Reunion Reflections

I attended my High School reunion a few weeks ago, where I had many conversations that got me to reflect on evangelism–especially in dialogue with the parable of the sower, which was the gospel reading that week. 

There were about 10 conversations that went something like this: 

Classmate: I love seeing what you’re doing on social media. It’s so cool. I don’t believe in God or go to church, but I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s inspiring. 

Me: Um, thanks! 

These classmates are all Generation X and are mostly professionals, so demographically, it is unsurprising that many of them are “nones,” the fastest-growing religious identity in our nation. 

I was thrilled that so many of them are aware of my ministry, the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, and our work on behalf of justice. One of the reasons that there are so many “nones” in the U.S. is that Christians have such a bad reputation for hypocrisy and exclusion… so it is good that people are seeing a different side of Christianity! And they all sounded genuinely interested and enthusiastic, bringing up specific posts, actions, and events that they remembered. 

But I was also intrigued–and disappointed, honestly–that no one said something along the lines of “Your ministry has made me think about finding a church,” or “I wonder what life would be like for me if I believed in Jesus.” 

Am I faithfully following the parable of the sower, and scattering seed everywhere, as witnessed by the fact that so many people who have moved away from religion find my words and actions inspiring and helpful–and even if they are not currently interested in a faith community or learning more about Jesus, it is good that they are becoming more open to the Gospel? 

Or, I asked myself, why are my words and actions leading people to think “that’s cool” but not to curiosity about faith in Jesus? How is my understanding that the very words and actions they find so interesting are rooted in my own faith in Jesus not coming across as central and defining? 

And would the difference between those responses be something I have control over in my words and actions, or is the difference simply a fact of 21st-century American life?

I have been pondering this since the reunion–and have not arrived at answers. It was good to see people, and I’m grateful that social media gives us platforms where we can preach the Gospel in all sorts of ways and reach people beyond our physical churches. But how this fits into evangelism is going to rattle around in my brain for some time. 

9 comments on “Reunion Reflections”

  1. Indeed, is it enough to inspire people to live according to God’s will for all people even if they don’t become followers of Jesus? Does making disciples mean specifically making Jesus followers or does it mean helping others live according to Jesus’ teachings?… without joining a church… ? Are we sometimes too focused on the institution versus the life of Christ?

    • I often wonder exactly this. Does the transformative power of Jesus’ teaching require that it be named as such in order for it to be efficacious? (Sorry for the $5 word there!) I’m not sure that I can say yes without hesitation. I have seen too many examples of the love of God being poured out on the world through the actions of those who do not call themselves followers of Christ, and still more harm done by those that do. And yet, I will always believe that it is the vocation of every believer to name that which is holy in the world when we see it, lest we forget that the sacred exists beside us always. To that end, I think it still a worthwhile pursuit to teach the language of holy things to the world; not as dogma, but to help the world better see and name the blessedness and goodness that is inherent to all creation.

    • He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The fact that no one comes to the Father except through him and that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord should give us pause. I don’t believe that we are called to make disciples of our particular church but disciples of Jesus; people who are in a relationship with Him. What we shouldn’t stress over is who hears the call. We are the messengers called to proclaim the Gospel. We have no control over who responds.

    • Jesus parable of the sower of the seed is as true today as then. His explanation of why people don’t bear fruit are the same in today’s world, the famous triad: the world,the flesh and the devil. In a fantastically wealthy society the world,flesh,and the devil get a long run before people decide to search for the way,the truth and the light.

    • When I write meditations for the local paper (the Keeping the Faith feature in the Arizona Daily Star) I do not expect a direct effect on church attendance: it’s more like casting bread on the waters. And I hope it is helpful in its own write.

  2. I can totally relate. Almost any time I talk about church, I hear “I don’t feel I need church, but if I were to go to a church, it would be yours.”

    Evangelism vs. good reputation management? Hmph!

    Allison’s last line above is interesting to contemplate.

  3. Thank you, Bishop, for sharing your personal encounters at your high-school reunion and the critical question that needs to be responded with our best effort with God’s help.

    The comment/question from Allison Cornell is greatly appreciated. It brought back the question each time I read Luke 10:25-28, which is: Did Jesus’s answer according to Luke imply that believing in Jesus or getting baptized is necessary to be alive in Jesus’ understanding?

    Could this understanding guide us in our search for an approach to evangelism?

  4. A correction:

    Did Jesus’s answer according to Luke imply that believing in Jesus or getting baptized is NOT necessary to be alive in Jesus’ understanding?

  5. Thank you for sharing this reflection.

    I think, like many other important habits and practices, our understanding of church is formed when we’re children and young adults. If people have positive experiences in a faith community, they’ll continue to see church as a productive and helpful option for their lives. If they have negative experiences, they’ll reject that community entirely. In past generations there was significant social pressure to attend church, which often overrode these negative experiences, but that has now evaporated.

    Of secondary, but still substantial importance, is our media and cultural landscape. Unfortunately, the vast majority of “Christian” messaging and imagery in American culture is Fundamentalist or Evangelical, and often heavily political, socially regressive and scientifically skeptical.

    This means that positive Christian images and experiences, like those provided in TEC, are swimming upstream against both negative media exposure (often propagated by other Christians) and any negative experiences that someone may have had in childhood. (and honestly, we all have some negative experiences.)

    Compounding all of this is a major generational shift away from organized social institutions of all kinds — not just churches, but Rotary clubs, Lions Clubs, Masons, Elks, Veterans organizations, bowling leagues and almost literally any kind of in-person social events.