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 and tweets at @lmcheifetz . 

Understanding the “Good News”

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 Katherine Kussmaul

The Jesus I encounter in Scripture is relational, personal and engages in one-on-one (or small group) interactions in which “Good News” is embodied, experienced and then shared with others. Evangelism, as I experience it in Scripture, begins as an internal experience and becomes an external experience as individuals narrate their own experience of “Good News.”  We must experience “Good News” in a meaningful, intimate way. We must first understand “Good News” through personal experience. And then we can begin the relational process of evangelism: sharing the “Good News” with others.

tsr_4405_webWho are we? We are private, hidden people. We are individualistic, cautionary and afraid. We juggle the balls of “Who knows what?” “Who is trustworthy?” “What can I say?” and “What would THEY do if they knew I…..?”  And in doing this, we fabricate an artificial assurance, a false pretense that proclaims invincible strength, fierce individualism, water-tight certainty and wide-open authenticity while also denying a fundamental truth: we are fragile, we need each other, we exist in ambiguity (life is ambiguous; not everything is decent and very little is in-order) and we live in fear that who we are is not okay, not acceptable, not enough. A fundamental truth that, when acknowledged and addressed, can lead to more genuine living and authentic evangelism (sharing “Good News”) that really does make a difference.

We toss around the phrase “Good News.” We charge each other to “spread the Good News” but I believe we do not know what this “Good News” actually is. We, as an institution, do everything in our power not to define “Good News” – to keep “Good News” impersonal and distant. We buy into a system that thrives on vague generalities when Jesus models particular encounters. We reinforce and extend a system that leans on ambiguity when Jesus teaches authentic living marked by genuine relationships.

So either we have not experienced “Good News” or we have, but are super-saturated in ecclesial privacy messages: “Don’t talk about it”, “Don’t boast about it”, or more likely “Don’t push the church to endorse ‘Good News’ because the church is not ready to embrace what ‘Good News’ requires.” We keep “Good News” EXTERNAL – vaguely defined and vitally important but detached from our actual lives. Using the words “Good News” keeps us comfortable but ultimately the words become empty “church words” that further distance the church from the people with whom we long to connect.

So what IS “Good News”? “Good News” is connected to God’s love, commitment and promise: God’s love which accepts and cherishes us exactly as we are, God’s commitment to keep “breaking into our tombs” (think about what God does in John 20:19 – coming into a locked room to stand among the disciples), and God’s promise to stick with us: no matter where, no matter when, no matter what. THIS is Good News. And THIS Good News must be something we “get” deep in our heart, at a gut level – it must be INTERNAL.

So what should/could we, as denominational leaders, as women and men seeking to share Good News actually do? We have to STOP being denominational and institutional leaders. We have to START reclaiming our core identity as children of God: women, men, youth, children created in the image of God. We have to be authentic, genuine and honest. We have to be vulnerable enough – with ourselves and a handful of carefully selected others – to acknowledge the masked and hidden areas of our own lives: addiction (to substances, behaviors, control/power, even work), abuse (physical, sexual, mental, emotional, financial), eating disorders, anxiety, depression (relational, situational, post-partum, as part of bi-polar), invisible medical conditions, infertility, pregnancy loss, PTSD, estrangement, relational malaise, sexual orientation, gender identity, difficult relationships, infidelity, betrayal, job insecurity, professional doubt, this list goes on and on…

Having acknowledged these areas, we need to open ourselves to a complete, genuine, integrated experience of Good News – a deep-down experience in which we come face-to-face with the reality that God loves US exactly as we are (un-masked, no-longer-hidden and fully-revealed), God “breaks in” to be with US in our sealed-off tombs and God sticks with US: no matter where, no matter when, no matter what.

We need to have that INTERNAL experience. We need to take risks, be authentic, look into our shadows and face into our fear, shame and embarrassment. This is how we come to understand Good News. With that internal, gut-level understanding, we can then identify appropriate ways to talk about that experience, acknowledge these aspects of our core selves and share the Good News that “God loves me – even the ‘me’ I hide.”

And then we have to start creating spaces in which we, as communities, begin to cultivate and share these embodied Good News experiences, in which we talk less about abundant life and more about authentic life, in which we proclaim Good News that really matters, that changes lives, that focuses less on our institution and more on God’s incarnation which ultimately reveals one thing: God’s unconditional love for all creation, for all people – for you and me – exactly as (and who) we are.

