EVANGELISM BEFORE AND AFTER THE PANDEMIC
“The first thing I remember about meeting Mike was the tattoos. The entire back of his bald head was covered in howling wolves. He was built like a tank, and I felt he could break me in two if he wanted.
Mike was almost fifty and had spent the better part of the past thirty years running from pain and running from God. A couple of failed marriages and estranged children were the result of years of hard living. Mike had operated heavy machinery in the mines of northern Canada, and he was as tough and unforgiving as the land he worked in. Drugs and violence dominated.
Fast forward to our church’s Thanksgiving service of 2020 where Mike gave a powerful thirty-minute testimony of how God had rescued him from a life of despair and given him new life filled with hope and meaning. The story of that journey is the essence of my doctoral studies at Northern Seminary. In studying the New Testament and early church I discovered that the emphasis of evangelistic efforts was on embodying the gospel and living Christlike lives that attract unbelievers to God. That is to say the most evangelistic thing a church can do is to become a living, breathing Christ-centered community. This is how Mike was evangelized.
Through a number of God-ordained circumstances Mike ended up in our community 5 years ago. A family from another church helped him settle into our small town with his twin boys who were 11 years old. Mike had little interest in church, but wanted the best for his boys, so he sent them to our youth program regularly. These amazing boys soon became part of our church and after a few years people in our church slowly came to know Mike.
A workplace injury two years ago stopped Mike dead in his tracks, and he could no longer work at all. He fell through the cracks of nearly all government aid and had little means to support himself or his boys. At this time our community of believers stepped up and provided everything that was needed. Groceries and medical bills were paid for. Winter clothing was bought when needed. One family personally financed the purchase of a small home for Mike and his boys, so he could gain some financial stability. Beyond finances a handful of people have journeyed with Mike and his boys though the difficult days, welcoming them into their homes, sharing their burdens and carrying them to the Lord in prayer. A bible study group welcomed Mike into their fold and faithfully walked with him through mental health crises and physical setbacks. The church was simply being the church the way Jesus intended.
By witnessing the overwhelming love and generosity of God’s people, Mike found God himself. Mike was not won over to Christ because someone shared the Four Spiritual Laws or because of my preaching. Mike found God because a handful of Christians gave such sacrificial gifts of love that he could not resist the power behind what he was receiving. Certainly, there were many “God conversations” along the way and much prayer, but without an embodied gospel, demonstrating Christlikeness in front of his eyes, I do not believe Mike would have found Jesus.
This is by no means to say that traditional evangelism methods are passe or ineffective. Rather I share this story to bear witness to the truth that when a community of Christians faithfully embodies the gospel, living out Jesus’ radical kingdom ethic in front of a watching world, it is the most evangelistic thing that community can do. It becomes an irresistible attraction to those who are hurting and broken – people like my good friend Mike.
Jeff Banman, DMin 2021
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