Monday, July 24, 2006

Things I've Learned at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (#7 - Live Evangelistically)

I mentioned in yesterday's post that CHBC doesn't offer a lot of programs for members to occupy themselves with. One elder, Andy Johnson, is fond of saying that church programs are the enemy of evangelism because they siphon a member's time away from relationships with non-Christians and opportunities for sharing the gospel. I think that's correct.

But prior to coming to CHBC, evangelism was largely something organized by the church (door knocking, etc.) or something done by people who were "gifted evangelists." I'd hear the occasional exhortation to share the gospel, participate in the Great Commission, etc., but never did I hear a clear call for every Christian to order her/his life around the gospel, to plan your life in such a way that evangelism is increasingly at the center of your life.

At CHBC I saw for the first time what it would look like for pastors to encourage their congregations to live cruciform lives, lives dedicated to and defined by the cross. I saw an attempt to both set an expectation for evangelistic lives and to equip members to live out that expectation. Now, to be clear, I think most everyone there will readily admit that they'd like to be more faithful and fruitful in evangelism. That's a constant prayer among the pastors and the congregation--more faithfulness and fruitfulness in evangelism. But I do think there has been some promising fruit this far in an evident desire, prayerfulness, and intentional plotting for evangelism.

Here are some of the things I've seen encouraged and done:

  • Intentionally frequenting the same stores (cleaners, restaurants, etc.) with the aim of building relationships and familiarity with store personnel, and hopefully having gospel conversations.
  • Using vacations for short-term mission trips.
  • Volunteering in community-based organizations to influence for the gospel.
  • Hosting home discussions regarding religion and philosophy. A group of young men in the church have faithfully done this with a number of muslim friends and neighbors.
  • A couple of brothers have conducted at the local Starbucks periodic apologetic and evangelistic talks aimed at non-Christians.
  • A staple: inviting neighbors over for dinner or for holiday parties and talking with them about Christ.
  • Hosting Bible studies in the work place.
  • Praying together in the Sunday evening services and at meetings set aside specifically to plot and pray for evangelistic opportunities.
  • Joining neighborhood clubs (garden clubs, cycling clubs, etc.) to build relationships and further gospel opportunities.
  • Inviting friends to church and special lectures sponsored by the church called Henry Forums where the gospel was sure to be center stage.
Nothing necessarily innovative or earth-shattering, and yet cultivating relationships and ordering something as mundane as where you buy your lunch around an intent to share the gospel has revolutionized how I think about evangelism and supporting evangelism in the local church. I've learned that what I want as a pastor is for my people to understand the gospel so deeply, so intimately that it animates every area of their lives. What I want is for my people to escape the fallacy that says (in practice or effect) that the gospel was meant to be preached until it reached me and then bottled up until Jesus comes. I want the gospel central to every message I preach, central to the decisions the church makes corporately, and central to the habits of life the members live individually. I want the gospel, the God of the gospel, to take priority in every area of life. I want my people to recognize there is no risk in sharing the gospel, only the reward of faithfulness. I want my people "at the ready" with the words of life.

Last evening I got a glimpse of what that gospel-saturated life means, the opportunities that are created. I took my wife to an emergency medical clinic. She'd been struggling with a really violent cough for too long. So, we went to get some help with it.

We were escorted to one of the examination rooms by an attendant named Jamal. Jamal spoke with the cadence and emphasis of a Middle Easterner, and indeed he was. He glanced at my book, The Prophet and the Messiah: An Arab Christian's Perspective on Islam and Christianity, and asked, "Do you like to study religion?"

I smiled pleasantly and replied, "Yes, I do." He followed up, "Why?" "Well, in part because I'm a pastor." And before I could elaborate or offer a more compelling answer than "I'm a pastor," my new muslim friend took the floor, venting a little about American foreign policy, media depiction of muslims, religious liberty (strangely he though Saudi Arabia a freer place religiously than the U.S.), and occassionally comparing Christianity and Islam. I nodded here and there (inside kicking myself for the many rebuttals I missed or weak spots I saw but couldn't get at) and tried to ask a question, usually keeping the discussion focused on the central issue: Jesus. He was happy as a muslim apologist to offer his thoughts about the Lord.

But pretty soon he launched into a bit of his own personal story, how he came to believe fervently in Islam. His family is from Jordan; he served in the military; and as an adult studying comparative religion became convinced that Islam was the absolute truth. He asked me if I believed in truth. "Sure." Then out came his ace. "You know, the Bible is full of all kinds of contradictions. Thousands of them. So, it can't be true."

Here, a sinful pride started stirring. But by God's grace, I remained patient, smiled and asked, "Can you name one?" My friend replied "Trust me. There are many. I can't name one off the top of my head, but I have a list at home and I will share it with you." I explained that the Qur'an didn't teach that there were contradictions and errors in the Bible but that, in fact, the Torah, Gospels, and Psalms of David are revelations from God. I referred to the four passages that teach (in 3 of them) that the message of the Torah was obscured or concealed by Jews during Muhammad's day and the one passage that accuses Christians of "forgetting" the message of the Gospels, but that nowhere in the Qur'an does it state that the revelation was changed. I pressed a bit further and told my new friend that if he were to accept the Qur'an's teaching, he would eventually have to reject Islam because it affirms the Bible and the authentic prophethood of Jesus on the one hand but denies what the Bible and Jesus taught, on the other, namely that Jesus is God who died and rose again for the sins of the world and that everyone must repent of their sins and believe in Him.

