Quandaries of a Lousy Evangelist
By Rev. Dr. Barbara Doerrer-Peacock, co-pastor at South Mountain Community Church, and member of DSC Evangelism Team
As an evangelist, I stink. I’m an introvert for starters. I’m not entrepreneurial. I hate promoting myself or my endeavors. I’m a terrible sales person. I don’t like phrases like “born again,” “saving souls,” or “Jesus died for you.” The churches that I’ve served for my 23-year career in ministry have usually “grown” from 110 members to 60 members, or 60 in worship with attendance to 25. I even served on a denominational staff for awhile with the job title of “Evangelism and Church Renewal!” A few years later, the church that I had been serving at that time voted to leave the denomination. At least I wasn’t there for that. I’m thankful for small blessings.
Yet, in God’s strange humor, I have found myself continually hovering around the edges of evangelism-reading books, going to seminars, even being called to serve on evangelism committees, yet always in a quandary of wondering why I’m here. Why don’t these things work for me and my churches? Why isn’t God blessing us with great numbers of converts and new disciples flooding through our doors to listen to my brilliant sermons? Why do programs and various strategies have a shelf life of about three months at best, and then fizzle out? Why does filling out annual statistical reports reduce me to tears every January?
In my despair, I began a meandering journey to find some answers to my quandaries, the results of which I’ve been invited to share by the Evangelism Team, of which – yet again – I am a perplexed member.
A term I’ve heard used frequently in recent years is “growing disciples.” It is a strong Christian education term, it may be a more palatable substitute for the dreaded “evangelism” word. In recent months, the Evangelism team has been playing with a TREE metaphor and anagram for growing disciples: Training, Resourcing, Empowering, Evangelizing.
It’s what we hope to do in our churches, isn’t it? We try to equip our members with the training and resourcing of our faith, our Christian education efforts, our small groups, even our worship. We hope our people will be empowered by God’s Spirit, and go forth to blossom and evangelize. We can think of a tree metaphor that has the training and resourcing growing at the trunk, the empowerment comes as branches begin to spread outward, then the leaves and seeds blossom into evangelism. Okay, it’s a useful metaphor, but I confess it didn’t light a fire within me. As a lousy evangelist, I needed something more than the term “growing disciples” – something deeper.
The problem for me is that often when we think “growth”—we think solely in terms of quantitative increase, and moving up and out. We think in terms of programmatic operations and functions in our churches. What new programs will train and equip us? What new groups, initiatives, or task forces can we start to help us achieve growth of getting bigger, moving up, and expanding out? It’s great if it happens, but if it doesn’t…I feel like a spiritual failure.
Don’t get me wrong…discipleship does grow. But in order to grow healthy, strong and fruitful, it must deepen. After a recent particularly intense monsoon storm blew through the Valley, I saw a huge tree in a nearby yard completely uprooted and lying on its side the next morning. This tree did not look fragile by any means. It seemed mature and healthy…above ground anyway. But a good strong wind blew it right over. It’s important not to overlook the depth and strength of the roots, and the internal health.
Discipleship doesn’t begin with the training and resourcing. it begins at the roots of relationship and experience. The fruitfulness and strength of our discipleship also has a great deal to do with the internal motivations going on beneath the surface.
The concepts of deepening disciples began to ignite a fire within me when I started looking into our roots of relationships and experiences, and understanding the internal motivations of “growth,” namely the process of transformation. My “discipling tree” became a “transforming tree.” My next article, “Deepening Disciples – Emerging Evangel,” will explore that process.