Even so, I thought I knew the message of the Christian faith. Because a few Christians had taken it upon themselves to tell me what they believed.
They believed anyone who wasn’t a Christian would go to hell where they would burn for all eternity. They seemed quite sure.
I was maybe seven when I first realized this message applied to me personally.
I remember the moment it dawned on me that I had a choice to make about whether I accepted this version of reality.
I was standing by the bookshelf in my room, reaching out my hand for a book. All of a sudden it occurred to me that I needed to make a decision. I needed to decide if I believed in God. If I decided not to believe in God, and I was wrong, there was a chance I would burn in hell.
It was a scary moment. It was even scarier when I decided: I couldn’t accept that God.
I didn’t know what I did believe in yet. I just knew what I didn’t believe.
I didn’t believe in a God who would send me to hell because of one sentence, one thought, one decision. I just didn’t believe it. I couldn’t pretend that I did.
I now consider that moment my first step toward conversion to Christianity, but back then it sure didn’t feel that way. It was actually slightly terrifying.
And here is my word to the Episcopal Church: why did I ever have that moment?
Where was The Episcopal Church when I was a child? Why did I never hear of a God who had come to save the world because of God’s great love for all creation? Why did no one ever hand me a book of prayer and invite me to consider the catechism? Why did nobody ever invite me to become a disciple – not because otherwise I would burn for eternity! – but because knowing and serving Jesus is the path to abundant life?
I implore you, General Convention 2015: empower evangelists.
Because there are even more kids today than there were in 1978 who have never actually heard the gospel.
They may live in the United States. There may be a church on every corner. That doesn’t mean they have heard the gospel. That doesn’t mean they have been invited to be part of a vibrant community of discipleship seeking to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ.
That doesn’t mean we’ve reached them with the message God has entrusted to us.
We aren’t doing a whole lot better today than we were back in 1978, back when I was seven years old.
I’ll confess: I am not great at evangelism myself. I am hesitant to be pushy. I don’t want to be one of those Christians.
But when I remember the kid I used to be, I realize: I’ve got to get over that. I’ve got to be willing to reach out, to risk, to invite, to connect.
And so do we. In fact, if this General Convention could decide that evangelism is a priority, it would shift the culture of our whole church. It would help me feel better about offering that prayerbook. It would change lives.
There are four resolutions before this General Convention that would shift our culture. That would help us reach the seven year olds. And their parents.
B009 Conducting an Online Digital Evangelism Test funds Digital Evangelism from the existing budget. It creates a new churchwide initiative to use Google to engage people who seek answers to life’s big questions online. And I’m telling you: my ten- and thirteen-year-old kids ask Google before they ask me, at least half the time. If we don’t reach people online these days, we don’t reach them at all. We’re so new at this we still need to test how it works in different places, which is why it has this title.
D005 Creating a Capacity to Plant Churches funds the planting of new churches. As Susan Brown Snook has written, new churches are one of the best ways to reach people with the gospel, because new churches are likely to grow.
D009 Revitalization of Congregations creates a network for revitalization of existing churches and a grants program for existing churches seeking new life. Since there are seven thousand existing congregations, this initiative is woefully underfunded, but it is absolutely necessary.
A012 Continue Funding of Mission Enterprise Zones continues the development of Mission Enterprise Zones which allow for holy experiments to reach underrepresented populations in the Episcopal Church including those who are new to the gospel.
Episcopalians, I implore you. Share this post. Contact your deputies. Contact your bishops. Speak on the floor of the House of Deputies if you are able.
Because we exist to share the good news that God has come to us in Jesus Christ to love and save the world.
The seven year olds – and people of all ages – need the gospel.
I know I did.
[UPDATE: The House of Deputies has passed three of the four resolutions (B009, D005, D009). These now go to the House of Bishops. A021 has not yet been considered. The rubber meets the road in the Program, Budget & Finance Committee whose report will occur on Wednesday.]