I spoke with someone yesterday whose brother belongs to an evangelical church and who sometimes goes from door to door with members of his congregation to talk to people about Jesus.
Their approach is to knock on the door and ask whoever answers some version of this question: “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?”
I tried to imagine how it would feel to open my door to a stranger whose first words had to do with my death. I’m pretty sure it would get my attention, and I’m pretty sure that’s the point.
At any rate, he had called her recently to tell her about it and about the kind of results they were having.
“We had five conversions the other night,” he said.
“Were they real conversions, or were people just trying to get you to leave them alone?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
And that’s part of the problem: we don’t know.
We don’t know if those kinds of efforts bring people closer to Christ or push them further away, but we do know we have been commanded to “go, make disciples,” and this is one of the ways Christians try to do it.
But let me tell you about another way.
I had a talk recently with a woman named Brenda who has been visiting First Baptist of Richmond, Va., for the past two years. Brenda is an artist, and a good one; I’ve seen some of her work.
She was telling me how much she has enjoyed coming to church and how she has wanted to get involved in our mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Va., but she didn’t really know where to start.
She mentioned the elementary school we are partnering with this year – Glen Lea – but she also talked about the exhibit our church’s fine arts team is putting on in April. As we talked, the two began to come together.
I can’t remember if it was my idea or hers, but somewhere in that conversation we began to talk about putting some student artwork in the exhibit. The more we talked, the more excited we got.
“I think that’s a great idea,” I said.
“Really?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I think you should get in your car and drive over to Glen Lea Elementary right now and ask the art teacher if she has some students whose work could go in our show.”
“Really?!” she asked again.
“Yes,” I said, and she got up from her chair right then, put on her coat and headed out the door.
We were nowhere close to the end of our appointment, but she couldn’t wait. She was that excited.
Now, the door-to-door evangelist might say that hanging student artwork in an exhibit doesn’t bring those kids one step closer to salvation; he might be right, but he might be wrong.
As with door-to-door evangelism, it’s hard to know what happens in the human heart. We have to leave that part up to God.
But here’s what I was thinking about as Brenda left my office:
â— I was thinking about how excited she was, and how different that is from the way we sometimes do evangelism, as if it were a chore.
â— I was thinking about how excited those kids would be to find out their artwork had been chosen for display.
â— I was thinking that they might beg their moms and dads to take them to First Baptist Church for the exhibit.
â— I was thinking about 50 or 60 students and parents from Glen Lea Elementary showing up at our church.
â— I was thinking what a wonderful opportunity that would be to greet them, visit with them, brag on their artwork and make them feel special.
â— I was thinking how they would go home from that experience, smiling.
â— I was thinking how that might make Jesus smile.
I believe that Brenda was thinking all those same things, and that’s why she couldn’t wait to get in her car and drive over to Glen Lea Elementary that day.
There is something about this kind of work – about bringing heaven to earth – that fills people with joy.
I’ve got to believe it is the joy of the Lord, and that the Lord will know just how to use it to accomplish his eternal purposes.
Jim Somerville is pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. A version of this column first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.
Editor’s note: You can view Cliff Vaughn’s Skype interview will Jim Somerville about FBC Richmond’s yearlong, churchwide mission trip, KOH2RVA, here.
Jim Somerville is pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.