Thanks be to God.

katherine kussmaulKatherine is the pastor of Saint Giles Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Prior to this call, she has served congregations in Urbana, Illinois, Cary, North Carolina and Leeds, England. She enjoys preaching, teaching, pastoral care and opportunities to nurture spiritual development through conversation and reflection. She lives on the grounds of a plant nursery where she kills her own plants, cheers for her Pittsburgh Steelers and spends huge chunks of every day with her pup, Dibley.

Asking Better Questions

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 John Vest

Whenever I give a talk or lead a workshop on evangelism I begin with the same exercise. I give people a minute or less to write down a 2-3 sentence answer to this question: What is the gospel? This usually catches them off guard, but I don’t stop there. I go on to ask them to find a partner and read to each other what they wrote. After they squirm around in their seats and chat uncomfortably for a bit—and there are usually a handful of people who refuse to do this exercise altogether—I make a blunt statement: if this is hard for you, especially if you are a church leader, we have a problem.

john vest evangSophisticated, well-educated Presbyterians tend to think that the gospel is too complex to reduce to a mere two or three sentences. We’ll spend thirty minutes on caveats and qualifications before we dare say something simple and straightforward about what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ. We’ll tweak our language and nitpick details. We’ll offer substitute motions to substitute motions before calling the question, before answering the question: what is the good news?

And when Presbyterians finally get around to answering this question, it often comes in the form of theological statements, sets of core beliefs, doctrines, dogmas, or confessions. This is the language we speak. But it might not be the language the world needs most right now.

Implicitly or explicitly, the faith question Presbyterians most ask each other is this: What do you believe? It’s the basic question behind our Sunday School learning outcomes, our lists of things we want children to know before confirmation. It’s the question we ask confirmands as they present statements of faith and publically profess that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. It’s the question in worship that prompts our recitation of the Apostles Creed or some other affirmation of faith. It’s what we ask candidates for ordination. It’s the reason that half of our constitution is a book of confessions.

But a better question is this: How do you know God is real?

In response, many people will say that we can’t really know God is real. There’s no way to prove it. We just have to believe. It’s why we call it faith.

I don’t think this is a satisfactory answer. Faith isn’t about believing an unbelievable story. It isn’t about believing something that can’t be proven. If that’s all it is, why choose one unbelievable story over any other unbelievable story? After all, every religion—and most non-religions—tell unbelievable stories.

Mature faith and transformative spirituality is rooted in experience. Evangelism is the art articulating that experience in compelling ways that just might resonate with other people.

To encourage this kind of faith-talk, we need to ask each other better questions than we are used to. Instead of “What do you believe?” or even “What is the gospel?” we need questions like these:

  • How have you experienced God’s presence in your life?
  • Where do you see God in the world?
  • What difference does following Jesus make in your life?

In the Unbinding the Gospel series, Martha Grace Reece notes that people who do evangelism well—regardless of theological orientation—have more complete, integrated, and faster answers to questions like these. Yet for many of us, these are difficult questions to answer. This is probably not the way were raised or trained to talk about faith.

Before we can ever say what evangelism is and how we ought to do it, before we develop strategic plans and programs, before we have any chance of successfully reaching out to new people, we need to learn—or relearn—how to talk about faith in meaningful ways with each other. We need to be evangelized by each other. We need to understand what’s at stake in the world and in our lives and how the gospel addresses these needs. We need to be able to articulate why Jesus matters.

This isn’t just head work. This isn’t simply a matter of getting our theology or our polity right. The gospel isn’t a doctrine to believe or an ethic to follow. It has to be more than that. It has to be a spiritual transformation grounded in experiences of the living God. Within our churches, this will require a significant culture change. Perhaps we might even be bold enough to call it an awakening—or a revival.

vest picJohn W. Vest is the Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. You can learn about his various ministry activities at and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. An enthusiastic pitmaster, John dreams of one day achieving the mystical union of church and BBQ.

Experiments in Public Prayer: Restaurant Edition

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!

