Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Does Evangelism Look Like?

So, the biggest thing that happens in our little (but growing) town is the Olde Tyme Peach Festival every August. The population of the town doubles. The whole place shuts down. There's a parade. Vendors come in from everywhere and sell stuff and give stuff away. Pretty much anyone who does anything within 20 miles or so is there. It's a lot of fun, even when it's 90 degrees out - and if you know me, that's saying something.

As we were walking through the hundreds of booths, the first both we happen upon was a church booth. It didn't seem like a church booth at first since the signage had nothing to do with God or church or anything. We quickly were educated as to its purpose as the volunteers were selecting various tracks from a large display to hand out to people. It always boggles the mind that they forget to ask two important questions before throwing something in your hand - "Are you a Christian?" (and therefore not in need of something like this) and "Do you want this?" (and will therefore save us money and the Earth tears from all of these that end up in that large 50 gallon trash can conveniently placed ten feet passed this booth).

I still don't know what church this booth represented, even though my daughter made some poorly designed crafts there (which also were promptly thrown away since they leaked and stained our hands). While standing and waiting for her to finish, I had to endure a bombardment of sort of angry-toned questions - as if the guy was miffed I wasn't totally into the very one-sided conversation. To top it off, the booth was giving out free drinks (did I mention it was 90 degrees at 10am?) IF you completed their "good person test" to discover if you were indeed a good person.

Spoiler alert: no one was going to pass that test.

This congregation paid money to set up a booth in which they'd only give hot thirsty people a drink of water AFTER they told them all what failures they are as human beings.

Sounds like the Love of God to me!

Thankfully that was the beginning of the day. Over the next three hours we worked our way through all the booths, got some food, and wound up at a church parking lot towards the back of the festival. This place has inflatables set up all over the place and they were handing out FREE water - but not only that, fresh (really delicious) popcorn and snow cones - as many as you wanted, all day, to anyone. Inside they had more inflatables, air-conditioned seating for hot people, and some crafts for kids.

This is the biggest thing this congregation does all year. They spend a ton of money, bring out literally hundreds of volunteers, and do almost no advertising. If you weren't from town, you might even miss that this is a church - since it's housed in a converted bowling alley with a pretty modest sign. People are friendly and there are cards around with the name and service times, but no one asks you about God or pressures you to come - heck, the DJ was playing mostly Jackson 5 stuff. The senior pastor had a hand-written nametag (that didn't even say "pastor" on it anywhere) and spent most of the time getting water for the volunteers.

This is a place where hot, tired families could let their kids run wild, get some great snacks, cool off a bit, and just have fun. This was really a group of people loving the community and putting their lives behind their words. I love it!

Now that first place was doing all the things I've always been taught were "evangelism." I was never good at it, because starting socially expected conversations with people is hard enough for me, let alone completely offensive, unwanted conversations - but this is what a lot of people have always called evangelism. Essentially it's throwing Jesus as people and hoping they catch.

It's almost enough to make you think maybe Jesus isn't the answer. And maybe that's true, especially if Jesus is getting thrown at you the way some people do. Maybe love is the answer and Jesus is just the place where we find the answer? I'm not sure how theologically astute that is (although, I think I like it either way) - and it can (and will) certainly be construed as one more way I don't "get it." But I think, if we look at the examples so nicely outlined by the Peach Festival - the people who throw love have a much better chance of getting people to catch the gospel than those who throw something else.

And if the Peach Festival sounds like fun - August 20, 2016 - we'd love to have you come and go with us!

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