Julie’s Jar, “Elders on Evangelism”

~Elders on Evangelism~

Candidates for ordained ministry meet with the Committee on Ministry of our Region in order to get approval for ordination. Among the many requirements is a set of 16 competencies which the candidate is supposed to be proficient, in conversation and action. Ginger Eckeard, current chairperson of the Elders, has been leading the Elders group in discussions based on these 16 competencies as our study time. The conversation has been incredibly fruitful. Because the conversations have been so fruitful, I wanted to share some of the last conversation on Evangelism.

Candidates are supposed to demonstrate in part the capacity to inspire and encourage people to share their faith (the good news) through word and action. Ginger framed the conversation this way. “Personally, I think that’s not only the job of the pastor. What do you think?”

Among the rich conversation were these observations. There is a lot of “talk” about the “spiritual but not religious” group. There are many reasons people who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious”.

Here are some:

1)    They have been deeply hurt by a faith community,

2)    All they know about any faith tradition is what they see in the media and most of it is of a very rigid type of religion.

3)    Their personal encounters with self-professing religious people has been largely negative. (Ginger mentioned someone recently telling her, “You’re the nicest religious person I’ve met.” While Ginger certainly is a nice person, she told the story because it revealed that this individual had met some pretty nasty ones.)

4)    It is a way out of being obligated to other people.

Being part of a community of meaning is something people desire, but the commitment required in good times and bad times, when everyone likes each other and when some people irritate each other, well that’s hard. But so is social isolation which is rampant in our culture.

Rafael Reyes offered a helpful re-frame of the “spiritual but not religious”. His offering made a light bulb go off in my head as to why I get so aggravated when I hear that phrase. The statement “spiritual but not religious” turns the conversation into “either-or”. Rafael re-framed it; it’s a spectrum. And on our journey of faith, we may find ourselves in different places on the spectrum, depending on our own life’s circumstances.

This makes the challenge of evangelism – expressing the good news of Jesus Christ in word and in deed – a challenge of meeting people where they are, wherever they are on that spectrum. There is no one size fits all, no program or blueprint. The foundation of good news is the hospitality of God we know through Jesus Christ. To offer hospitality through listening to people’s stories (as we are doing in the house meetings with current and former residents of Our House Shelter), being present with people (as Ray Akin pointed out), being invitational without pressuring people (as Virginia Galleano is doing with families at the CDC) is where we begin. There are so many other ways all of us share the good news of Christ in word and action. I just hope that you continue to find First Christian Church of Pomona a place of inspiration, encouragement and support for the ministry you are being called to do.

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