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2017 National Gathering Keynote: Soong-Chan Rah

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL, presents a keynote at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering entitled: “The Changing Face of the Church.”


Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL and the author of The Next EvangelicalismMany ColorsProphetic Lament; co-author of Forgive Us; and Return to Justice.

Soong-Chan is formerly the founding Senior Pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church (CCFC), a multi-ethnic church living out the values of racial reconciliation and social justice in the urban context. He currently serves on the board of World Vision and Evangelicals 4 Justice. He has previously served on the board of Sojourners and the Christian Community Development Association.

Soong-Chan received his B.A. from Columbia University; his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; his Th.M. from Harvard University; his D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and his Th.D. from Duke University.

Soong-Chan and his wife Sue and their two children, Annah and Elijah live in Chicago.

Community Chaplaincy for Nones and Dones

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Layton Williams is curating a series we’re calling “Ministry Out of the Box,” which features stories of ministers serving God in unexpected, diverse ways. What can ordained ministry look like outside of the parish? How might we understand God calling us outside of the traditional ministry ‘box?’ We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Renee Roederer

It’s always risky to begin a conversation with a controversial statement, but I’ve decided to take the plunge here. From time to time, I motivate myself with a particular observation:

In the Gospels, there are no stories — not even one — of Jesus working really hard inside a synagogue on behalf of a synagogue.

I say that less as an effort to critique and more as an opportunity contemplate what is possible. Let me first assuage what is potentially controversial here: I value the ministry that takes place inside our church buildings. Ministry tasks of administration, programming, and planning create possibilities for faith to form and relationships to grow. They matter, as do the people who make them happen.

But I also know this: pastors frequently face expectations which limit their work to what happens inside the church — that is, inside the circle of congregational membership and inside the church building itself. In a time of congregational decline, members of churches are also anxious to increase activities inside their own circles and buildings.

If we aren’t careful, we can become isolated from the larger community and our local neighborhoods. We can get stuck in a Gospel narrative that doesn’t exist — working solely inside a church for the sole benefit of a church.

Last September, the Presbytery of Detroit decided to take a plunge with me. Together, we created a new role for ordained ministry. I had the opportunity to draft this role in concert with the Committee on Ministry. They took a creative risk and stretched their categories of validated ministry to make it happen. I am the first community chaplain in the Presbytery of Detroit. More specifically, I am a Community Chaplain for Nones and Dones. That’s my actual, quirky title. Strange as it may sound, it’s a perfect expression of what I’m commissioned to do.

Community – My work takes place primarily in the community. I attend community events, build friendships, and foster connections between people. I am often able to educate congregations about events, movements, and local needs in our neighborhoods.

Chaplain – Regionally within Southeast Michigan and on the University of Michigan campus, I meet regularly with people from a variety of religious backgrounds (and none, see below). Over coffee or lunch, we discuss large questions of faith and spirituality, discern purpose and calling, and talk about the gifts and stressors of everyday life.

Nones and Dones – This is the most unique part of my role. I am commissioned specifically to community members and students who feel disenfranchised from the church and organized religion. Long before there was an official ministry role with a title, there was a community. For the last year and a half, I’ve been organizing a new community called Michigan Nones and Dones. This community includes people who are religiously unaffiliated (Nones), people who have left established forms of institutional churches (Dones), and people who practice particular faith traditions but seek new, emerging visions for their expression. We meet in coffee shops and restaurants to discuss spirituality, and we make meaning together as we form friendships.

I feel absolutely alive in this calling, and it’s an understatement to say I’m grateful to serve in this capacity. I believe that the Presbyterian Church (USA) needs to open new possibilities for ministry service. We have creative seminarians who are nearing graduation, and many long to initiate innovative expressions of church and community life. They are completing their studies at the precise moment when fewer traditional ministry roles are available. In conversation with them, why not open the doors for new expressions of spiritual leadership?

My deepest hope is to see new expressions of community chaplaincy replicated and funded throughout the Presbyterian Church (USA). If we build this vision, we will inspire our congregations to venture more deeply into their local neighborhoods as well.


If you’d like to talk more with Renee about Community Chaplaincy, feel free to email her at revannarbor@gmail.com. Or better yet, come to the NEXT Church National Gathering and have a conversation with her over coffee (her favorite)! See also the rich history and vision of Community Chaplaincy at Focused Community Strategies in Atlanta.

