For 2 days in October, leaders from across the Saint Paul Area Synod gathered for the annual Bishop’s Theological Conference. This year’s theme, “More Than Can Be Told” featured the ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton as our keynote and guest. The conference lived up to its name - what was grown, nurtured, developed, and shared is far more than can be told. Our time together was enveloped in communal worship, prayer, learning, study of scripture and relationship building. Our Presiding Bishop was a breath of fresh air – deeply rooted in scripture and our Lutheran understanding of grace, hilariously sharp-witted, authentic in sharing her experiences, and compassionate for the whole people of God. It was truly a gift to share time with servants of God from across our synod: pastors and deacons serving in a variety of settings.
Our time together in scripture focused on stories of inviting and being called. I laughed aloud when Bishop Eaton said, "The pastor inviting people to church is the least effective evangelism." How often do we think that it is the pastor (or deacon’s) job to invite people to church? I think she’s right … it really isn’t very effective. Isn’t it powerful to be invited into a community that matters by someone who already knows you or part of your story? Doesn’t it make you stop and think when someone shares what God has transformed, healed, or opened up in their own life? You see, evangelism isn’t about “selling” what Faith Lutheran has to offer (though there are many wonderful things happening here). Evangelism is about what Christ does, not the church. Evangelism is reaching out to others- not because we want more people at our worship services- but because we want people to know the deep and unconditional love of God. We invite others to church, because we want them to “come and see” the relentless and radical love of the God who created them. We want for them to experience the fierce love of community, the power of healing, and the unexpected grace that has left its mark on us.
Photo Caption: ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton & Saint Paul Area Synod Bishop Patricia Lull do a pretend episode of “On Being” at the 2018 Bishop’s Theological Conference.
Being part of a Christian community like Faith Lutheran is also “more than can be told.” That’s why when John the Baptist’s disciples first encounter Jesus (John 1:35-42), he doesn’t pass them a brochure or explain all the steps to becoming a member of his exclusive club. He invites them to, “come and see” and in following him; they discover they have found what they were searching for … the Messiah!
Evangelism doesn’t have to be an aggressive and fear-driven call to accept Jesus. It can be passing along a meaningful scripture verse or an offer to join you for coffee and conversation on scripture. It can be an open invitation to “come and see” on a Wednesday night or Sunday morning (offer to pay for dinner/treats!). Evangelism is graciously inviting others into community and a powerful relationship with God. May you be so bold as to open up an invitation to someone who needs those very things!