I recently did something I should have done a long time ago. I grabbed my well-worn copy of “The Hobbit,” invited my three children to sit on the couch with me, and started to read. They were instantly enraptured by J.R.R. Tolkien’s whimsical prose. They willingly walked with me into this old, fantastical world that was brand new to them. In sharing with them this story that means so much to me, I experienced the story in new ways. Not only was I remembering details I had forgotten, but through the observations and questions of my children, the story became new for me. In sharing a story with others, we experience the story in new, powerful ways for ourselves.
Sharing the story is central to our lives as Christians. I think, however, that we sometimes make the mistake of separating the “sharing” from the “story.” We do so when we falsely disconnect fellowship from evangelism. We think of fellowship as the gathering together of like-minded people, people who already know the story. We view evangelism as the speaking of the gospel as a tool for converting those who don’t yet know the story. There is truth in all of this, but perhaps we miss a larger point and fall into the trap of thinking that “evangelism” is the way in which we make people who are different than us into people who are like us so that together we can share “fellowship.”
Reading a beloved story to my children on the couch was a moment that rightly encapsulates both evangelism and fellowship. I told a story I love to people I love, neither demanding nor expecting anything in return. In so doing, community came into being. Not only were they changed by hearing the story, I was changed through telling it, and my understanding of the story was changed by the presence of those who were hearing it for the first time.
What if we lived Jesus’ gospel in this way? What if we simultaneously gave up our apparent allergy to telling the gospel story that means so much to us and became truly open to having our understanding of that story shaped by the people we encounter?
In “Wide Welcome: How the Unsettling Presence of Newcomers Can Save the Church,” Jessica Krey Duckworth writes:
Congregations practice hope by daily dying and rising with the continuity and displacement, reproduction and transformation that inherently take place in incarnate, human organizations. In the honest confession of [the] entropy [of death], hope becomes tangible in those newcomers who will come and “be-come” members of the congregation. In questioning the promise, newcomers are the presence of the world within the congregation. Simultaneously, newcomers are the future of the congregation and thus announce with their presence the promise of new life given to the church. The congregational imagination of who the church might become is shaped through its encounters with newcomers in the present.
The Board of Spiritual Life is working to revitalize our evangelism and fellowship ministries. This work is not about increased church growth or more potluck dinners, though I am opposed to neither of these things. No, the work we are engaging is about helping the people of Grace fall in love with telling the story of Jesus while being truly open to how the people who hear this story can reshape the fellowship we share. I am excited for this work. If you’re interested in being part of this journey, please contact Ed Mason, the chair of the Board of Spiritual Life ( ), or me. In the meantime, I hope you’ll share the story of Jesus with someone you love. It’s still the best story around, and the telling of it never gets old.