Map, Message and Mission

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarah Dianne Jones is curating a series written by our workshop leaders at the 2017 National Gathering. What excites them about the Gathering? What are they looking forward to sharing and discussing during their workshop? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Beth Utley

The answer is contemporary worship. That’s what people want. That will bring people into the church. And, for some, it did. Until it didn’t.

The answer was mega church. Until it wasn’t.

The answer was emergent church. Until it wasn’t.

The answer is missional church. The jury is still out…

I think the answer will be the same. Mission alone won’t save God’s church.

Most of our congregants have lived through a religious anomaly. In our lifetime, most everyone belonged to a church. Folks who didn’t were looked upon with pity or suspicion. Every politician, every businessman (gender purposeful), every good mother and wife belonged to and participated in a faith community. Protestant was privileged at the time, but if you had to be Jewish or Catholic, we could understand, though we prayed for you.

This was our world. This shaped our assumptions and our understandings of who we were as church people and how we interacted with our neighbors. It’s not our world any more, thanks be to God. But, it’s no wonder we don’t quite know what to do with our declining churches.

Being a disciple of Christ had a particular focus in the first century, quite a different focus during the reformation. The in-our-face-challenge today involves being part of a people who were “trained” in one religious culture but find themselves neck deep in a different one.

We may feel like we are at the beginning of a Mission Impossible movie. “If you choose to accept this assignment,” the tape says, only we really don’t have a choice — not if we want thriving, meaningful communities of faith.

The answer will not be some kind of magic evangelism…but we are learning to ask the questions. We are better understanding our current culture and its need for God’s good news of transformation, redemption, and reconciliation.

It will take all of us in the conversation, all of us committed to exploring the issues, all of committed to “throwing spaghetti against the wall” until we discern God’s will and way in our time.

We invite you to come and throw spaghetti with us at the National Gathering.

Map, Message and Mission is offered on Monday during workshop block 1 of the 2017 National Gathering.


Beth Utley is the director of Christian formation at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church in High Point, NC. She has worked in faith formation for almost 20 years. Her work with skeptical youth and young adults and her congregation’s commitment to evangelism honed her knowledge and skill. 

What Does It Mean to be Christian in the 21st Century?

This month, our blog series is actually a vlog series – a video blog, that is! We’re calling it “The NEXT Few Minutes.” Over the next several weeks, we’ll share with you short, 2-3 minute videos from a variety of folks around the country with the hopes they spark your own imagination. We hope you’ll learn about some trends, ask questions, and think deeply about the practice of ministry in your own setting.

Brian Blount reflects on what it means to be Christian in the 21st century. What do you think God envisions for us today and tomorrow? Join the conversation by commenting on this blog post or on our Facebook/Twitter pages!

To see all of our videos in our “The NEXT Few Minutes” series, check out our playlist on Youtube.

The Two “E” Words

This month, our blog series is actually a vlog series – a video blog, that is! We’re calling it “The NEXT Few Minutes.” Over the next several weeks, we’ll share with you short, 2-3 minute videos from a variety of folks around the country with the hopes they spark your own imagination. We hope you’ll learn about some trends, ask questions, and think deeply about the practice of ministry in your own setting.

Mark Davis reflects on evangelism and the doctrine of election, and what might happen when we hold these two “e” words together. What do you think might happen? Join the conversation by commenting on this blog post or on our Facebook/Twitter pages!

To see all of our videos in our “The NEXT Few Minutes” series, check out our playlist on Youtube.

Leaving the No Wake Zone

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla has been curating reflections on being evangelical in the church. Have we connected our congregations to resurrection life? Have we taught them how to talk about it?  How to live it? How to connect others to that life-giving, life-abundant power? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Andrew Kukla

I am among the least likely people to be leading a conversation on evangelism. I am a pretty extreme introvert, particularly with regard to people I don’t know, and I don’t know many people. A good friend of mine likes to claim I’m the least networked Presbyterian pastor she knows. I have no sense of certainty about anything, so I love to conditionalize everything. You know, all those words we aren’t supposed to use: I believe what I am saying is that maybe this could be a good idea, if it happens to work for you…

I am, from a certain point of view, a horrible evangelist.

andrew evangelismAnd trust me, I have told God. Like Moses before me (the line is a lot longer than that), I have showed God my resumé and demonstrated how poorly it qualifies me for the job. But dammit…God just stared at me. So I kept talking. I talked up a storm about why going to seminary only made sense if it was step towards the academy… I stammered about how I ended up doing a year of mission work in the Philippines, I’m a Polish boy from Chicago… at least let it be somewhere cold! I blathered about a nice comfortable community of people who all knew my name… all the way to the 1,000-bed hospital where I worked as a chaplain, visiting only people I had never met.

