Tuesday, April 01, 2008

So you want to be a rock 'n' roll star?

In a few days, I'll be participating the in Western PA Congress on Evangelism. Because I'll be gone for a few days, I'm trying to get a load of work done, including putting the finishing touches on next Sunday's sermon.

I'm preaching on the lectionary reading from Acts 2...sort of. The Acts reading stops at verse 41, with the rest of the chapter in the readings for April 13. But, since I'm focusing on Psalm 23 on April 13, I've combined the two Acts readings for use on April 6 (I'm sure you find this fascinating).

At any rate, it's been a good exercise for me, since much of the passage from which I'm preaching deals directly with evangelism.

In January 1967, one of my favorite bands, the Byrds, released the song "So You Want to Be a Rock'n'Roll Star". GREAT song. The first part of the song chronicles what one needs to do in order to become a rock star. "If you want _____, then do _____."

"So you want to be a rock 'n' roll star?
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time
and learn how to play
And with your hair
swung right
And your pants too tight
It's gonna be all right
Then it's time to go downtown
Where the agent man
won't let you down
Sell your soul to the company
Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware
And in a week or two
If you make the charts
The girls'll tear you apart"
- McGuinn/Hillman, 1967

I've loved that song for years. But, like this legendary Hall of Fame band can teach us what steps we need to take to become stars, so, in my view, the Acts 2 passage can teach us the steps we need to take to evangelize.

"...they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."
- Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

The end of this passage shows the remarkable success of the baby Church regarding evangelism. We Methodists, who at one time prided ourselves on approaching things methodically, can learn much from this passage. Indeed, once we did, I think. I personally need a reminder of that...and often.

What were some of the key elements in this evangelistic success?

* DEVOTION TO THE APOSTLES' TEACHING - We may not have direct access to Paul, John, and Peter, but we have the inspired Holy Scriptures, and 2000 years of interpretive tradition, including doctrinal standards which Methodist pastors have taken sacred vows to uphold. How often do we refer to Wesley's sermons, our General Rules, or our Articles of Religion in our preaching and teaching? It seems to me that inasmuch as we embrace, obediently teach, and faithfully embody our doctrine, the Spirit just might bless our evangelistic efforts.

* FELLOWSHIP - Just being together and hanging out with our sisters and brothers in the faith is a tremendous blessing. Last night was "Spirit Night" for JUMC at our local Chick-fil-a, and we gathered together for dinner and had a joyous time (and were probably a little too loud for some of the other patrons!). In fact, just hanging out with my sisters and brothers is, for me, the highlight of Annual Conference. Inasmuch as we seek fellowship with one another, the Spirit just might bless our evangelistic efforts.

* THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD - Gathering for worship is an essential part of our Christian life, and we ought to be regularly celebrating the Eucharist. General Conference 2004, in its adoption of This Holy Mystery as an official Eucharistic statement of the UMC, encouraged congregations to move to weekly celebration. To my knowledge, the only community in our Conference which celebrates every week in every service is Hot Metal Bridge. Shame on me. Inasmuch as we break the Bread and share the Cup, the Spirit just might bless our evangelistic efforts.

* PRAYER - Certainly we all agree that we need to be a people of prayer. The congregation that sent me out into ministry, Trinity UMC in Indiana, PA, held weekly prayer meetings. During that hour, they didn't gather primarily for Bible study or fellowship; they gathered to pray - for one another, for the Church, for this broken world. What a wonderful practice! We need to say our prayers, individually, as married couples and families, and communally. Inasmuch as we faithfully pray, the Spirit just might bless our evangelistic efforts.

* SIGNS & WONDERS - My charismatic friends have specific views on what these things are. God bless them; they're one up on the rest of us...who generally have no idea what the writer of Acts means by these words. But we do know that these things were present in the infant Church. My own view is that "signs" and "wonders" are, among other things, seeing lives transformed by the gospel...and being a part of that transformation. Inasmuch as we are seeking the signs and wonders of transformation, the Spirit just might bless our evangelistic efforts.

* SHARING - No one in the Church should ever go hungry, go without health coverage, or not have access to quality education. In spite of what politicians believe (appealing to our own self-centeredness, in my opinion), it is not the government's job to provide those things...it is the job of the Church. When we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, I make it clear that when the congregation takes their vows, they are making a promise to God to see that the needs of the child are met. If the child needs food, it's the congregation's responsiblity to provide. Shelter in the storm? Heat in the winter? Clothes in the cold? Camp in the summer? School supplies in the autumn? A ride to worship or Vacation Bible School? We need to be a people of sharing and responsibility, who take our vows seriously. If a member of our congregation is lacking any need, we should take it personally. Inasmuch as we care for one another's needs, the Spirit just might bless our evangelistic efforts.

The end result? "The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." So, it's a wonderful thing to learn new ways of telling the old, old story, but evangelism begins, it seems to me, with the Church being the Church.

"O gracious God, we pray for your holy Church universal, that you would be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt; purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again and ever lives to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen."
- The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992), #501


Art said...

Working The Byrds into a post like this - brilliant!

Jeff Kahl said...


Excellent thoughts on Acts 2. I remember something one of my seminary profs once said: "The church's internal structure should be for the purpose of its external witness." In other words, the church should have a "missional" vision, rather than seeing it and its structures as existing for their own sake.

The only thing I'd add is that Acts includes another paradigm of evangelism and mission besides the one you accurately identify in Acts 2, and that is the missionary journeys of Paul.

In other words, while I agree with your assessment, we also need to be modeling a vision of mission that takes our church people out of our comfort zones in order to dialogue directly with the world. While the church itself is important for evangelism, we must (like Paul) think beyond the confines of the institutional church in our practice of evangelism and outreach.


Keith H. McIlwain said...

Art - God is good...to everything there is a season!

Jeff - I agree completely. My point is (I think...still working on it) that evangelism ought to start with the Church being the Church, rather than using any programmatic approach as a beginning. If we're faithfully being the Church, people will be drawn to the Christ in our midst. Then, we're free to talk about other methodologies. But let's put all our ducks in a row first.

Jeff Kahl said...

The only response I have is that in 2000 years, the church has never been able to get "all its ducks in a row." After all, it is just as human and sinful as any other institution. I'm all for striving to get the church internally situated, but that doesn't mean we can't do intentional outreach now. What's wrong with using programming and methods of evangelism now? After all, if we're evangelizing properly, we should be telling people to see past our imperfect churches and look to the only One who IS perfect.

At some point we have to go out after the lost sheep, rather than assuming that the lost sheep will find it's way back if we tend perfectly to the other 99.

Anonymous said...

Keith, great reading of Acts.

I think the text does include a proclamation element as well. Peter's invitation, after all, is what God used to bring those 3,000 into the fold.

Craig L. Adams said...

I decided yesterday to include vv. 37-40 in the reading so that I could work the repentance & conversion themes into the message as well.I think the church I'm serving needs to do some reflecting on: "What does it mean to be a church?" and this is a wonderful passage to serves as a springboard for that type of reflection.