The church has not faced this grave a situation in centuries. The newspapers scream at us: terrorism, mass murder, abortion, and many other ways that people made in God’s image are dehumanized and devalued. No person on this side of the Columbine High School shooting; the 9/11 attacks; the Virginia Tech. shooting, the Sandy Hook school attack; and Trevon Martin’s tragic death can deny this reality with intellectual integrity. We have rapidly become a society that can rightfully face the judgment of God for some of the values we hold most dear.
The way to get to the ‘heart of the matter’ is with Christian ministry efforts. We must reach the people who make up our society to ‘turn the tide.’ To tell one story from a few decades ago:
Early in the twentieth century, Baptist evangelists preached through rural Mississippi and Alabama with such effectiveness that moonshiners could no longer sell their whiskey: All their customers were getting converted! In desperation, the whiskey sellers hired two men to murder one of the leading Baptist preachers.
Pistols in their hands, the assassins waited in the dark outside a country church where their target was preaching. The evangelist spoke with burning intensity about heaven and hell, his voice ringing out into the night. When everyone had gone, he turned out the church lights and stepped outside. The killers approached him, pistols in hand.
But instead of shooting the evangelist, they handed him their guns. “We came here to kill you, but we couldn’t,” they said. “We heard your preaching and we believed it. We’re now on the same side.”
That story was told to me years ago by a pastor in Alabama. The Baptist evangelist was his grandfather. The story stayed with me. It is compelling drama and a parable of our position in an increasingly dangerous and demoralized world. Either we evangelize our generation with new power or its members are going to kill us. The bad guys are waiting for us ‘out there,’ and intend to do us in … We need an evangelism with enough strength to get the bad guys before they get us. (C. John Miller, Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1997, p. 1-2.)
We must reach those people who intend to harm us or they will kill us. Evangelism and ministry are now a matter of life or death.
Our churches are not effectively reaching the culture outside our doors in our own neighborhoods. Our society and its values are bringing reproach on the gospel of Christ as missionaries try desperately to bring that message to the very part of the world that produces the most dangerous terrorist threats that we face. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change hearts.
But how are we to do this? We are all in this together. Once again, I turn to Miller:
…those of us who lead must modify the way we train believers to think of witnessing. I have in view the image of evangelism as fishing for the lost. Too often, we have only stressed the single fisherman with his pole. There is certainly a place for him, but there is a danger that the “lone angler” concept will place undue emphasis on witnessing skills, techniques, and special gifts, discouraging Christians who lack these distinctive features. It is clear that for the church in Acts, evangelism was something that involved everyone – and they were often involved together. We need to focus on the biblical metaphor of fishermen pulling together as a team on the same net. Our shared life as the company of Christ’s redeemed is at the very center of our gathering in of the lost. (Miller, p. 71.)
Miller also mentions “hospitality,” where “our material gifts and our gift of the gospel are accepted as we also offer ourselves to [non-Christians]” (Miller, p. 77). It takes a church and all of its ministries, from hospitality to giving to the poor to evangelism, in order to reach our society. It is not too late.