So… here is the thing. I became pretty good at talking.  

God just stared at me. Only I detect the hint of smile now and then. I get it. I really do. Now. So I talk at board meetings of a local non-profit I serve about solving homelessness. We aren’t aiming for small adjustments; I’ve been given kingdom eyes by this God who stares down injustice (and blathering recalcitrant evangelists), and we aim for justice on a cosmic scale — nothing less. I talk to legislators and politicians about mercy and the common good and defending those who are made into objects of fear over their difference, be it sexual orientation or a country of origin. Because my kingdom good news isn’t for likeminded people, it’s from and for the God who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it. I talk to eight or nine people who read my blog… because I’m vain. But also because I think the words and the way I am wrestling with them may just help someone else wrestle well too, because nothing can grow if the seed stays in the bag. You have to scatter it if you want it to become something. So I talk. And you know what? None of this talking adds members to my church. None of it adds souls to the list of saved persons. None of this is what I might have called evangelism once upon a time (dark and dreary). But it all is.

It’s evangelism by social justice, it’s evangelism by offering an ear to listen, it’s evangelism by articulating shared hopes, it’s evangelism by repairing breached personhood.

Maybe John expected the first kind of evangelist. He begins to doubt, and in Luke 7 he sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask if he is the one to come or if another is coming. What Jesus does then is not build “a case for Christ.” He doesn’t reason John’s disciples into belief. He doesn’t defend his messiahship. He simply points to what stands in his wake: “Those people have had their eyes open, their wounds tended, and hope restored.” (Okay he actually says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”)  

Jesus doesn’t convert them or try. Jesus simply points to what happens in the way he lives his life and says, “you tell me what I am.”

This is the type of evangelist we are called to be — people in whose wake walk peace, justice, and love.

I am grateful to the many voices this month that have found ways to articulate that for us. I have had more than one conversation about what it means to have a ministry of repair, thought about for whom and when I offer to pray, and how we share what problems we are trying to solve and not just talk about the stuff with which we fill our calendar. I am asking new questions and looking at new role models for what it means to be caught up in God’s story — willing and able to come and see, go and tell, and hope that all this discerning, talking, and living is creating a wake that looks something like Jesus’.  

What wake is your community making?  

What lies in the rear-view mirror of you?

The evangelical task is nothing more, and nothing less, than making that wake be goodness and mercy.

All the days of our life. Thanks be to God.


andrew kuklaAndrew Kukla is a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho. He is a graduate from The College of William and Mary and twice from Columbia Theological Seminary because he is slow on the uptake. He is constantly taught grace, curiosity, and wonder by his wife and four children… and patience, oh so much patience. In what free time is left he serves as the President of the Board at CATCH, Inc which seeks to end homeless in Idaho for through Housing-First solutions, advocates for people as a faith-leader at the Idaho State Capitol, and is begrudging becoming a runner in the foothills of Idaho in order to be heart healthy. He blogs at incoherently at https://akukla.wordpress.com/ and is rarely on twitter but pretends as @awkukla.

Evangelism: An Invitation to Journey

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating reflections on being evangelical in the church. Have we connected our congregations to resurrection life? Have we taught them how to talk about it?  How to live it? How to connect others to that life-giving, life-abundant power? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jerrod Lowry

On a beautiful spring day when the tulips are blooming, the wind is cold, and the sun is hot; on a smoldering summer day when desert winds leave everything parched and dry; even in the winter when snow has blanketed the mountains peaks and the valley floor, you can find Mormons doing evangelism. I would be shocked if there were just one day in the state of Utah that I did not see two men dressed in white shirts, black suits, and neck ties out and about doing the work of the LDS Church, evangelizing. If you don’t live in Utah, if you don’t know much about the LDS Church, if you don’t know who Joseph Smith was, if you don’t know about Maroni, chances are you will still know Mormon missionaries when you see them. Before moving to Utah, all I knew about Mormons was that they send out their young men to evangelize. So when I accepted the call to serve Community of Grace PC(USA), located in the backyard of the international headquarters for the LDS Church, I decided that I needed to prepare myself for what I imagined would be an onslaught of aggressive evangelism efforts from Mormon missionaries.

