This is my monthly column for Temple City Life, to be published in early April.
In his book, Missing in America, Tom Clegg tells of a transforming experience he had while a youth pastor in suburban Chicago. Each summer some suburban churches put on an evangelistic outreach to the inner city. They’d blitz the streets with tracts. It was a hot day, over 100. Tom went out with a teen from his church named Ryan. A man on the street said something about the heat and Tom shot back, “It will be hotter unless you repent!” Another guy was panhandling, so Tom gave him a tract and said, “You need this more than money!”
They turned a corner and about five tall, tough-looking black kids were sitting in the shade by a basketball court. Tom and the kid with them suddenly felt very small and very, very white. Tom began to hand out tracts when one guy said, “It’s too (blank) hot to listen to some honky preacher!” Then he pulled a knife, and Tom and the kid ran for their lives.
When they got back to their van, Tom confessed to the teen from his church that not only was he scared, but as he ran away, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the way they were trying to “spread the gospel” seemed shallow, fake and manipulative. Then he did something that will probably make you think he was crazy. He talked Ryan into going back to the playground where the guy with the knife was.
They drove the church van, stocked with cold sodas and ice. The tough-looking guys were still there and so was the guy with the knife.
Tom got out of the van and said to them, “Hey everything is cool, OK? Look, I just want to apologize for being a jerk. How about a soda instead of a sermon?” They dove for the cans and began to playfully throw the ice around. One of them challenged Ryan to some one-on-one b-ball. The guy with the knife talked with Tom. Tom ended up hiring the kid--his name was Franklin--to give him a tour of the neighborhood and to introduce him to people.
This was a huge turning point for Tom and for that outreach. It’s a long story, but here’s the bottom line—they resolved never to tell the gospel without actually demonstrating the gospel. Before, they’d been content to drive-by the Jesus message; now they began to live it. Tom calls it switching from sermon-based outreach to service-based outreach.
And guess what? It took a year, but Franklin, the kid with the knife, gave his life to Jesus. Today he’s a printer, married with kids and active in an urban church in Chicago.
You have to immanuelize before you can evangelize. Jesus came into this world as our Immanuel, “God with us.” He got in our neighborhood and lived among us. He didn’t do a drive-by. Only after he’d lived among us for 30 years did He even start to preach. He proved the love of God by His way of life, then and only then did He tell the story and then go to the cross. He “immanuelized” before He evangelized!
That’s why we at First Baptist do service evangelism things like wrapping Christmas presents rather than handing out tracts on a street corner. That’s why we’re there at the Camellia Festival. That’s why we host things like the Chamber of Commerce and the Blue Banner dinners. That’s also why we’re going to shut down morning worship on April 27 to do a Day of Service to the community—to immanuelize before we evangelize.
We want to invite anyone interested in the well-being of our community to join with us on April 27. Although at this time all of our projects have not yet been determined, they will include several ministries to the poor, needy and isolated of the area. They will include assembling AIDS caregiver kits to be shipped to Africa. If you want to be involved, if you want more information about a project, or if you have a great idea for a project, give me at call at (626) 286-3125 x 11.