Caption: The Rev. Dr. Eddie Fox, keynote speaker for Faith Sharing Training and Rally at Wescosville: Bethany UMC on November 3, 2012
By Christopher Kurien
Communicating with one another by Email,Texting, Facebook, or Tweeting seems to be our preference over face to face conversations; even phone calls. In some ways this has contributed to a loss of vitality in human relationships and community life in the U.S. – even in church life. In other parts of the world, where technology may not be so advanced, there continues to be a sense of community. This is very evident in the church, where the community of believers gathers to worship and then disperses into their neighborhoods to share their faith in face to face conversations. One must ask if there is a connection between our preferred means of communicating and the dwindling membership of churches in the West compared to the growing membership in places where faith-sharing is a face to face experience.
This led me to ponder upon the Great Commission, which appears in the Gospel of Matthew. Here Jesus commissions us to be his representatives in the world: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The Great Commission is therefore not an option but rather it is a mandate for Christian discipleship. How are we to fulfill this mandate of reaching out to others in the name of Christ? When I was the superintendent of the Southeast district, a dwindling congregation was on the verge of closing. I prayerfully asked for this church to be given one year to launch its ministry before any steps be taken to sell the church building. The newly appointed lay pastor Avery Kelleher, and later the new members of Parkside United Methodist Church took the Great Commission to heart. In that time, God worked a miracle through their hard work. Today, sixty new United Methodists actively participate; many of them had no church affiliation or experience.
These are individuals who are in no way different from you or me. They are ordinary folks with similar challenges of life, who have taken the mandate that Jesus gave us seriously. Every other denomination in the area has given up on the Parkside community, but this little church is growing, thriving and helping to meet the needs of people, some of who live on the streets.
This kind of faith sharing and evangelism is what is needed today. Do you think we can rise to the challenge?
I grew up in India as the son of missionary parents. Their passion in bringing people to Jesus Christ broke down barriers of religion and the caste system, which was prevalent in India. They shared their deep faith in Jesus Christ even when they received threats and opposition from zealous non-Christians. In this way they were able to plant numerous churches, and bring many hundreds of new Christians to discipleship.
In our context, it doesn’t matter where we share our faith. Recently, God opened a door for me to share my faith while at the mall. A young man, curious by my looks, asked me if I was from India and assumed I was a Hindu. Interested in continuing this conversation, I told him that although I am a proud American, I grew up in a Christian family in India, and in fact that I am a pastor. He was shocked! We got to talking and I was able to ask him about his faith. He explained that he had only been to church two or three times in his life. I saw this as an opportunity to share my faith with him. I told him about God’s love and grace and we ended with a prayer that touched his heart and brought him to tears.
As Christians, it is a part of our discipleship to share our faith, but many in our churches have lost the passion to evangelize. Instead a good number of United Methodists seem to see church as more of a weekly social gathering or ritual. So let’s renew our passion for faith sharing and evangelism! The Faith Sharing Event and Rally on November 3 is a fabulous opportunity for our churches to bring persons with a heart for evangelism to learn from Dr. Eddie Fox. As Executive Director of the World Methodist Evangelism Institute, Dr. Fox travels around the world bringing his inspiring message and practical information that you will be able to use in your congregation. You will enjoy his great sense of storytelling and humor, into which he brings the truth and profound wisdom.
Please take an opportunity to invite persons in your congregation to this important conference event. Contact Rev. Dr. Christopher Kurien: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bethany UMC in Allentown, with Dr. Eddie Fox.