“A Lesson in Evangelism”Dr. Don Flowers I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11 Year C – Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 10, 2018
It was another spring day in my home town. Spring was the time of the year when the baseball team began to practice with great hopes. Cherryville, North Carolina is and always has been a baseball town. In a town that has seen cotton mills and trucking companies move away baseball is one thing that still brings back memories of the good old days.
I grew up in the good old days. Back then the mills were still transforming cotton from bales to thread to fabric as it made its way from plants to plant, ending up on rolls that were shipped out on our trucks. Those rolls eventually ended up as blue jeans. Every boy dreamed of the day when we could get a job loading those trucks, envious of those slightly older boys who could get on working the graveyard shift, making $15 an hour.
But other than that, there wasn’t much going on. Sure, the Boy Scouts met on Monday nights, with an occasional camping trip. There was football season, but when you only have 25 to go out for the team your prospects are never really good. There was basketball season, but that glory was fleeting. So, baseball season was just about it.
With all those teenagers roaming the streets, what was a town to do? Our home town, no, my home church, put together a youth choir. It was rooted at First Baptist, but it drew students from all over town. Our bass came from the Wesleyan church, our guitar player came from the Methodist church, and we even had a smattering of Lutherans and Presbyterians mixed in. It was a large choir, and other than the baseball team, it was the one thing that drew our community together.
Once a week this herd of teenagers would converge to practice. I was too young to be a part of the “official choir,” but since my mother was one of the major sponsors, they let me tag along, serving as the “official page turner” for our piano player. The practices were fun, but the real treat came when we would gather to load up on the buses to go somewhere else to give a concert. Those were incredible times that I still remember.
Like all groups, there were members, and then there were “members!” Even in a church group, you knew who was there because they wanted to somehow find themselves on the backseat of the bus with that special someone, and those who were the true believers. It was easy to know who the really committed members were, for they would not wait to ride on the bus. No these were the advance team, those who would go ahead to spread the word.
This group would leave early in the morning, traveling to their destination where they would meet up with a few hearty souls from the local church. After a quick lunch this group would go out visiting people in the community. Now these visits were not to make sure there was food on the shelves.
These visits were not to see if they knew where they were going to spend the night in case the electric bill was not paid. No, these were visits to make sure that these people knew where they were going to spend eternity if they died that afternoon. The people were invited to the concert where they could make that decision publicly, but why take that chance? Now was the moment to decide!
And yes, I went. Strange as it may sound to you, I was a teenage evangelist. I know that sounds funny to you, and maybe a bit scary. But let me tell you something that will scare you even more—you are called to be an evangelist too!
Ah, now it isn’t so funny is it? Me, an evangelist? I don’t think so. There is no way that I am going to knock on someone’s door. You aren’t going to find me passing out tracks at the market or interrupting someone’s nap on the beach. You aren’t going to find me with slicked back hair waving a Bible around warning people that they need to turn or burn! No sireee, there are a lot of things that I am, that I might be, but an evangelist is not one of them. And yet, our scripture is very clear about it. If you decide to follow Christ, you are called to be an evangelist. Follow me and I will make you fish for people.
Oh, living here near the water means we are fine with just fishing for fish. But our scriptures this morning are about individuals being invited to follow Jesus, about being called, about being evangelists.
Evangelism is one of those words that has come to have negative connotations. It just feels yucky. We may have been confronted with someone who was pushing their faith, someone who has all the answers to all the questions you have never asked.
Even now that is one of my problems with the evangelism I was taught as a teenager, and even as a student at seminary. True story: a friend of mine was taking a course in evangelism. Each week they were required to turn in a verbatim about how they had shared their faith. Week after week, he was turning in papers in which he was responding to faith questions that were arising out of real-life situations. Yet he was getting D’s and even an F.
So, he decided that he would write the correct verbatim. He made up a story in which he had run from the seminary campus to the Waterworks, about a mile, and while he was running he met up with another guy. After running for about another mile they decided to run over to Cherokee Park, another 3-4 miles away. Once they got there, this guy asked him why he was running.
My friend responded that he was running for his physical and spiritual health. His new-found friend said, “I know about physical health, but what is this spiritual thing?” At that point they stopped running and the seminary student went through the four spiritual laws, at which point this stranger said, “I believe.” They turned and ran in different directions. It was a wonderful story! It got him an A! It just wasn’t true!
