I go to a church that is a member of the Southeastern District. We’re Ablaze!
An Ablazing Event!
The congregation of St. John’s, Farmville VA has received a firetruck and repurposed it to be a witness tool in the community. They will be dedicating it for mission on Sunday, June 29 at the 10:00 A.M. service. Pastor Joel Giese says: “The idea is simple. People, children especially, like fire trucks. They will come to see the truck and we have the opportunity to speak about Jesus. As the vehicle moves to and from events, it acts like a rolling billboard. I believe it will spark interest. The best part is that it is easy and fun. Who knew that easy and fun could be used to describe Evangelism?!”
Evangelism as "easy" and "fun"? Who would have thunk it?
Now I will admit that I also try to take the fear - the undue fear, that is - out of the evangelism task. After all, many years of training from Kennedy's "Evangelism Explosion," or the LCMS knock off called "Dialog Evangelism," did, I think, leave many people in the pew thinking that evangelism is a task only for those who are super-spiritual, or at least super-trained. I mean who really wants to memorize outlines for an evangelism presentation that ends in that key, confrontational question, "If you were to die tonight, do you know that you would go to heaven?" And then to press the issue with, "How do you know?" Who really enjoys and wants to go into the homes of complete strangers and talk the serious stuff of God and Jesus, sin and death, forgiveness and eternal life, especially with such canned questions?
No, the evangelism task should be more like the young lady who was just asked to get married and thus sports a glimmering engagement ring. No one has to tell her, "Go and show your family and friends." She just does it, quite naturally and quite gladly so. Why? For the sheer joy that her guy wants to spend the rest of his life together with her and a wedding is now in the making.
That's the Christian's evangelism task - to speak of the Bridegroom who has sacrificed Himself to show His eternal and boundless love for all humanity; to show off the "ring" of His forgiveness of sins won on the cross and given in the Gospel proclaimed, the water poured over us in Baptism, and the Supper that gives us His "forgiveness, life, and salvation." Yes, He wants to spend the rest of His unending, eternal life with us. Yes, there's a wedding in the making. We get a foretaste of it every time we gather at the Altar and feast on His Body and Blood. We get to look forward to the sheer joy of eternally feasting on life with our holy Triune God and growing in love for Him and for one another for all eternity.
But now to trumpet evangelism as "easy" and "fun"? What has a firetruck to do with the Kingdom of God? What does providing a large, fiery red vehicle for children to use as a jungle gym have to do with our wretched sinful state and God's unfathomable love and mercy in Christ Jesus crucified and risen? Sorry, I'm just not "getting it" ... and I hope I never do.
Perhaps someone should have told the Apostles that Jesus was just bluffing when He sent them on their first "evangelism journey" and told them: "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Mt 10:16). That's far from "easy" or "fun" while playing on a fire truck! Perhaps someone with bold, blazing evangelism zeal should have told Jesus that He just didn't have a "love for the lost" when He said, "Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues" (Mt. 10:16), or "They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God" (Jn. 16:2). Perhaps someone should have warned the Apostles Peter and John that the fiery tongues of Pentecost would quickly lead to them being thrown into jail simply for preaching Jesus Christ (Acts 3-4). I could go on, but that would be neither "easy" nor "fun."
No, evangelism is not "easy" or "fun," because evangelism involves confronting people with their sin and toppling the idols that they make for themselves - even idols such as "easy" and "fun." While evangelism should have the simplicity and joy of a bride-to-be showing off her engagement ring, that joy also entails the hard work of preparing for the great wedding and staying faithful to the Bridegroom who has graciously asked for our hand in His eternal "marriage."
Now, don't get me wrong. Of course we want people who do not yet know and love the Bridegroom to join the festivities, both now and for all eternity. That's a given. That's what runs through my mind every time I step into the pulpit or consecrate the sacred Meal or visit one of my sick or shut-in members or discuss matters religious and churchly with someone who is not yet a member of the church. I'd like to think that my ordinary, every day, run of the mill pastoral work - as well as the day by day work of my parishioners in their various vocations - is indeed the "evangelism task." And it can be carried out as simply as asking an acquaintance, a friend, or a loved one simply to come to church, where they will hear of the Bridegroom.
However, that simple task can also be a difficult task. No, I'm not talking about the needlessly onerous (and obnoxious) reminders of church bureaucrats who try to spur on the evangelism (a.k.a. missions) task by means of snapping fingers and reminding us of how many people are going to hell if we don't rush in to save their day. Instead, I'm talking about how people may or may not receive the great Good News of Bridegroom Jesus loving and forgiving them. After all, Jesus did say, "For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Mt. 7:13-14).
So I think it needs to be said that the evangelism task is, yes, a joy, but it also carries its burden. Because of this simple little fact - that not everyone wants to hear about their sin or the Savior's unending love shown by dying and rising for them - we really do need to take our evangelism task more seriously. No, I don't mean be dour. Rather, just be honest, speaking the Truth of Jesus Christ in the cross-shown love that He gives us. Entertainment strategies called "evangelism" (they seem to be multiplying like rabbits these days!), such as offering a rolling "jungle gym" called a firetruck, really do diminish the Evangel.
In fact, such "strategies," with their new thinking and new methods, just may be tantamount to replacing the bride-to-be's genuine gold and diamond engagement ring with a cheap gold-plated ring that sports, not a real diamond, but an inexpensive piece of cubic zirconium.
So, let's leave the fire trucks to the fire departments, and let's do what the Church does best. Let's boast and rave about our eternal Bridegroom who has already pledged Himself to us for all eternity. Let's tell everyone around us, like the joyous yet dedicated bride-to-be, that He is the greatest, especially as He comes to visit us in His Gospel and Sacraments, all the while preparing us for the eternal wedding feast. It may not be as "easy" and "fun" as a fire truck, but, hey, it's sure a lot more meaningful and joyful for all eternity.