Sales and Failures (Part V)
For Sale: Our Witness
Today we come to the end of this sermon series. We come to an end of a five week look at how we as individuals and as a church witness to the outside world. How we interact with the unchurched. What they look like and what we look like to them. I hope this is just the beginning of the conversation though. I hope that I find a good number of people interested in being on the Marketing Team and I hope that through that team we get some good ideas on how to reach out to those outside these walls, the 85% who do not go anywhere to worship God on Sunday mornings.
There are two areas I really want to focus on today; how do you do individual and congregational witness or evangelism. I have talked a lot about sharing one’s personal faith with others. We wrote on note cards what Jesus Christ has done for us and said that was the starting point. But how do you go from the note cards to telling someone? How do you do it and not seem like you are stuffing Jesus down their throats? How do you not turn into that stereotypical Christian who is on a bull horn on the corner of the street screaming “Turn or Burn!!”
It is all about relationships. The relationships we have outside these walls are where we go to share our witness. Now you might say, “Well all my friends go to church.” Really? REALLY? The only friends, co-workers, family, you have are in the 15% who attend church regularly? If that is true then there is only one option for you, make more friends. If our lives are mirror God’s love, people will start to ask us questions.
Here’s an example. You get to work on Monday and someone asks you the preverbal question, “So what did you do this weekend?” Here is one way you can answer. “I helped out some kids in Thomasville who live in poverty. My church, and all the other United Methodist churches in Thomasville, put on this great event. We had free food, clothes, and medical screenings. It was really neat, they had this book store that the kids could walk through and pick out a book to take home. Some of these kids never get to shop and here we were giving them an experience they will always remember. There were live bands and a dance group. The fire department, police and highway patrol were out there. It was awesome. I really felt we were making a difference and making a connection with some of those kids. In fact I think all the United Methodist Churches in the area did something. I’ve seen billboards and TV commercials. Had you heard about Impact Community?”
What was hard about that? There was no mention of Jesus or being saved or turn and burn. It was a way of sharing with someone what God has done through you and the church you attend. Now this may lead to more questions? Why did you help out at the event? Why do you go to church? Then all you have to do is tell the truth. There is no pre-purchased speech. There are no tracts to pass out. Just simply share your reasons and your story. That is sharing your witness; that is evangelism. Then at the end of the conversation you might even say, “Hey, my church means a lot to me, do you want to come with me sometime?”
Jesus Christ commands us to make disciples of all the nations and to love one another. If we truly love the people we come in contact with. If we see them as God see them, as God’s children, then we will make disciples. We will live into our mission statement and we will be making disciples. It all starts with living out God’s love and sharing what God has done for you. Just be honest and tell the truth. If you are wrestling with your faith, have doubts, then share that with others too. There is nothing better than the truth. “You know I am trying to make sense of the suffering I see in the world, that is why I helped out my community this weekend. I keep going to church because I have a feeling I can find the answers there. I am still listening, still growing, still praying for those answers and I have a feeling they will come.”
As a church too we need to take a deep hard look at what we do and how we are perceived by the unchurched in Thomasville. Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton”, a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam. Many of you might be familiar with him. For eight years he was held captive. There though he rallied the captive troops, he came up with codes to communicate with prisoners and even disfigured himself and beat himself with a stool so he could not be used as enemy propaganda. He was a war hero and is the founder of what Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, calls the Stockdale Paradox.
While talking with Admiral Stockdale, Collins realized that during his time in prison he had a certain coping strategy. Stockdale said, “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” When Collins asked him who didn’t make it out he was shocked by the answer. Stockdale told him, “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
We as a denomination, as the United Methodist Church, have a lot to overcome. We are a church that has been stuck in the 50s and if the 1950s ever come back we will be ready. But as we wait for that to happen the world passes us by. To believe that the 1950s are coming back is like being the optimists in that POW camp. It is ignoring the reality around us. The Stockdale Paradox is to do two things at once. You have to “retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties AND [at the same time] confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
We have the faith. We have the hope. We know that no matter what happens in this world God wins. No matter how bad life gets there is always hope in our Savior Jesus Christ. But we also have to face the brutal facts. As a denomination we are suffering, but why? The truth is we have a ton of churches who don’t want to grow. They are happy with their little church, their little circle of friends, their little part of the world. What they don’t realize is that we are not called to be a little circle of friends. We are to be the church, the body of Christ. We are called to be God’s love. To keep churches from growing because of the personal desires is selfish and unbiblical. When we do that we are stepping in front of God and telling God we know better. This is a problem that our denomination is having all over this country and it will be a noose that will tighten as we time goes on.
But beyond the denomination as a whole, we here at Trinity, have to face up to some brutal facts as well. We have made progress and I believe we are moving forward but as we grow, we will still have some brutal facts to face. Will we make it this year? Will people fulfill their estimates of giving? When will we stop having to worry about money and concentrate on ministry? Why won’t people sign up to watch kids? What are we doing to make people feel welcomed and are we meeting the needs of those around us? Where will we be in five years, in ten years, in twenty years? Will we be thriving or will our doors be closed? If we ignore the brutal facts around us, the raw, painful, but truthful facts, our doors will close. We have to confront these realities so that we can have a plan as we change as a church and as a society. We have to have a direction and a sense where we need to go so we “CAN change before we MUST change.”
When we sense our direction we need to be willing to step out and make those changes knowing that some might not work. Failure is part of growth and it is a part of sales. If you talk to any type of salesperson they will tell you stories of failure. They will tell you instances of pain and rejection. Failures hurt but we learn from them. Show me a person who hasn’t failed and I’ll show you a person just playing it safe. Milton Wright said, “Personally, I would rather fail at attempting great things than succeed at being safe.”
As we look at how we can improve our witness, personally and as a church, there is one place where we can always turn for what we need. There is always a place where we can gain hope and faith while facing the brutal facts. That place is here, at the God’s table. We can do nothing without the grace, strength, and love that is offered here. As we come to the table this morning may our hearts be filled with adrenaline to go out into the world and tell others about what God gives us. May we be great salespeople for God and our witness. May our lives be reflections of this love and may we be ready to do what is necessary to be the church and to be the people God calls us to be.
And all God’s people said…Amen.