My new friend paused... then offered his conclusion. "If you can convince me that what you say is true -- and I'm not one of those people who say mockingly, 'Prove God to me' -- then I will convert. I will become a Christian."

I smiled really big then. As he put his hand on the door to leave the examination room, I said, "You know, you're looking at a man who was once a Muslim and has converted to Christianity."

For the first time Jamal fell silent. Eyebrows raised, "Really?" he asked.

"Really," I replied.

"Why?"

"Because of all of the contradictions in Islam and the truth that is found in Jesus Christ."

He reflected on that a bit. We spent the next few minutes putting our schedules together to find some time to talk further about Christianity and Islam. Before we left, he asked, "Why would you want to get together with me if you're a pastor? You're probably not going to change your mind, so why meet with me?" "Because," I responded, "I would like nothing more than to see you come to faith in Jesus Christ, to become a Christian."

That's the invitation we have for the world. And by God's grace, I've learned something more about how to order my life in such a way as to make this "well-meant offer of the Gospel" more frequently to the many people the Lord providentially places in my life. We're scheduled to do many things today as we continue saying our goodbyes to friends and family on the way to Grand Cayman, but nothing is more important than the time I pray the Lord gives me with Jamal. Nothing is more important than sharing the Good News with him. Everything needs to be ordered around that priority. I'm thankful to the Lord for His teaching me this so clearly at CHBC.

Pray that the Lord would show His omnipotence today as I meet with Jamal. Pray that Jamal would be given a new heart and eternal life through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God the Son.

12 comments:

K. Elijah Layfield said...

How did things go with Jamal? I'm eager to know!

Elbyeyes said...

I will be praying for you and Jamal for the rest of the day and look forward to reading how God works.

Vikki said...

I'm praying for you and Jamal!
BTW, I've really enjoyed this series of posts.

Mark Combs said...

These posts are great!!!! Very helpful & thought provoking for people who haven't actually been @ CHBC.

Since, you've been @ CHBC, maybe you can help me with a Mark Dever Urban Legend. I've heard That Dr. Dever has to listen to music while he preps his sermons. People have told me he listens to everything from classical to some rap. True or False?

Matthew LaPine said...

Thabiti,
Thank you for sharing this. I pray God would burden my heart for evangelism as he has yours.
God Bless,
Matt

r a i n e r said...

That was as encouraging and good of a post that I have read recently. Thank you. Will you continue to share your insight over the blogosphere once in the Caymans?

Michael A G Haykin said...

Brother

What an open door. The Lord give you grace in your every word. My father was a Muslim and by the providence of God I am now a believer in the Lord Jesus.

Michael Haykin.

FellowElder said...

"Since, you've been @ CHBC, maybe you can help me with a Mark Dever Urban Legend. I've heard That Dr. Dever has to listen to music while he preps his sermons. People have told me he listens to everything from classical to some rap. True or False?"

Mark, actually I don't think I've ever been in Mark's study for any length of time as he has worked on a study--which is strange because it seems like everyone is always in his study! But, rest assured, whenever you're in Mark's study (with the exception of staff meetings) you're listening to everything from Gregorian chants (very loudly!!) to a little gospel hip hop. I once had the very weird feeling of bobbin' my head to something I knew was familiar to me. After about a minute or two, another staff and I made contact and asked simultaneously, "Is that Bob Marley?!" Indeed it was. Mark's music interests are very wide--mind-boggling wide!

FellowElder said...

"That was as encouraging and good of a post that I have read recently. Thank you. Will you continue to share your insight over the blogosphere once in the Caymans?"

Rainer, thanks for dropping by and leaving the warm encouragment. I really appreciate it. Lord willing, I will continue to blog from Grand Cayman. Pray that the Lord would edify some through the effort. Grace and peace,
Thabiti

FellowElder said...

Thanks to all who have been praying for my time with Jamal. We were able to meet only briefly on Tuesday. During which time we exchanged some information. I gave him a copy of the Bible (which he seemed really excited to receive) and The Prophet & The Messiah. He gave me a "cheat sheet" on muslim apologetics vs. Christianity. We arranged to meet Wednesday at 3pm to have a longer discussion re: Christianity, Islam and the gospel. I covet your continued prayers and will post an update some time tomorrow Lord willing.
Thabiti

Matthew R. Perry said...

Thabiti:

Excellent posts! So incredibly helpful!

As for the comment by Mark Combs earlier, he is one of my dearest friends, but had an issue of me listening to reggae (i.e., Bob Marley, Christafari, etc.). He would find it a source of great amusement.

Given your comment about Dr. Dever, I cannot help but feel vindicated! So this post helped me on many levels -- he-he!

Seriously, excellent post! I've enjoyed this.

mxu said...

Thanks for sharing what you've learned from CH!

I've linked to your post here.