I took my youth to a church service tonight...and I almost walked out. I realized quickly that we had entered a "how to witness to strangers" class. For an hour and a half we learned the "correct" method to slyly get a sinner picked off the street to admit their own impending eternal damnation. It's known as "The Way of the Master" method and was made famous by Kirk Cameron (formerly and better known from his "Growing Pains" days). You can check out a cute animated version here:
Unfortunately, the version we encountered was not so cute. It involved an overly zealous adult shouting at kids about how they should be concerned about how they and everyone would be going to hell because God is just. It was set-up with specific questions that they would be using as they encountered real strangers on the streets of downtown Roanoke and witnessed to them about the "good news"...which according to this speaker, was that we are on our way to hell, but God sent Jesus to take our punishment for us. At this point, I'm confused...God sent Jesus to hell?? The good news is that we're hell-bound?? God's justice sends us to the fiery pit?? And somehow telling others this (strangers, at that) is going to make them want to believe us and choose to follow this vengeful deity??
Perhaps the problem is mine. I've always been a reluctant evangelist, even as I grew up in an evangelical church and went as a volunteer youth leader to "Go Tell" camp at Liberty University, where we were forced to go door to door in Lynchburg and hand out tracts and witness "to the lost", hoping to "lead people to the Lord". It just lead to a near ulcer for me (but ironically, also to me accepting my calling to ministry). I just don't get trying to convince people to follow Christ via scare tactics, or emotion, or rational point by point discussions. I've seen these fail too many times, and I don't remember Jesus doing any of those things. I read about him making friends, including the excluded, building relationships, telling stories, and offering grace and healing. I don't remember reading one story of him damning anyone to hell or saying that his Father would either. Perhaps he understood that some of those people were already living in a figurative hell of sorrow, pain, and brokenness. To his disciples, he didn't explain his mission, he simply said, "Follow me." And something about him intrigued them enough for them to drop what they were doing, leave life as they knew it, and enter into a journey that would forever change them.
I don't have a dramatic testimony. I was practically born and raised in church and was baptized at age six. What I do have is the abiding faith that my loving God created us all with a purpose. I know without a doubt that it was God's presence and guidance that's gotten me through the most difficult parts of my life. I know that God loves me enough to care about my life NOW and how I'm living as a Christian than just about whether I will end up in the smoking or non-smoking section of eternity. I know that God loves all and invites all and gives us all the hearts and minds to accept the love and grace that are offered. I believe that only God can heal us of the brokenness and loneliness that we all carry because of our mistakes (sins) and that God is more than willing to do so if we accept God's love and learn to forgive ourselves and others. I believe that following Christ is the way to have a life of meaning and purpose.
And my love for Christ makes me desire for all to have this same gift. I'd love to talk to you about it...and I promise I won't use any tricks or special tactics. Just one sinner honestly sharing her journey with another.