Red Rover

Do you remember playing red rover as a kid?  I remember playing a few times in elementary school, along with red light-green light, tag, and hide 'n seek.  These were fun games.

Red rover was my favorite though, because it required teamwork.  For the "speed-challenged" kids, this was a way to be on a winning team.  Do you remember how it worked?

Two teams were formed and kids would stand hand-in-hand in lines facing each other.  One team would call out, "Red rover, red rover, send Susie right over!"  When they called out Susie's name, she had to run across from her team to the other and try to break through the line.  If the team could "catch" her, they could keep her.  If she broke through though, she got to take another person back over to her team.  Eventually, one side would keep everybody, and everybody got to be a winner.

Kind of like the church...

No, not the institution of the church, but the community of Christ followers, bound together by the Holy Spirit.  We stand, hand-in-hand (ideally) facing the rest of the world.  We call out a name, we share our faith, we serve others - and one by one, people run our way.  Our goal is to "catch" those people and make them a part of the Church (again, not the institution, but the community).

At Mt. Bethel, we're talking about evangelism.  Too often, in this game of red rover, we spend too much time enjoying holding hands to call people over.  Or even worse, we consume our time refusing to hold hands so we can call people over.  When we have our act together though, our purpose is to call people out of the world and invite them into a relationship with Christ.

Once we start calling people over, we learn that that is the easy part.  My question to you is, "once someone starts running your way, do you know how to catch them?"

Imagine a salesman.  He knows his product well and it's a great product.  He has a friendly face and people like to engage in conversation with him.  He has a weakness though.  He can't close the deal.  He is incapable of asking someone if they would like to buy his product.  How long do you think this salesman is going to have a job?  How much commission do you think he's going to take home with him?

See where I'm headed?

If we pray for opportunity to reach others for Christ and we do invite them, are we able to close the deal?  If an unchurched friend came to you today and asked about your faith and how to become a part of that faith, what would you tell them?  Would you be able to tell them about Jesus and the love of God?  Would you be able to lead them through claiming that for themselves?

Red rover is a losing game if you can't figure out how to catch those who run your way.  That's tragic when you consider that we're playing for the Kingdom of God.


"It's Like Family Here..."

Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism, 2nd EditionI read something thought-provoking this morning.  Part of my study for the sermon series I'm in the midst of is reading Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism.  Martha Grace Reese spent years of note-taking in the trenches of the local churches all across the country to put together this project.

The chapter I'm on is a dangerous one - it's about the true health of relationships within the congregation and how that impacts our ability to be evangelists.  She says that "churches where people snap, snipe, pull power plays over the budget, then go home to fried preacher for Sunday supper don't do good evangelism for the long haul!"

What really got me is that one church that appeared healthy, but proved not to be authentically healthy once you dug a little deeper, was one where several of the people made the comment that "it's like family here."

I laughed when I read it, and if your experience has been like mine, you probably are laughing too.  The statement that "it's like family here" is the number one excuse to NOT do evangelism in the local church.  If we were to make a pullstring doll resembling a stereotypical church-goer, this would be one of the three sayings for the doll, along with, "Good sermon preacher" and, "We've never done it that way before."

Let's examine that statement for just a moment: It's like family here.  Now, think about your family.  Not just your immediate family, but the whole group that gets together for a family funeral.

My mother's Aunt Phyl passed away two weeks ago.  Family from all over the lower 48 converged on the small Indiana town where she and Uncle Marvin lived.  Now, understand that this is probably the more "normal" side of my family (sorry Dad).  My grandfather was one of four children who grew up in an Indiana farming family during the Great Depression.  There were two sons, Dick and Rex (Uncle Dick is a story for another post - let's just say they broke the mold on that one).  There were two daughters, Phyllis and Barbara.  Each went on to get married, have children, and build their own lives. 

Within that family, we have a portion that we affectionately pass from person to person.  The rule is that the last person to marry into the family officially becomes the relative of these people.  The rest of us do our best to retain deniability for these family members, simply because they're weird.  My Uncle Miguel was the last to marry into the family for 20+ years, so for that time, he kept his "inheritance."  After that time, I was the first to get married from my generation, so when the wedding rehearsal dinner came around, he presented, with much pomp and circumstance, a certificate of ownership to my bride-to-be.  You could tell he had been waiting a long time for that moment. 

That sounds harsh, and I assure you that it's all in fun.  It's a joke that we've gotten many miles out of and will continue to get miles out of as long as somebody remembers the people we're passing along.

The decendents of this part of the family, I'm told, had a singing contest at my great-aunt's funeral service.  Picture Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and you're getting the idea.  Yes, someone like Eddie really does exist, camper and all.

I love my family, but I'm not sure that this is the best image for a healthy church.  If my family spent that much time together each week and lived in such close proximity, someone would go to jail for murder. 

Is this the best we can do as the church?  Am I expected to WANT to spend that much time with crazy cousin Eddie?  Or is the church supposed to be something more? 

No, I don't think it will be utopian.  Conflict is an inevitable part of life.  But if you're suggesting that we shouldn't grow and reach others because you might lose that sense of family, you're lying to yourself. 

Church should rise above what we know to be family.  It should be the example for families to aspire to - where the member's actions, growth, and initiatives are supported.  Where love, support, and accountability can be found. 

"While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.'  He replied to him, 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?'  Pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.'" (Matthew 12:46-50)