To say that evangelism is important to Mormons is a gross understatement. There are nearly 70,000 mormon missionaries doing evangelism all over the world. Most are young men. However, according to Joanna Brooks, blogger and author of “The Book of Mormon Girl,” nearly ⅓ of new Mormon missionaries are female. She credits the recent influx of young “well scrubbed, well dressed young Mormon women [missionaries]” to a rule change that allows women to do missionary service at age 19 instead of waiting until age 21. Mormons, young and old, married and single, volunteer for the chance to evangelize the world as Mormon missionaries because evangelism is important to the LDS Church.

tsr_4647_webMormon missionaries can work for up to two years and are financed with funds raised by the missionary before leaving for service. When they return a crowd gathers at the airport with banners and balloons to welcome them home and the returning missionary’s name is placed on a plaque in their local ward (congregation). Mormons do not have to do a mission, but those who do are highly honored. Since moving to Utah, I’ve experienced elementary school children speak enchantingly about when the day arrives for them to “go on their mission.” I have had high school aged kids in my congregation say they wish that we offered a similar mission experience. I have even heard of young couples who have such high regard for their mission opportunity they plan their wedding date following a return from their Mormon mission. The missionary work of evangelism is a big deal to Mormons and because they are so dominant in this state, evangelism is a big deal in this state. Where else will you turn on the local evening news and hear, as the lead story, that some tragedy has befallen those doing evangelism while on their Mormon mission?

While I certainly disagree with much of the Mormon theology and doctrine, I applaud their zeal for making evangelism such a priority for their faith community. And when some Mormon missionaries knock on my door, I’ll welcome them and tell them how impressed I am with the commitment they have made. In contrast I think evangelism is prized from afar in Christian circles. In general, we think evangelism is important and someone should do it. I will confess that I have been guilty of thinking that I do not have enough knowledge to engage someone in a question about their faith. I believe, and my beliefs make great sense to me, but how do I convince someone else to believe as I do? Regarding Christian evangelism, some have shared that their hesitation is based on the idea that faith is as a personal and private matter. Evangelism for those who feel this way seems like intruding and prying into someone else’s deeply personal space. And there’s the apathetic approach to evangelism. “What business is it of mine to question your faith,” some may wonder.

However, I wonder if we are needlessly consumed with apprehension thinking about all it may take to convince someone to believe as I do. There is nothing wrong with approaching evangelism as a tool that grows the Kingdom of God or a particular congregation. Evangelism is often seen as the necessary work toward larger worship attendance or church membership. And if all of our exhaustive evangelism efforts lead to increased numbers, then we believe we have successfully done the work of evangelism.

But what if we reframed evangelism to simply be the invitation? What if evangelism is not about whether they accept the invitation, but simply defined as the offering of the invitation? What if evangelism is not about church membership, worship numbers, or making someone believe as I do? I wonder if it would be helpful to think about evangelism as just the invitation and not even the conversation that takes place after the invitation is offered. What if evangelism is simply the invitation to walk with me, talk with me, wrestle with me, join me on my journey of faith?

If evangelism is simply the extended invitation, then, I imagine the Samaritan woman at the well would be an excellent example of an evangelist. After her encounter with Jesus, she runs to her hometown with an invitation. “Come meet the man who has told me all about myself,” she says. She does not go into much detail. She does not tell them what this man has revealed to her about herself. She does not argue with people about why they should stop doing what they are doing to accept her invitation. She does not tell people they would be wrong if they did not accept her invitation. She does not say they have to believe as she does. She simply offers an invitation to “come and see.” Many accept her invitation and walk with her despite what they think about her. Nevertheless she extends an invitation that places her and the town’s people, who may think little of her, on a journey together. It’s no coincidence that Rev. Clinton Marsh, moderator of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA (UPCUSA) in 1973, would use this same story as the foundation for his book “Evangelism is…”. This Samaritan woman is a powerful and successful evangelist because she invites an entire town to journey with her.