That is what we have been taught about evangelism! We have been told that we have to go through a set formula, give all the right answers. I never could do that. I could never remember the answers. I could never remember the sequence of the four spiritual laws. Do you even know about these?
They were created by Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, as a way of helping introduce people to the gospel. It was simple and straight-forward; all you had to do was to memorize the steps, the scriptures that went along and you were all set. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” but soon after that I started to fail. I could never remember the right scriptures, or what came next. I always felt like I was the one taking the test. I had to get all the answers right.
But the Bible seems to have a different way of talking about evangelism. It isn’t about answers and correctness. It is about telling the story. That is what Paul is doing with his friends from Corinth. He was telling them the great story. It wasn’t anything new to them. They had heard the story before—even from him. He was just reminding them of what they knew. It wasn’t a great theological treatise. In fact, it was more like a Cliff Notes version. Christ died, was raised, appeared to a bunch of people and finally appeared to me and changed my life.
I think it was the last part. Before that, Paul had been a reporter. This is what happened, but this is how it has affected me. That is what evangelism is really all about. It is telling how the story has affected me, how it has affected you.
Seeing it that way changes everything. I know my story. Oh, I may not be able to tell you where the dinosaurs fit into the Genesis story. I can’t tell you where Cain got his wife. I can’t tell you what will happen to people who never hear the gospel of Christ. Even with a religion degree from Wake Forest, an M.Div and a D. Min, there are all sorts of things that I don’t know.
But I know my story. I know what a difference Christ makes in my life, and that is a story I can tell, authoritatively. That is a story that you can tell with confidence. Someone may argue with your theology, but they can’t argue with your experience. Evangelism is telling your story, your experience with the risen Christ. And the world needs to hear your story.
Fritz Kreisler was a world-famous violinist. He had earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn’t able to buy it. But he remembered the instrument, and later on, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument.
But to his great dismay he discovered it had been sold to a collector. This man did not play violins, he only collected them. Kreisler made his way to the new owner’s home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it.
Kreisler was about to leave when he asked the owner, “Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?” Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector’s emotions were deeply stirred. “I have no right to keep that to myself,” he exclaimed. “It’s yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it.” (Our Daily Bread, February 4, 1994)
Many times, we keep our story to ourselves. We are so afraid of what will happen if we tell it that we are just silent, and the world misses out. You have a story to tell—to your family, especially your children; to your co-workers; to those you know. Opportunities will present themselves in conversation when someone raises an issue about religion, values, ethics, faith. They may have a different perspective, maybe even a different opinion. But that doesn’t mean that your experience is not valid, is not real. Share it! It might just make a difference in our world.
It will definitely make a difference in you. Sometimes telling a story has as much effect on the teller as it does the listeners. Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, recalls: “My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher, and he related how his master used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather rose as he spoke and was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that hour he was cured of his lameness.”
Spring will come again this year in my home town. There aren’t many, if any mills turning out cloth, and the trucking firm has long since moved away. And this year there won’t be a large youth choir going from town to town singing and evangelizing. That just doesn’t happen any more. There will still be baseball, but there are more than 3 TV choices now.
That kind of evangelism probably wouldn’t work, if it did then. So, I am not advocating bringing it back. Those days are gone. My home town is almost dead. But you know, there are adults there who this day who will tell you that those days of sharing their faith were the time when they were most alive.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be telling our story. It is the only one we have. Tell your story! It might not save the world, but telling it may be the thing that makes your faith the most alive. And that is worth telling!
About the writer: While Dr. Don Flowers is the pastor of Port Williams United Baptist Church in Nova Scotia, most people know him as the spouse of Anita Flowers, who is frequent contributor to Reflections. They are the parents of two daughters. Prior to their adventure in Canada, Don was the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Charleston, SC. He also has served as Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church, Greenville, SC and Lenoir, NC. Don has degrees from Wake Forest University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Candler School of Theology.
Scripture and Music:
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Jesus Call Us
Holy, Holy, Holy
Here I Am, Lord
So, Send I You
God of Grace and God of Glory
I Give You Thanks (Jodi Lindh)
Thanks Be to Thee (Handel)
Sing unto God (Handel)
Sing Out My Soul (Mark Hayes)
Sing to the Lord a Jubilant Song (Allen Pote)
Holy Is the Lord (Schubert)
Lord, Here Am I (John Ness Beck)
Here I Am, Lord
So, Send I You
My Tribute (Andre Crouch)
Jesus Is Lord of All (Leroy McClard)
Lord, Here Am I (John Ness Beck)