The image is also clearly imprinted on my mind of some of the religious establishment of the church, elders, deacons, ushers, choir directors (what have you), saying out loud, "That's wrong for the pastor to give out gifts on Sunday morning to kids. The kids should be there for the Gospel and not to get a gift. Church shouldn't be about getting something tangible, it should be about getting something Spiritual." When I would tell Dad about these comments from elders, Dad would say, "I know that some of the kids come on Sunday for a toy. But I also know that along the way, they might hear the Good News of God. And without the toy, there is no way they would ever be in church, or hear the good news of Jesus."
I have remembered this good advice for these many long years. And this simple dictum has morphed into a full blown theological approach that I have followed for the past 15 years of ministry. The approach is what I have called:
The premise behind this approach is that most people today, in a consumeristic society, will not come to church unless, in their own minds, they can get something tangible, substantial, concrete, a toy, a gift. And that while a gift is not the reason a church exists, or God came to die on a cross, quite frankly, it is a small price to pay for the potential of winning a person's soul for eternity. In short, you give a person Opportunity, and you will have a chance at Evangelism
I believe that Opportunity Evangelism was at the very heart of Jesus' ministry. When Jesus invited the brothers who were fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John, to; "leave their nets and follow me, I will make you fishers of men," I believe this was an example of:
The truth is that fishing was a very tough industry in the first century. A fishing family could work for months on end, and sometimes, not catch any fish or earn much money. But, here's something you may not realize. Following a very popular rabbi, or teacher, or leader (being a disciple) could sometimes be a good means of living. You would never become wealthy following a rabbi, but you could pay the bills. We know for a fact that the disciples did have money from several Biblical sources. When the disciples see the 5,000 people coming who will need to be fed, they say, "Should we pay for their meals, or do you have some other idea?" The very fact that the disciples suggest that they COULD pay for the meals, suggests that they had means. And of course, we all know that Judas was - the money keeper. Now, were some of the disciples following Jesus for the money, or for the Good News of Jesus? Who knows? Who Cares. The point is that they were there, listening to the Good News of Jesus Christ!
Every Christmas, for years, we have hosted a huge Christmas Eve outreach celebration for the entire community. This is a chance to bring friends, who would not otherwise attend church, to the service. Every year, we give out a gift to whoever comes. This year will be no exception. Every person that attends will get a battery-powered flickering votive candle. It won't cost very much (maybe 10 cents a piece) but it will be a way for people to be able to take the "light of Christ" - a candle - SAFELY - back home with them. Now, do people come to Christmas Eve for the gift, or for the Good News? Who knows? Who cares? The point is that they are there!
Each week I do a Bible study at the Old Town Tavern in Camarillo. Each week, I order around 5 appetizers for the table to be able to munch on during the lesson. Are people there for the appetizers or the Bible study? Who knows, who cares? The point is that they are there, listening to the Gospel.
Occasionally, there will be server who helps with the table that is in a tough financial situation. We always leave a good tip. One of those servers attended church a week or so ago. Were they there for the tip or for the Good News? Who knows? Who cares. The point is that they were there!
We are in our 7th week of our new church development - Mission Street Church. Things are going very well. It is such an exciting journey. People are coming to Christ. The Holy Spirit is present. Now, on a given Sunday, I would say that around 12 people who attend are being paid a small amount for their help with setting up services, music leadership, children's ministries, sound crew, theater management, lighting and what have you. I know for a fact that many of these people are slowly but surely inching their hearts, every day, closer to God. Now, are they there for the money or for the Good News? Who knows? Who cares? The point is that they are….
You get the picture.
Now, full disclaimer, of course there is a moment when Opportunity Evangelism which is good, can devolve into The Prosperity Gospel, which is not good. Slowly but surely good Christian leaders must morph beginning followers off of tangible earthly assets and move them towards longer term Spiritual ones. But not in the beginning!
This Christmas, look for ways of giving opportunity to those who don't have it. Leave a great tip, give a present, offer assistance. Then see how open they may be to the Good News of Jesus. You might just be surprised!
All For Now,