If evangelism is the invitation, then we must also consider Jesus’ invitation to the disciples as evangelism. He invites them to drop their nets and follow him on a journey. Everything that happens after the invitation is extended could be considered faith formation or discipleship making, if evangelism is just the invitation. And we even have an example of Jesus’ efforts at evangelism being rebuffed by the “rich young ruler” who passes on the invitation. Nevertheless, the invitation was extended an evangelism success.

If evangelism is the invitation to join me on a journey, then we will surely experience acceptance and rejection as Jesus did. Reframing the definition of evangelism does not protect us from rejection. Reframing the definition of evangelism, however, means that success is solely in our hands as the ones extending the invitation. All I have to do is be bold enough to be vulnerable as I invite someone to walk with me, talk with me, wrestle with me, join me on my journey of faith. This also means I do not have to be as concerned with what I know or do not know. I am actually free to confess that I do not know everything. I am free to admit that I struggle to believe certain things and it may very well be that as we walk together and talk together that we both begin to understand and see clearly what I could not see before. If I am offering you an invitation, I do not have to be your teaching tour guide on this journey, we are cotravellers.

As I wrestle with this definition of evangelism, I invite you to join me. An altered definition of evangelism sounds like it would be more appealing to our modern selfish individualism. It could appeal to us as inviters but also empower those invited. It would also mean we need to redefine and be more intentional about how we walk together and wrestle over matters without being contentious. And I’ll admit there are things about this definition of evangelism that I do not like. Join me. Let’s talk about it. If evangelism is more than an invitation to walk together, it at least begins with this simple yet tricky step. And if evangelism is the invitation, then it coincides with the long held understanding that evangelism is our first intentional step on a lengthy faith journey. A journey, the African Ancestors remind us, we must walk together because we have far to go.


JBL bio pict 1Jerrod B. Lowry, a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Utah, pastors Community of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sandy. He hails from Augusta, GA. Before coming to his current church, Jerrod was the pastor of Saint Paul Presbyterian Church in Louisburg, NC and the Associate for Specialized Ministries for the Presbytery of New Hope. Jerrod is a proud graduate of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA.

You Better Tell Somebody!

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating reflections on being evangelical in the church. Have we connected our congregations to resurrection life? Have we taught them how to talk about it?  How to live it? How to connect others to that life-giving, life-abundant power? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Byron Wade

Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, my mother would take me and my two brothers to get haircuts occasionally. We always went to Scottie’s Barbershop, which was owned by Scottie and his brother who was also a barber. Both of them were Jehovah’s Witnesses and from the time you got in the chair until the time you left, all Scottie would do is talk non-stop about Jehovah while cutting your hair. Scottie never proselytized to me but always spoke about how good and awesome Jehovah is and what a difference he made in his own life. Plus, he seemed so happy doing it! I never came close to leaving the Presbyterian Church but his witness was so strong that I still remember it after all these years.

davie-stAs Presbyterians, we are known for a lot of things and evangelism is not one of them. Let’s face it – calling ourselves the “frozen chosen” is not a sure-fire way to get people interested in coming to our churches, much less developing a relationship with Jesus Christ. However, I believe that we have a God who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the entire world and through the Holy Spirit we can tell others of what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. So how do we go about sharing the story of Christ? Drawing on my personal and communal experiences, I will share a few tidbits:

It starts with YOU – My homiletics professor in seminary always told us if you don’t have passion and excitement about what you are preaching, chances are the congregation will not either. It is the same way with evangelism – you have to have and convey excitement and joy in witnessing to other about Jesus Christ. We may begin by asking ourselves, “what do I believe about Jesus?”, “what is my relationship with Christ?” and “how can I tell others what God has done for me?”

…but not by yourself – Rev. Clinton Marsh, in his book, Evangelism Is…, says “Evangelism is the work of the entire people of God.” Our faith is not formed alone in a vacuum; it is formed by belonging, listening, and learning with others through the Holy Spirit in the community of faith as well. Evangelism is done differently in various ways. Some churches have evangelism committees; others commission individual church leaders for that responsibility. At Davie Street, we believe everyone has a story to share about their faith with others. Specifically, we engage the congregation during our Tuesday midday prayer studies and monthly family night dinners. In both events, members and invited guests discuss current events/issues such as justice, racism, immigration, gun violence, and others in light of what scripture says (or doesn’t say). In most cases participants have a better understanding of the issue and what “says the Lord” so when they go out into the world and encounter others, they can converse and share their faith through stories and examples. This is just one method, but whatever you do, make sure volunteers undergo some evangelism training to help them be able to share their faith in a way that is inviting and non-threatening.

