It’s hot outside, and I’d rather be playing basketball. Why me? Nobody else is out here marching through neighborhoods leaving VBS invitations under doormats. Just me. How did I manage to get myself into this? I stupidly volunteered assuming someone else would join me. Even if someone had, I would still be miserable. What is wrong with me that I would allow myself to get sucked into this? It’s not like I’m the pastor’s kid, and I am certainly not getting paid. What has VBS ever done for anyone anyway? What was I thinking? I was 13.
I grew up in church rowing my way to Heaven. Being told that salvation is like rowing a boat–in that it takes two oars: faith and works. I rowed for all I was worth. I believed the right stuff, and I worked hard to serve God. And I was doing fairly well.
All of my life I attended everything (yes, everything) the church offered. I managed to avoid all the bad sins. I didn’t smoke, drink, do drugs, cuss or have sex, even in the 70’s. This wasn’t easy. I read my Bible, prayed a little, and associated with relatively good kids. And I didn’t need the salvation Jesus offered because I earned it myself.
I agreed with the right Bible doctrines. I understood He died for me. I knew He was resurrected. But my spiritual accomplishments were what mattered.
I entered Bible college in 1977 to further my Christian credentials, building a spiritual resume to show God someday. My Bible college reaffirmed my efforts. They taught me to look down on anyone who didn’t go along with our faith/works journey to the gates of Heaven. I learned well. I learned how to emphasize discipleship over evangelism. I learned how to get upset over evangelists who didn’t have the proper follow-up. I learned how to ridicule people who made salvation too easy.
Married on May 10, 1980, I moved to Eureka, Kansas. It was in this small, miserable town that I picked up a book that jolted my ministry. I read Evangelism Explosion by D. James Kennedy. If you want to do well in a denomination that elevates works salvation, stay away from books like this.
For the first time, my faith was real. The Bible came alive. I experienced peace. And it made sense to me why the Bible calls it “good news.” I realized for the first time that Jesus did the work for me and provided salvation as a gift.
Flash forward 20 years.
Just as I was about to conduct a Kidz Blitz Live event in a denominational church, the children’s pastor looked at me and said, “By the way, we’re not into that ‘getting saved thing.’” That was my cue to soft petal the Gospel and put the brakes on any idea of offering an opportunity to receive Jesus. Shortly after, another children’s pastor told us on the phone, “I just don’t think anything happens when kids pray to put their faith in Jesus.”
Evangelism is not cool in today’s ministry climate. It’s not relevant enough. Drinking coffee that helps the economy in third world countries is cool. Recycling is cool. Edgy movie clips in worship services are cool. Winning someone to the Lord is not hip in scores of churches today because it might offend seekers.
I’m glad Kennedy thought it was cool to explain the Gospel to a works-addict like me. It was relevant to me and made all the difference. I’m now into that “getting save thing.”