This post was originally shared on the Macedonian Ministry blog.

by Sue Westfall

I’m a Presbyterian so it pretty much goes without saying that I am not one to foist my religion on anyone else. Even so, about six years ago following a challenge by my friend Reggie McNeal, I started praying for people in public places. For instance, before his challenge my typical prayer in a restaurant was head up, eyes open, hands open and maybe slightly (ever so slightly) outstretched. Definitely discreet and unobtrusive. But after that challenge I tried something new. Once the waiter has brought the food I say, “My friends and I were just getting ready to pray, is there anything we can pray for you?”

restaurantOnly one person has ever turned me down and she did it nicely. The first time I did this, the waitress – middle-aged, weary-looking – straightened for a moment and then sat down at the table! Her aunt who had raised her was in surgery at that very moment and the waitress was agonizing that she couldn’t be at the hospital because she’d had to work her shift to keep her job which provided for her and her two children. She asked if I would pray for her aunt right then while she was still at the table. We did. She wept. Then smiled. Then returned to work.

One brusque young man – tattoos, piercings – grew suddenly very still and in a soft voice said, “Could you pray for me and my mom? We haven’t talked in years. I miss her.”

Another middle-aged woman lit up when I asked and exclaimed, “Oh, yes. Pray for me and my husband-to-be! We’re getting married in a week. I never thought I would find love again. Just tell God thank you from Beth!”

A young man – willowy with delicate hands and deep-set eyes – paused and then tears suddenly spilled down his check and when he could finally speak he looked right at me with eyes so full of anguish I felt I should look away and said, “No one has ever offered to do that. Yes, please. My name is Todd. Please pray for Todd.”

I shared the story of this practice at a church where I was preaching recently and afterwards a number of us went out to lunch. Of course, as soon as we sat down they chorused, “Oh, do that prayer thing!” So when our perky, efficient young waitress brought the food I said, “We’re just getting ready to pray, is there anything we could pray for for you?” “No I don’t think so,” she said breezily. (“Darn,” I thought to myself.) But before she’d gone four steps she turned, came back and said, “Well, yes, there is something. Her eyes were shining. “I’m fine,” she sniffed, hastily wiping her cheek, “just fine. But could you pray for my little sister? Our mother died two months ago and she’s having a really hard time. Afterwards, as I left the parking lot, I saw the waitress talking with the pastor of the church and his teenage daughter.

I don’t know if she nor any of the other waiters I have prayed for have joined a local church. I’m not sure the “church” has reaped any benefits at all. And, honestly, it’s a pretty small thing to offer. But I have been astounded by how eagerly people have responded to the simple offer to pray for them. Hungry for even that glancing encounter with the God of Love. And I have come to believe that even that small gesture is one more way God can use the church to touch and bless the world.

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16

Sue-Westfall-HeadshotSue Westfall is the Director of Curriculum and Mentoring at Macedonian Ministry. She is a graduate of Sterling College (BA), Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and San Francisco Theological Seminary, (D.Min). After 25 years leading congregations in Buffalo, Denver, and Tucson, Sue led mid councils of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Greater Atlanta and de Cristo in southern Arizona.

Evangelicalism as Community Problem-Solving

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 Wyatt Schroeder

The offering plate sits in my lap. I wonder if the offertory volunteers notice my hesitation. I’m a guest at this church. I don’t know well enough the cause of the congregation. It hasn’t been made clear yet what problem my money is solving. Am I donating to accrue more members? Am I reaching in my pockets to address deferred maintenance? Is this assuaging my guilt? It’s not that I don’t understand how unrestricted dollars can impact the depth of our work; I understand all too well. I’m the executive director of a housing nonprofit in Boise, Idaho. Money fuels our mission and directly allows our case managers to end homelessness for over 200 people a year. Then why am I uncomfortable in the pews?

tsr_4422_webYour work in the church and my work in the streets intermingle and cross-pollinate. The New Evangelicalism, if we are comfortable with capital letters, is likely to be about causes, not creeds; to be about problem-solving and not moral rectitude. It will be about inviting a community conversation on community problems and not about creating a convert. I say this as a nonprofit professional and as a millennial. Yes, that cursed generation that is plaguing the graph of church membership and afflicting the comforting malaise of the status quo.

Often, a volunteer will shyly confess to me, “Wyatt, I’m uncomfortable asking for money.” My response is simple, but culturally significant: at our organization, we should not ask people for money, we should ask people to solve problems. This builds a covenantal relationship with supporters that recognizes their strengths, recognizes the need, and will continue to grow beyond any one transaction, handshake, or capital campaign. A covenant is a language that we’re familiar with—but one that seems reserved for our current congregants. Should we not have a covenant with our community at large, inviting congregants and non-congregants alike to join us in addressing community problems?