Cast a wide net – In many places, communities and ways are life have changed. We are living in an increasingly diverse world, not to mention one that is moving at a faster and faster pace. This could cause challenges to evangelism as we come in contact with people, cultures and lifestyles to which we are unaccustomed. However the time is ripe to spread the Gospel of Christ. Evangelism today will move us into sharing faith with people who have a different faith or no faith, various races, ethnicities and sexual orientations, and those who have limited time and interest. But your story – and THE story – is still the same.

In the African-American religious and social tradition, we have a saying, “You better tell somebody!” My hope is you will have the faith and confidence to tell somebody the story of who Jesus is, what he has done for you, and how others can find this living water. Amen.


IMG_4166 (1)Byron Wade (@bawade) is the pastor of Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. A transplant by way of Southern California, he loves football (specifically college football), watching track and field meets, and travelling. He lives in Garner, NC with his wife Regina and teenage son Andrew, and blogs at  “The Word from B” – http://thewordfromb.typepad.com/blog/.

Tell Me Something Good

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating reflections on being evangelical in the church. Have we connected our congregations to resurrection life? Have we taught them how to talk about it?  How to live it? How to connect others to that life-giving, life-abundant power? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Louise Westfall

Tell me something good, tell me, tell me, tell me. . . . . The Stevie Wonder lyrics have always reminded me that sometimes you have to use words to express feelings, values, meaning to another person. In our commitment to demonstrate the transforming love of God, we Presbyterians often forget to use our words to tell others something so good it changes everything. We’ve resisted reducing the breathtaking power of the gospel into a formula or four-step process. But as one preacher put it, “There may be many routes to the train station, but would you please tell me one?!”

tsr_5683_webTelling the story has prompted us at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Denver to develop the spiritual practice of “witness.” For now, it’s an element in our traditional Sunday morning worship service, but it’s served to broaden our vision as well as sharpen our skills.  

A witness is a short (4-5 minute) testimony by a member, mission partner, or visitor with one primary purpose: to describe what God is doing in their lives. We’ve long had “mission moments” that described some ministry or initiative, ending with an invitation to contribute, get involved, or learn more. The focus was on information and persuasion. Nothing wrong with that, except it mostly felt like an “advertisement” for something the church thought you should be doing. For visitors and newcomers in particular, these announcements were filled with insider jargon and church-speak. I once heard a mission moment that used the acronym OGHS throughout, never once sharing the powerful impact of the One Great Hour of Sharing offering!

Because witnessing is different, we developed a simple template to help tell the story around responses to three questions: What is God doing in your life? How is God’s love demonstrated in this ministry? How has this ministry made a difference to you? I thought people might be uncomfortable with this personal approach and truth be told, some claim it more readily than others. Yet people long to experience God in daily life, and these witnesses make those experiences accessible.  

In a witness during the annual stewardship campaign, a woman spoke frankly about her husband’s job loss and their financial difficulties and the intentional decision they made to pledge nonetheless. “God has been there for us through every hard time; we want to share so that others remember that God will be there for them too.” A couple told of their gratitude for prayers, visits, meals and child care when their youngest son was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. Though their son is in remission, the force of their witness came from their experience of God’s presence amid the terrifying diagnosis and debilitating treatments.  

Occasionally, members hesitate because they’re afraid to show tears or vulnerability. Several times, we’ve videotaped their witness and shown it in the service. John, for example, had served a long prison sentence for theft before he came to us through our transitional housing ministry. He described how he found Christ while in prison and wanted to share his transformation with the congregation that had been a friend to him as he struggled to reintegrate into society. His video witness, shown during worship moved the congregation deeply, and spiked contributions to the housing ministry (even without asking!). Exposing human vulnerability isn’t easy for any of us, but we’re learning that we’re safe in the company of God’s people. People receive our tears, our brokenness, even our regrettable decisions, with acceptance and kindness. That itself becomes a powerful witness to members and visitors alike.

