people are looking for these days, community, especially authentic community. Café churches are not about getting people to come to the mother church rather these are there own worshipping communities or there own groups that may be lead by a pastor or small group leader from the mother church. Café church is usually done as table fellowship were discussions occur around matters of faith and life, worship is informal (if they do worship), some group meet weekly and others meet bi-weekly or maybe even once a month, and these groups meet at local places outside of the church but can be done in the church as well. In Portland, OR there is a church that does an alterative worship service that meets in a coffee shop environment – my church has been trying to learn from them at how to do that. Also my church does do a theology pub bi-weekly but we could learn from this chapter about including a worship piece to this and to maybe make theology pub it’s own worshipping community, that way we would reach more types of people that we normally would not reach. To sum up the concept of café church: “The mission style of café churches is relational.”[11] Consequently this fits with the style of evangelism my church expresses which is relational.

The next concept that my home church can learn from A Mission Shaped Church chapter 4 is the concept of youth congregations. A youth congregation is it’s own separate worshipping community apart from the normal worshiping service. A youth congregation is led by youth and is for youth and “youth congregations often have a weekly pattern, have recognized leaders, pastoral structures and clear mission intentions.”[12] This type of service can be fully youth led, partially youth led with the pastor or youth director giving the sermon, and various other leadership configurations. The one that I believe is most popular for these types of churches is that worship (ie: music) is lead by a band and a pastor or youth director does the sermon and sometimes there are testimonies given. Basically these services consist of music and sermon. This would be an effective method for my church to carry out due to the fact we have a good size youth group and our youth like to invite their friends. Also there are now Presbyterian churches in the area that just have a worship service for students. So this would be a good opportunity for my church to do. We do have the space to be able to do this in our small chapel complete with a chancel and communion table. We have musicians that would be able to assist and our youth director would be able to do the sermon. I believe this would be a good evangelistic tool for my congregation because we have a prime opportunity to do this and we would reach students that normally would not be reached. We do have lots of schools and two major higher education intuitions in the area (Clark College and Washington State University Vancouver); both higher education schools do not have campus chaplains. Hence, our hypothetical youth congregation could act as a “campus minister” as well. There is a great deal more my home church could learn from our course but the most salient concepts I felt were the café church and youth congregation models from A Mission Shaped Church. I felt those were the most salient concepts/models because my home church is currently, somewhat equipped, to carry those out. We are a declining congregation in the age groups under 55, so these two concepts/models from the book would be very helpful for my home church in terms of statistics.

To summarize, I have described in this paper how my theology of evangelism matches the PC(USA), I have highlighted what the PC(USA)’s theology of evangelism is, I have described what the pathways and obstacles to evangelism are in the Pacific Northwest, and I have described to learning’s for our course that I can take to my church for them to learn from. This paper has helped me gain insight in to what my theology of evangelism truly is and has helped me realize how much our traditions shape and form our overall theology. This paper has covered the need for people to belong before they believe to join a church, people always need to be welcomed as we would welcome Christ, and that my style of evangelism is relational, meaning building spiritual friendships and being a tour guide. The first paper, this paper, and our course have helped me understand evangelism in a truly new and unique way. I better understand what it means to be missional and I better understand what it means to bring people to Christ.

Finally, the predominant argument of this paper has been relational evangelism, be welcoming, and allow people belong before they believe. “Most people today will come to faith in the context of a community. Belonging comes before believing. Evangelism today is about helping people belong so that they can come to believe.”[13] That quote from Rick Richardson is a good summary about what I believe about evangelism and how it should be. In addition, that quote is a good summary of what I was shooting at with the pathways and obstacles that I described above and what my home church is good at. Plus that quote is a good summation of what I believe my church can learn from the course in regards to café church and youth congregations, which are both about creating community. That is what our culture in the United States and in the PNW is longing for, is authentic community, so by intentionally going out in to the community with a café church or theology pub, it shows that we care about the community where the church is located – even if they do not come to the mother church. Additionally, it shows we care about the spiritual formation of all by offering options that work for all age groups to create community and be worshipful.

[1] George, Sherron Kay. “What Do Presbyterians Believe about Evangelism? — Presbyterians Today Magazine — Mission and Ministry —.” Presbyterian Mission Agency. April 1, 2002. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/today/evangelism/.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] This website shows the proposed new language to the Directory for Worship in comparison to the current language. <http://www.pcusa.org/resource/comparison-proposed-amendment-w-49000-marriage/&gt;

[5] Duignan, Brian. “Postmodernism (philosophy).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1077292/postmodernism.

[6] “Apologetics.” Merriam-Webster. January 1, 2014. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apologetics.

[7] George, Sherron Kay. “What Do Presbyterians Believe about Evangelism? — Presbyterians Today Magazine — Mission and Ministry —.” Presbyterian Mission Agency. April 1, 2002. Accessed December 19, 2014. http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/today/evangelism/.

[8]Archbishop’s Council on Mission and Public Affairs (2010-09-01). Mission-Shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions in a Changing Context (Kindle Locations 1304-1306). Church Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[9] Ibid Kindle Locations 1306-1308

[10] Ibid Kindle Locations 1330-1332

[11] Ibid Kindle Location 1340

[12] Ibid Kindle Locations 1813-1814

[13] Rick Richardson. Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey (Reimagining Evangelism Curriculum Set) (Kindle Locations 453-454). Kindle Edition.


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