Patient Love and Compassionate Truth: Keys to Reaching the Unreachable

blimpDuring the 1950s Joseph Bayly, a Christian publisher and author, began writing modern-day parables. One of his parables was called The Gospel Blimp, which became a low-budget movie in 1967.

The story is a satirical look at evangelism; or more specifically, The Gospel Blimp portrays how Christians invent ridiculous ways of sharing Jesus, while ignoring the simple path of personal, consistent, hospitable witnessing. Here’s a summary (from IDMB).

George and Ethel are concerned about the salvation of their neighbors, but don’t know how to reach them with the gospel. During an evening get-together with George and Ethel’s Christian friends, everyone is captivated by the sight of a blimp flying overhead. Then Herm gets a bright idea: why not use a blimp to proclaim the Christian message to the unchurched citizens of Middletown?

The group incorporates, buys a used blimp, hires a pilot, then commences to evangelize their hometown by towing Bible-verse banners, ‘firebombing’ folks with gospel tracts, broadcasting Christian music and programs over loudspeakers. But a series of misadventures puts the blimp ministry in jeopardy. George becomes increasingly uneasy about the methods and business practices of International Gospel Blimps Incorporated and its “Commander”, Herm.

Running parallel to these good news messengers gone bad, are George and Ethel’s neighbors, fellow church members who are looked down upon for carousing with the unbelieving neighbors. In the end, however, it is these Christian carousers who win the neighbors to Christ.

The morale of The Gospel Blimp is simple: personal witnessing is more effective than elaborate schemes of gospel marketing.

Bayly’s parable came a couple decades before American Churches ‘de-churched’ themselves to accommodate the preferences of unbelieving seekers—what is known today as the “Seeker-Sensitive Movement.” But it also reflects the truth seen in Titus 2 that the best way for Christians to “adorn” the gospel is through humble, hospitable lives that regularly interact with unbelievers and introduce them to the message of grace and truth.

Reaching the Unreachable

This same truth was reiterated last week, as I listened to Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony at the ERLC National Conference. (If you haven’t listened to her interview with Russell Moore, you must). Rosaria is a former professor of English and lesbian, who came to faith when a local pastor (Ken Smith) and his wife befriended her, invited her into their home, regularly visited her home, and held a long-standing conversation about the claims of the Bible.

She tells her story in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convertand she begins with these jarring words:

When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was at the finish of a PhD in English Literature and Cultural Studies. I was a teaching associate in one of the first and strongest Woman’s Studies Departments in the nation. I was being recruited by universities to take on faculty and administrative roles in advancing radical leftist ideologies. I genuinely believed that I was helping to make the world a better place.

At the age of 36, I was one of the few tenured women at a large research university, a rising administrator, and a community activist. I had become one of the ‘tenured radicals.’ By all standards, I had made it. That same year, Christ claimed me for himself and the life that I had known and loved came to a humiliating end.

In so many ways, Rosaria’s testimony displays the power of the gospel, but it also displays how the gospel was brought to her by an old-fashioned pastor who thought the best way to reach the unreachable was by regular, fireside conversations in his home after a well-cooked meal by his wife.

Evangelism with a Personal Touch

This kind of evangelism flies in the face of modern market-driven evangelism: it doesn’t promise numeric results; it takes time, invites hard questions, and requires Christians to rub shoulders with the ones who are “ruining our country.” Sadly, Rosaria relates how many Christians condemned Ken Smith for spending time with her.

Nevertheless, it is this kind of evangelism that the church needs to grow in. It is the kind of evangelism need to grow in. It is the evangelism Jesus modeled when he dined with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:16). And it is the evangelism found in Titus 2. After rebuking the false teachers ungodliness (1:10–16), Paul commends true believers to adorn the gospel of God by means of living godly lives in the presence of unbelievers (2:1–10).

Paul assumes that Christians will live, move, and have their being around unconverted people. And in this context, their godliness will protect the Word of God (v. 5), silence opponents (v. 8), and display the beauty of Christ our Savior (v. 10). This is the normal way of Christian living. And when it happens, God reaches the unreachable through the twin efforts of gospel witnessing and patient, humble, attentive, loving Christian hospitality, friendship, and love.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Do Not Underestimate Your Ministry of Presence

greeter

The Impact of One Greeter

When I think about God’s work in my life, I see a face without a name, a man whose identity I do not know, but whose inviting smile is etched on my heart.

Growing up in the suburbs of Virginia, church was not a priority, but when I moved in high school to the farmland of Southern Michigan, things began to change. At the request of a friend I began attending church.  I lingered in this unfamiliar place because the music and message interested me. But ultimately I stayed because I encountered the love of God in his Word and in the smiling faces of God’s people. And no one displayed that love more than the church greeter whose name has since left my memory.

The Lord’s steadfast love reflected in this man’s consistent presence. Every Sunday when I arrived this elderly man greeted me with hospitality and interest. He inquired of my school, sports, and life in general. Though our conversations were less than 60 seconds each Sunday, his ministry of presence left an indelible mark.

I look back on that man and wonder if he ever knew how much his “mundane ministry” impacted my young life. Probably not. Nevertheless, his inviting love played a significant part in my coming to faith in Christ.

Going to Church is Not Just About You

It is easy to think that our church attendance doesn’t matter. We convince ourselves that no one will miss us if we take a little extra time at the campground or if we go to the stadium instead of the sanctuary, but the truth is: Absent members are greatly missed.

Other church members suffer because your spiritual gifts are not being used for their edification (1 Cor 12:7).   Budding Christians miss your presence because they see your absence and begin to believe that it is normal for Christians to be part-timers. And wayward 17 year olds suffer, while they don’t even know it.

Church attendance is often downplayed because “going to church doesn’t save you.” And though that is technically true, such a sentiment is self-focused and short-sighted. While your church attendance may not “save” you, it very well may the means by which God saves someone else. For me, that anonymous doorman’s presence opened more to me than just a door; God used it as a means of opening my heart to receive eternal life in Jesus Christ. His ministry of presence is a lesson for all of us.

Do Not Underestimate Your Ministry of Presence

This Sunday, may we come to church as the Sons of Korah did, desiring to stand at the doorways of God’s temple serving all those who approached (Ps 84:10). May we cast off self-indulgence and indifference and find true joy by serving others with a ministry of presence.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds