General Assembly Evangelism Breakfast celebrates 25th anniversary of Turn to the Living God, invites Presbyterians to follow call to evangelism in Jesus Christ’s way
by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
PORTLAND – Addressing a full ballroom at the assembly’s Evangelism Breakfast on June 21, the Rev. Jan Edmiston, Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly (2016), proclaimed, “You are my people.”
Edmiston, who was joined by General Assembly Co-Moderator Denise Anderson in bringing greetings at the morning event, then encouraged those gathered to join her at the Go Disciple Live Evangelism Conference in St. Pete Beach, Florida, in August. “Florida in August…it’s the best,” said Edmiston to laughter and applause.
Following the Co-Moderators’ greetings, Ruling Elder Tony De La Rosa, interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), proudly shared with attendees the good news of the unanimous approval in committee of the PMA’s Mission Work Plan.
“You will be glad to know that all of our mission and ministry will be in alignment with our evangelism and discipleship goal,” he added.
The Evangelism Breakfast—co-sponsored at this year’s assembly by the Theology, Formation, and Evangelism and World Mission ministry areas—offered a full and ambitious agenda, including the recognition of the 25th anniversary of Turn to the Living God: A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ’s Way.
Turn to the Living God is a statement representing the General Assembly’s policy regarding the nature and practice of evangelism in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The booklet—printed copies of which were available on the tables for all attendees—includes a unanimously approved resolution adopted by the 203rd General Assembly (1991).
“It articulates the church’s commitment to global evangelism, a commitment as critical today as it was in its first printing 25 years ago,” said the Rev. Juan J. Sarmiento, evangelism catalyst for Presbyterian World Mission.
After introducing special guests and global partners attending the breakfast, the Rev. David M. Loleng, director of Church Financial Literacy and Leadership for the Presbyterian Foundation, noted that the reissuing of Turn to the Living God was not just to remember it, “but that it would inform and propel our praxis.”
“Unless it makes a difference in people’s lives,” said Loleng, “it’s just a statement.”
Sarmiento’s re-introduction of the critical and timely evangelism resource—in which he asked those gathered to consider how the world has changed since it was first published 25 years ago—was followed by a presentation by the Rev. Ray G. Jones, associate director of Evangelism for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
“We’re trying to figure out what it means to partner with you in helping our churches help their people to follow Jesus,” Jones told the gathering, which included a good number of mid council executives. “Our hope is to help you to help our churches to be the healthiest churches they can be. Healthy churches will equip one another in faith, be ‘on mission,’ and develop leaders.”
Jones encouraged attendees to explore the Evangelism office’s Engage curriculum, designed to help congregations learn how to share their faith as they seek to attract people to join them in following Jesus in God’s mission of transformation in neighborhoods and communities.
A question and answer session, facilitated by the Rev. Ann Philbrick, associate for the newly-formed Vital Congregations office in the Theology, Formation and Evangelism ministry area, concluded the event.
Philbrick, in response to a question about the status of the New Beginnings program, assured attendees that the program would continue to be offered through its original developers, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), since the program had become cost prohibitive for the PMA. She added that Michael Whitman, who previously resourced New Beginnings for the PMA, had recently been retained by the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation, where he will continue in the same role. The Hope Partnership administers the New Beginnings Assessment Service.
The Rev. Ryan Landino, a teaching elder observer from Geneseo, Illinois, said he was interested in engaging in a conversation about “our complicity in Christian hegemony” and how, in the praxis of evangelism, Presbyterians might resist the temptation to fall back into old patterns.
“That’s an excellent question,” Jones responded. “We want to get away from that. We want to do everything in the way of Jesus. If evangelism is not connected with discipleship, it will just be a means to grow the church. Evangelism is about what God has done in Jesus Christ to transform us. It’s never about beating people over the head; it’s never about church growth.”
The redesigned anniversary edition of Turn to the Living God is available now for free download.
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