From my seat in the pew, evangelicalism became a sullied tradition because of confusion between outputs and outcomes. This is not a semantic point; instead it actualizes a severe disregard for building covenantal relationships. Our efforts, both as church and as social-justice leaders, in the old evangelical model were about bean counting: member rolls, dollars raised, dollars donated to local charities, and hours of religious education delivered. Our success was determined by the number of souls recruited. It was, to my mind, never about the outcomes that we could achieve together for the benefit of our community.

This misstep also plagues the nonprofit sector. I notice it in the 15-minute presentations to local Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs, where a nonprofit shares a three-minute story of a client’s success and then details how their seven programs could use my support. At no point did they educate me on the community need. Sure, it’s implied that if the organization exists then it must be addressing a need, but it’s output-thinking. Instead, we should use all 15 minutes to educate about the problem that we’re addressing. “Lead with the need,” as one mentor used to tell me. When we share based on our intended outcomes, a beautiful thing happens: it forces a conversation about how our values are put into action. Outputs are about the mechanics of our work; outcomes are about how our vision transforms a family, a mother, a child. “Let’s raise $3,000 for this month’s plate partner” becomes “let’s increase childhood wellness by reducing family homelessness.”  

If we only implore others to join us in addressing outputs—I’m picturing your annual-fund campaign thermometer posted in the narthex—then our work will not resonate with a millennial generation that is less interested in membership than in revolutions. But if we discuss outcomes, then the offering plate becomes an invitation to community problem-solving. And in this new language of evangelicalism, we will invite a covenantal relationship that will empower people’s strengths to be levied for a greater purpose.

Wyatt head shotWyatt Schroeder (@wvschroeder) serves as the Executive Director for CATCH, Inc. He is responsible for the strategic management, fund development, storytelling, and program success of the organization. A native of Pennsylvania, Wyatt holds an M.B.A. from Villanova University (Philadelphia, PA) and a B.A. from Allegheny College (Meadville, PA). While serving in AmeriCorps with Rebuilding Together, Wyatt found the passion of his life: ending homelessness. Wyatt is committed to building sustainable organizations around innovative housing models, such as Housing First, while never forgetting to share the powerful stories of those we are serving.

“Evangelism. Evangelical. Evangelist.” All are Good News!

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 Chris Montovino

Since when did sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ become a combination of four letter words for God’s people? Sadly, I think these words stemming from the Greek have gotten a bad rap. Too often they are either associated with angry street corner evangelists pronouncing fire and brimstone upon the weary “heathen” or entangled in someone’s political ideology. When Jesus came to share his Good News, I can hardly imagine that he had either of those ideas in mind. So what did Jesus mean and how can we as a Church reclaim these words as both Good News for us and worthy of our sharing with the world at large?

5F7649370BIn Luke 10:27, Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets, saying “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”

First, love God. We can do that without lots of explanation. Ok, check!

Second, love our neighbor as ourself. Hmm. That one especially is tricky today in an age of disconnection. People come and people go. Our neighborhoods these days are often just a collection of disjointed homes, where we eat, sleep, and wake up and do the same 365 days a year with little to no real life sharing with those who live next door. In all honesty, I can successfully avoid eye contact with said neighbors by raising my garage door, backing my car out of the garage, heading off to work in a location beyond my neighborhood, returning home at the end of the day, pulling into my garage, lowering the garage door, and retreating to my private fenced in backyard oasis.

But how can we love our neighbor if we don’t share life with them? How can we share life with them if we don’t cross paths with them? How can we cross paths with them if we don’t even know who they are?  

Let me propose a simple suggestion: become an evangelist!  

We live in a cul-de-sac and have a big porch that spans the front. From our porch swing, where we love to sit on summer days, we are able to make intentional contact with our neighbors as they come and go. Hey Steve! How’s Austin? Hey Greg! Catch anything? Hey Lisa! How’s the job search? Hey Dale! How’s your mom?

Over the past eleven years, we have shared a lot of life with our neighbors. There are annual cul-de-sac BBQs, Easter egg hunts, Halloween gatherings, and Christmas parties. There have been times when we have been there for them. And there were many times when they were there for us like extended family.

We have said goodbye to some and welcomed others. We’ve laughed with them. We’ve cried with them. We’ve ticked some off. We’ve said sorry many times. We’ve also prayed with some of them and on occasion got to share our faith with them.  

We had no agenda in our neighborhood but love our neighbors in the way Jesus commanded us to love them and be the Good News that Jesus wanted us to share.   

