Panel discussion on evangelism focuses on building curiosity about people outside our churches to discover what God is up to in the world
January 12, 2022
What is Intentional Authentic Evangelism? How is it being practiced in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? And how has your understanding of evangelism changed during your time in ministry?
These were the main questions posed to four PC(USA) leaders recently during a Vital Conversations panel discussion on one of the Seven Marks of Vital Congregations.
The Rev. Colin Kerr, founding pastor of Parkside Church in Charleston, South Carolina, began the conversation saying that often, “the words ‘intentional’ and ‘authenticity’ don’t go together with evangelism.”
“I’m threading a needle here,” he said, “but in the more evangelical circles evangelism is certainly intentional because it’s strategic. But often it feels inauthentic.”
Recently Kerr witnessed a baptism at Parkside of a woman who had grown up in the Seattle area. Raised by agnostic parents, she moved to Charleston just before the pandemic hit. New to the area, and looking for connections, she came to the Parkside community.
“She had tension about faith,” Kerr said, “but she was given love and friendship, with no strings attached.”
Yet for Kerr, there was a beautiful intentionality about it. He and others in the community checked in with her to find out where she was spiritually. “The gospel is important enough to do that,” he said. “We’re not just a social club.”
After a year and few months this woman, still filled with her questions and doubts, accepted Christ, which Kerr said is very good, and the fruit of a community practicing intentional authentic evangelism.
For years Dr. Tom Bagley Jr., who pastors a small PC(USA) congregation in Normandy, Tennessee, while also coaching and consulting in the areas of church revitalization, thought that evangelism was a way to grow the church.
“As a Christian person, I had the good news of Jesus Christ, and I was to take it to a disconnected, unbelieving world,” he said.
And then the culture stopped responding, which created a crisis for Bagley. He spent time evaluating his personal views of evangelism, which over time had begun to evolve. Yet many churches, including the one he serves, held on to the traditional view of evangelism. The more the culture didn’t respond, the more inward focused they became. But like an explosion, the pandemic forced the small church he served to begin to look outward. As they did, the congregation of 25, began to see people outside the church — and God doing amazing things in their lives.
When Normandy Presbyterian Church moved to a digital worship service format, a person who lives a block from the church but has never been inside participated in the online service — and has been doing so every single Sunday since.
“Nobody in our church knew the person was hungry spiritually,” Bagley said. “Nobody knew because we hadn’t been out there. Our job is to help people be curious about those outside of church. People are checking us out: who are they?”
As she listened to the evolving conversation, the Rev. Katy Steinberg, pastor of Missing Peace, a new worshiping community in Ormond Beach, Florida, felt compelled to describe her experience as a leader of a nomadic community. Prior to the pandemic, they met weekly wherever appropriate depending on their worship together, which focused on the spiritual, the cerebral, the physical and service.
As they went to various places week to week — the library, the beach, the museum, the park and the homeless shelter — Steinberg noticed each place becoming like a sanctuary.
“It wasn’t just a building anymore,” she said. “We were having profound experiences of who God is and what God is up to in the world.”
For Steinberg, evangelism is meeting people where they are, listening to their experiences, and asking, “Where do you feel connected to the divine?”
“We don’t own God or the gospel, to put it in a box and offer it to other people,” she said. “God is everywhere. Missing Peace interacts with people who feel alienated and separated — and kept out of our churches.”
Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: What is Intentional Authentic Evangelism?
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Generous God, we give thanks for new opportunities to hear your Word and see your grace transforming our lives. Your abundance bridges our cultural chasms and connects us in new communities of discipleship. In Christ’s service we pray. Amen.