Tinkling glasses of lemonade, glistening rays of light, and the laughter of children in the evenings—these are the delicacies of life that drip with the sweetness of summer. There's something fascinating about this season. It's one that beckons us to break from the mold of everyday existence and enjoy freedom. We are compelled to spend time with those who love us for who we are and bask in the pleasure of living. As a result we travel, visit, see, do, spend, laugh, remember, reach out, and most importantly, grow.
Wouldn't it be nice if this were the kind of Christianity that we shared with non-believers? The summer kind of Christ-likeness, in which Christians reach out and share the flavor of God's Word, the glow of His life, and the laughter of His joy through real life interaction, asking nothing in return.
Love Thy Neighbor
Brian McLaren, pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Md., and author of More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism and Dance in the Postmodern Matrix said in an interview with Christianity Today.1
"We [at our church] emphasize that to be a good member… we must get to know our neighbors. We say, throw parties. Have people over. Be nice to the children in your neighborhood. Be good people. Be good neighbors. That makes it easier to talk to people about your faith. …To me, part of the issue is how we can help Christians live such good lives that people want to ask questions. If people aren't asking the questions, and we're teaching Christians how to talk rather than walk, we might just be encouraging them to be obnoxious."
McLaren is referring to what some call "lifestyle evangelism." It isn't forceful or demanding; it's simply a way of life that is full of hope and open-armed with love.
John and Julie Majors of Little Rock, Ark., are an example of this kind of Christianity. They do a number of small services for their neighbors to show their genuine care for them. Julie takes meals to sick neighbors, throws baby showers, hands out candy on Valentine's Day (with brochures for FamilyLife's marriage conferences), and bakes goodies for new neighbors. John regularly mows the lawn for an elderly lady, exchanges tools with other men, and has taught one man how to fly fish.
"When we moved here four years ago, we chose a church nearby so we could invite people to go with us," says Julie, "but we've had more spiritual conversations in our driveway, even though we haven't invited anyone to church yet."
Together the Majors have also coordinated a neighborhood garage sale, hosted a weekly "Survivor" night (for fans of the popular television series), and are planning to put together a gathering for their cul-de-sac to celebrate the Fourth of July.
What John and Julie have done isn't hard. It's a matter of reaching out, making friends, and sharing life with others. How long has it been since you sat on the front porch to watch the sunset or took a walk just for the sake of seeing the neighborhood? "You've got to be outside to meet people," Julie says. "If you don't like gardening, water your weeds!"
Another way to reach out during the summer months is to form groups of individuals in the church who desire to minister to the community. This could include volunteering at a neighborhood nursing home, orphanage, or soup kitchen; picking up litter from public parks and highways; playing basketball in the inner city; or writing letters to soldiers overseas.
Darla Coleman, of First Church of the Nazarene in Texarkana, Texas, started this kind of outreach through a sign language/lyrical movement team called "Hands of Praise." This group of young ladies performs at local churches and community events. "Everyone can't make the cheerleading team, but anyone can make this team if they desire to worship the Lord and grow spiritually," Darla says.
Since the group started two years ago, it has grown 10 times its original size. "Lives have been changed in a mighty way through this ministry," says Darla.
Darla has seen two sisters in particular, Jordan and Keely Echols, who have found a sense of purpose through "Hands of Praise." They lost their mother from alcoholism a few years ago, and the girls now live with their aunt. These sisters often share their faith with their aunt through their involvement with "Hands of Praise." They share stories with her of what they learn through the ministry, and as the girls practice at home, their aunt hears the words of the music and witnesses their worship.
"The girls in 'Hands of Praise' are taught the Word of God and how God loves our worship, and they have learned that God is accepting of us all, no matter our past circumstances," Darla says. "In a world where young women are judged by their outer beauty, 'Hands of Praise' teaches that inner beauty is most important and comes from a relationship with God."
Some Christians believe that unless there is a conversion, developing a relationship with a non-believer is wasted time. But John 4:37-38a says, "For in this case the saying is true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored." God calls each of us to plant seeds, but not all of us will reap the harvest of what we sow.
Julie shares a story about her hairdresser, a man who has hardened his heart toward Christians. "He once told me that he hated most Christians, but he didn't hate me. When I asked him why, he said it was because I didn't wear my religion on my sleeve—it was real. All I do is exemplify Christ to him—I ask him questions, show real concern, and I pray for him." Julie says she may never have the chance to explain the gospel to her friend, but that's okay—God has "called me to be faithful."
It's important to keep in mind that we are planting seeds for a spiritual harvest—one that will yield eternal fruit. Here are some helpful hints as you reach out:
First, pray for the unbelievers that you are in contact with. This is an important part of an evangelistic lifestyle. Prayer will help soften your heart toward those who are often hateful to Christians, and it will keep your relationship with Christ strong. James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."
Second, include your children in the evangelistic process. Make sure your children know why your family is reaching out, and teach them how to point other children to Christ. It's an opportunity to teach them how to give without receiving and the importance of being light in a dark world. Acts 2:39 says, "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."
There are several ways that families can evangelize to other families. One way is to organize a summer family camp for a week. Prepare to have competitive games (like a three-legged race), outings (like fishing), and campfire activities (like s'mores and camp songs). Also prepare nighttime or morning devotions for each day. The fun and competition builds relationships between families, and the devotional time allows unbelievers the opportunity to ask spiritual questions.
Finally, always be prepared to give your personal testimony. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready "to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." Often an unbeliever will open the door for spiritual conversation because of the love that he or she has felt. It may happen at any moment and during any event, so it is important that you have something to share with them about your relationship with Christ.
If you're not sure what you would say, it helps to sit down and write out your testimony. This will not only force you to remember the details of the story of how God called us to Himself, it will help you identify the key points that you don't want to miss when retelling it. This establishes a logical testimony with poignant examples that support the power of salvation to others.
1How to Evangelize Today
Taken from the July 2004 issue of The Family Room, FamilyLife's online magazine. www.FamilyLife.com/familyroom. Copyright© 2003. All rights reserved. Used by permission.