How? Through the lives we’ve shared with these folks, our neighbors. And when we share life with people that we love, we naturally share what is most important to us which is our faith. It may not be presented as four spiritual law.  It may not result in a “decision” for Jesus that we can count. It may not even make them new church folk. But in the process of really loving our neighbors the Gospel gets lived out before our very eyes.  

Now that’s Good News!  

chrisRev. Chris Montovino has served as head of staff at Cascades Presbyterian Church in Vancouver since 2005.  He has been married to Karen for 20 years and has four active children high school through elementary school.  His passions include outback hiking, fly fishing, and volunteering with the Camas High School Young Life Program.  He hopes to be finished this year with his Doctor of Ministry degree in The Missional Church through Fuller Theological Seminary.

Come and See

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 Irene Pak Lee

I need to start this by naming up front that I am uncomfortable with being tagged as evangelical. I get it. I know it’s broader than the stereotypes and that it really means that we are to share the good news of Jesus, life, grace, hope, justice and peace. But it still comes loaded and I do not know that I would comfortably name myself as an evangelical, even as a teaching elder who dares to share this good news on a regular basis.

tsr_4642_webThat said, one of my favorite random lines in scripture is when Jesus is out “recruiting” disciples. All those whom he calls drop everything and follow him because maybe they sense a special charisma or maybe Jesus has a halo around him that indicates you must follow this man. Whatever it was, they go. In the gospel of John, Jesus’ invitation is as simple as, “Come and see.”

That’s not my favorite line. My favorite line comes a few verses later when Philip, who has already started following Jesus, goes to his friend Nathanael to evangelize to him about Jesus. Philip starts telling him all about Jesus and Nathanael’s honest response is, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Yep. That’s it. That’s one of my favorite lines in scripture. It’s one of my favorites because it’s so honest. It names his biases about a place honestly, indicates his skepticism about a person associated with it, and also demonstrates a friendship that is close enough where he can ask questions without fear.

Having the ability to ask questions, name your biases, and have a safe space and people to ask those questions is what I think it takes and what is at the heart of evangelism in these days. At least it does for me in my Silicon Valley, west coast, full of skeptics of the church setting.

Because the truth is, I think many people are asking, “Can anything good come out of being a Christian?” It’s a question I ponder especially when I see how Christianity is portrayed. Same with the word evangelical. And it seeps deeply into the best of us, making us resistant to share the good news in fear that it will align us with those who are outwardly demonstrating a hateful or oppressive kind of faith.

I always pray that the people who walk through the doors of the church I serve will find a space where they can ask questions, name their biases, and find people to engage in the tough and real questions that they have.

After Nathanael asks Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, Philip responds simply, “Come and see.” And perhaps that’s what we really need to be saying as the invitation. Come and see for yourself. Come check it out. It does not provide answers or spouts rules or theology. It’s an invitation and leaves the doing on the part of the invited.

I love this form of evangelism because it invites someone to come and see for themselves without trying to explain away terminologies or giving reasons that people do not always understand or that come loaded with baggage about church. Instead, an invitation to “come and see” hands the ball to the receiver and invites them to take a shot.

Our “doing part” or task, then, continues to be creating and providing a space and place where those who are invited to come and see, actually come and see a place where God’s love and grace and justice are lived out. How are our environments and our places and our outreach into the community ready for those who have been invited to come and see? That’s where the hard work lies. Will those who are invited to “come and see” come and see a place where God’s love and life are lived? Will they find a space to ask questions, have doubts, and be welcomed just as they are? Are there people who are willing to befriend the doubters and the believers?

We are not perfect and we have areas where we can grow in this, but we are trying. And we name these beliefs and hopes to each new member class and in our preaching and worship.

But you know, I think that’s exactly what draws people in. It’s not the certainty, but it’s the questions. Because the good news we share is about a God who loves us so much, sent Jesus to connect with us on a human level, that dares to go to the cross where all the muck and pain of our world reality lies, and then gives us life again and again. And if you don’t believe me, well, come and see for yourself.

Come and see what God has done: God is awesome in God’s deeds among mortals. Psalm 66:5

Irene PakIrene Pak Lee serves as the associate pastor at Stone Church of Willow Glen in San Jose, California. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter @Ireney07.

