Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Importance of Being Evangelical

I learned a few things in my first year of ministry. Some of them were things I want to carry on with me, and some things I learned were how not to do things. I would argue that neither lesson was any more valuable than the other, with one major exception.

I had spent an evening talking about servant evangelism and how we should be servants to those around us. I spent a lot of that evening talking about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and making sure that we were doing our part to love our neighbors. I had just finished reading one of Shane Claiborne’s books and was really “feeling it.”

I felt really good about the message that night, my teens had really seemed to receive it well. They were, at least in my opinion, completely tracking with what I was saying. I was letting them know that it was our job to make sure that we were taking care of the people around us. It was one of few moments in that first year I really felt like the ministry was going well.

On the way home from church that Wednesday night, I called one of my adults to chat about the evening. I still do this; I like to hear what other people thought about the time with the youth and make sure that we are all on the same page.
We were not on the same page that evening.

I spoke with my friend, and he told me that the message was good, but he asked me a very important question. He said, “why?” Why should we feed the hungry? Why should we clothe the naked? In the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if we love our neighbors?

I prepared my verbal assault as he was talking. “What do you mean WHY? Jesus told us to love our neighbors.”

I could tell he was wrapping up his critique, and so I was ready to jump in, but he stopped me dead in my tracks. He said, “If they don’t know Jesus, then what difference does it make if they feed the hungry?”

This doesn’t happen to me often, but I was completely speechless.

He was right; I had neglected to tell them that they had to know Christ before any of this was worth anything. If we feed the hungry, but don’t know Christ, then we’re still in the same boat as someone who doesn’t know Christ and doesn’t feed the hungry.

This challenge from my friend was an absolute wake up call for me. Did I stop preaching a social gospel? Absolutely not. I still believe that we need to feed the hungry. I still believe that we need to clothe the naked. I still believe that we need to make sure to do our part to love our neighbors. However, even more than that, I believe that we need to lead people to Christ.

Since that moment, the Sinner’s Prayer has become an integral part of my ministry. I don’t do much without including it. I cannot imagine calling myself an Evangelical and not preaching people to Christ. How can we call ourselves Evangelicals when we don’t present the Sinner’s Prayer every single chance that get?