The Foundation for Evangelism’s Vice President for Grants, Rev. Dr. Heather Lear, was a featured speaker at the LARCUM Conference of West Virginia in May. The conference included Lutheran, Anglican (Episcopalian), Roman Catholic, United Methodist presenters and participants meeting around the theme “Evangelism? Asking not how, but why“
Dr. Lear drew on her experience with The Foundation for Evangelism, her years as Director of Evangelism for the General Board of Discipleship for The United Methodist Church, her work teaching evangelism courses for Wesleyan-tradition seminaries, and her years as a local church pastor. Over the three-day conference, she spoke and led discussion on multiple topics around the “why” of evangelism.
By Dr. Heather Lear
In my first few years of full-time pastoral ministry, the church growth “if you build it, they will come” model was still popular, and in some larger congregations located in areas with growing populations, remained effective. Yet in many congregations, they just weren’t coming. When I moved into a denominational role, I received pleas for help and requests for the magic program that would have people flocking to their church. To their frustration, I let them know such a program did not exist and probed further to learn about their context and motivation for reaching out. Almost always, the driving force was the same. They were willing to consider evangelism because they needed more people, and ultimately, more money to survive. While this is a compelling reason for committed, long-time members to act, why did it take getting into dire circumstances? Isn’t there another reason to share their faith and invite others into Christian community besides desperation?
I recently had the privilege of presenting the Wesleyan/Methodist perspective at this year’s LARCUM Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. LARCUM is an annual event offering dialogue and fellowship among Lutheran, Anglican (Episcopalian), Roman Catholic, and United Methodist laity and clergy. Each year a different topic is selected, and this year’s theme was around “Why” we do evangelism. They intentionally did not want to focus on practices and tactics, but on motivation and theological reasons for evangelism.
Over the course of two and half days I shared the stage with two other scholar practitioners. Dr. David Hahn, an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor and professor and Daniel Maul, Director of Evangelization and Catechesis for his Roman Catholic diocese. We each had three individual presentations and participated in a panel discussion together. Despite our theological differences, common themes emerged.
Saving a struggling or dying institution is not a compelling narrative or reason to join a church. But an invitation to follow Jesus, who offers a life-changing, transformative Gospel is.
And being part of a body who loves, supports, nurtures, and holds us accountable through all of life’s highs and lows is something offered in Christian community, not easily found anywhere else!