Sharing What’s Important

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 Amy Miracle

Sharing that which is important to me with the people who are important to me is a big part of my life. That’s why I am always talking about my favorite podcasts. That’s why I gave so many of my friends the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast CD for Christmas. 

broad street ohioFor me that is what evangelism is all about. Sharing the most important thing in my life with anyone who will listen. Except that’s not quite true. Like the congregation I serve, I am reserved, worried about looking foolish and uninterested in being the center of attention. And yet I wake up every day with a burning passion to invite people into conversations about God and invite them to become a part of the life of the church of Jesus Christ. 

At Broad Street, the church where I am very, very fortunate to serve, I handle this tension in the following way. I talk about evangelism a lot. I encourage others to talk about it. We have periodic “Seasons of Invitation” when we encourage our folks to invite their people to church. Most importantly, we challenge people to articulate what it has meant for them to be a part of the life of the church and then share that understanding with others. 

Here is one Broad Street-er’s thoughts on the subject. He’s a husband, father of two young kids, who spoke to the congregation during one of our seasons of invitation.  This is how he concluded his words. 

“Broad Street Presbyterian is a gift. It is a gift to its community, to those it serves, and maybe most of all, to its congregation. It thoughtfully puts faith into action, faces up to the challenges of spirituality and Christianity without fear, and is a great place to spend Sunday morning. This church is a gift that deserves to be given to others who don’t yet know it is here.

It is an uncomfortable thing, inviting someone to church. I’m still working up the nerve myself. As I do, when I have doubts, I think about my own story, about what my life would have been had I not received that gift of an invitation. About all that has happened to me and in me and how much the poorer I’d be if I’d never set foot in this building. And that there are others in our community, amongst my friends and family, who deserve this gift, who may not yet know it, but belong in – and will thrive in – this church.

So please join us in these coming weeks and invite someone – or better still someones – you care about. They will be grateful for it. They will thank you for it.”

What he said.


Amy Miracle Head ShotAmy Miracle earned a Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She served as associate pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado, and senior pastor and head of staff at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa before coming to Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio, in 2008 as  pastor and head of staff.

I Love to Tell the Story

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 Hope Italiano Lee

I couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years when I heard my first “Jack Tale.”  Jack tales are a tradition in Appalachian folklore. I’m not from Appalachia, but the director of the summer camp that I grew up in was from the hills of Kentucky and he could tell one mean Jack Tale after another with passion and energy and imagination. These stories were so engaging, so compelling, that week after week, summer after summer, hundreds of kids would quiet themselves down, sit still as stones, and listen to Jack’s latest adventure. It’s been a good 20 years since I last heard one of those Jack Tales,  but I know them so well that even today I could recite one after another by heart. And I do just that, for my children, the next generation, all the time.  

story kirkwoodCompelling stories take residence in the heart and soul and, after a period of time, become very much part of a living, breathing body. Evangelism is simply telling the greatest story ever told. Evangelism is telling the story of how God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall never die but have everlasting life. Evangelism is telling how God’s story met up with your story and changed your world en route to transforming the whole world. Evangelism is helping others to know and to share their story and to help them see where their story intersects with God’s story.

Down here at the beach, we love to tell the story of The Well. The Well is a place where each week the story of God is faithfully proclaimed to all generations with hospitality, community, and joy. We started The Well about a year and a half ago, looking to the scriptures to guide us to create a place where all, but especially those who didn’t think they were included in the “all,” would find welcome and hope. It’s a place of teaching as we go – teaching grace by demonstration, teaching sacraments by active engagement,  teaching scripture by asking difficult questions, and being honest about the hard places.  An amazing thing happens when you make Jesus the main focus – people come closer. They want to hear the story, not just any story, but the story of a God who loves them to the ends of the earth, even when the rest of the world has told them that they are unlovable.

Recently, we held a small memorial service within a regular Sunday service at The Well. Dennis, the precious man who died was one of the first people to be a part of this special place. He had epilepsy and we were within walking distance of his home. Every Sunday he would come early, greet people and remind them how much Christ loves them, and how glad he was that they were there to celebrate that love together. He embodied a Christ-like grace that was reflective of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well – the encounter which drives our ministry. When Dennis died, we were looking at his emergency contact information and we discovered that The Well family was his emergency contact. So it seemed obvious to all of The Well family that we should give witness to the resurrection right there at our weekly gathering spot and celebrate Dennis’ home-going with the same joy he gave to us as he made The Well a home for so many.