Tell me something good. . . . tell me that you love me. . . . A witness is a love song, a way of telling others that the very heart of the universe is love. Why would we keep that a secret?  

The beauty of witnessing is that it becomes an expression of the variety of ways and means God’s love comes to us.             


Louise head shotLouise Westfall is pastor/head of staff of Central Presbyterian Church (@centralpresden) in downtown Denver, Colorado, one of the top five destinations for millennials (though not her son.  Yet.). Even after three decades of ministry in diverse settings, she believes congregations are the very best communities of transformation. An ardent church choir member and whistler, Louise enjoys making a joyful noise unto the Lord.  

Evangelism as Repair

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Andrew Kukla is curating reflections on being evangelical in the church. Have we connected our congregations to resurrection life? Have we taught them how to talk about it?  How to live it? How to connect others to that life-giving, life-abundant power? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Laura Cheifetz

When evangelical is used as an adjective not pertaining to religion or politics, I can identify with it. I can be very evangelical about certain things: eating, sticking to one airline as a frequent flyer, reading books of all sorts, the superiority of the Pacific Northwest, the business model of Costco, the existence of progressive southerners, adopting/rescuing dogs instead of buying from pet stores or unlicensed breeders, giving kids a lot of chances to figure life out, not wearing shoes inside the house… you get the idea.

tsr_4366_webWhen evangelical is used in terms of religion in the U.S., I often want to walk in the other direction.

I get that we are called to be evangelical. We are graced with the gift of having such good news to share. We love a God who loves us and all creation. We follow a Christ who challenges us daily in our lives and faith. We are sustained by a pesky Holy Spirit who will not let us off the hook. We are gifted with imperfectly beloved faith communities. Faith is not what makes life easy. It is what makes life (mostly) bearable. The delight and beauty I find in my faith, and the determination it gives me to face hard days (or weeks, or years) with gritted teeth and fierce love for my fellow travelers on the journey, is very good news.

But throughout my childhood, the evangelicals surrounding me were not sharing good news. They were narrow-minded, judgmental, anti-science, anti-woman, and supremely self-righteous. For a mainline Protestant double pastors’ kid who was pro-science, feminist, and eager to experience as much as possible, this was an incompatible worldview.

I will be eternally grateful for my first call: a position working with Asian American young adults and pastors, which necessitated I work with evangelicals. It was my first sustained exposure to evangelicals who are people of color, and I was able to see how many evangelicals did not align with the stereotypes I carried based on the experience I had growing up.

We are all evangelists, whether or not we like it. Whatever we are committed to, with words or actions, will be the news we share. Some people are evangelicals for a political cause. Some people are evangelicals for a brand (loyalists to a company named for a fruit, or adherents to a form of exercise that takes place in a “box,” I’m looking at you).

What is our evangelism?

We Christians are called to evangelize, but too many of us have been implicated in creation-destroying materialistic consumption borne of prosperity and dominion theology, war, conquest, colonialism, genocide, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and sexism, and racism. We aren’t equipped to share good news without grappling honestly with the death-dealing legacies of Christians.

What is our evangelism if we are not always repenting for and seeking repair of the damage due to all the terrible things Christians have espoused throughout the years? I’m sure it’s possible to ask this question of people of other religions, but sin is not relative. It is ours to reckon with.

Not every Christian shares equally in this legacy, of course. Many Christian churches and traditions, even in the U.S., exist in defiance of racism, colonialism, homophobia, or misogyny, with a bias toward liberation. But most of us have, at some point, participated in a faith tradition that has been translated into not-so-good-news.

Evangelism requires us to live in dissonance: proclaiming good news while being humble enough to work to repair the damage done by violent, triumphalist, intolerant twistings of the gospel.

The news is so very beautiful, and the damage is great. This is our space for proclamation. Will you sit in it with me?


Laura CheifetzLaura Mariko Cheifetz serves as Vice President of Church & Public Relations and editor of These Days at the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. She has served with the Forum for Theological Exploration and at McCormick Theological Seminary. She grew up a double pastors’ kid in the Pacific Northwest and holds an MBA from North Park University and an MDiv from McCormick Theological Seminary. For fun, she watches television, reads fiction, delves into post-colonial feminism and critical race theory, and rages against the system of which, she is clear, she is a part. Laura blogs very occasionally at http://churchrelations.blogspot.com and tweets at @lmcheifetz .