The Well is a place filled with stories just like that. Every person who comes in those doors carries with them stories of pain, hurt, frustration, disillusionment, and sometimes betrayal. And what they find is not a program, not a strategy, not the latest and greatest in fog machines, drum pits, or laser light shows. They find God’s old story of love, sacrifice, grace, and life, told with passion, imagination, and energy to a new generation looking to find a story that will forever change their story. The storytellers are people who speak from a place of authentic transformation of the heart, the place where the best stories come from.

Followers of Christ are called to be winsome story tellers, who will tell God’s story through their story wherever they go because to do otherwise would betray their heart.  We trust in the work of the Holy Spirit and so we tell our story to open doors, to share a living faith, and to allow drops of grace to cover the people whom God so deeply loves.

“I love to tell the story. ‘Twill be my theme in glory. To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love!”   

hope leeHope Lee is the Lead Pastor of the Kirkwood Church and The Well in Bradenton, Florida. She is a highly sought after speaker for evangelism and church growth conferences all over the United States and serves as an Evangelism Coach for the national offices of the PC(USA).  You can find her on the web at or @PastorHope  or at the beach with her husband and 3 amazing kids!

Reclaiming Evangelism and Living Audacious Faith

by Andrew Kukla

In the church we dance around inconvenient truths. Among the gifts of NEXT Church is its willingness to talk about truths we avoid and a resistance to worrying about labels. One such label is “Evangelical.” We often talk as if some followers of Christ are evangelicals and some are not. But evangelical is not the opposite of progressive. The Gospels are evangelical. Jesus’ mission is evangelical. He comes to bring GOOD NEWS! Not for good news’ sake but for the sake of people. We don’t build walls around good news and get happy when someone manages to overcome the obstacles and find it; we go out with intentionality to connect the good news and liberation to those in need of it. And we all need it! Following in the way of Jesus Christ is necessarily evangelical. The very birthright of the Church is our calling as “sent-ones” (apostles) who bear good news in the world.  

tsr_5594_webWe have been claimed by good news.  

We share good news.  

We ARE good news…at least I hope we have some good news to offer the world.

In the midst of conversation about declining mainline churches, there are entire bookshelves dedicated to self-help for churches in decline. In a recent conversation with seminary president David Lose and a bunch of great church leaders, we talked about living in the “age of discretion.” In this age, everything is about choices we get to make. And in the great mathematics of time and energy, far too often people don’t see the practices of the Church as offering enough to them to be worth the choice. We can decry that as consumerist church life, but as I see it we haven’t been a place of abundant life. If we had been, the choice would be clear. We have discerning people; we just haven’t made it easy to discern that the church is place with overflowing good news to share. In fear of evangelical fervor, have we become lukewarm?

A bell tolls and I read my mail and here is what find:  

“And to the angel of the (Presbyterian) church (in the USA) write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”  (Revelation 3:14-16)

We have good theology. Well-written sermons. And generally… good will. But we are neither cold nor hot, and far too many people are quite fine spitting us out with little perceived loss to their lives and the life of the world.  

Friends: We could use a little evangelical fervor! We need to be a Church that has come alive! We have good news, don’t we? We have dedicated our lives to something, haven’t we? Does Jesus matter? I sure hope so; but have we made that clear in our daily lives?  

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?

In his great work The Training of the Twelve, A. B. Bruce talks about rulers of the Sanhedrin marveling at the audacious faith of Jesus’ disciples, now become apostles. They had become people of strong nerve who risked failure in change and were not easily daunted—and people of rare moral courage, “till at length they could do what was right, heedless of human criticism, without effort, almost without thought.”

This was Church come alive. A church with the evangelical fervor of having been set free to dare great things in Christ’s name. And they knew that they needed to give other people this same gift they had received. This needed to be shared. They were claimed by the God of liberating good news and sent to share that with the world one connection at a time. I do not imagine that we are any less called than they, or tasked with any less important mission. We are the Body of Christ and, through the power of the One who calls us, we are capable of exactly this audacious and radical faith. Amazing things are happening all around us: God is doing a new thing; do we not perceive it? We need to figure out how to talk about abundant life and connect our neighbors to the God who is liberating love. We need to be re-claimed by evangelism!

Join me this month as we invite a great group of modern-day apostles to reflect on being evangelical in the Church and daring to connect ever larger circles of communities to life-giving audacious faith!

a 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 and is rarely on twitter but pretends as @awkukla.