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Before I begin let me try to share my thanks to you at Presbyterian Church of the Way for

your support of our ministry at Chain of Lakes. Thanks to Todd and the Session for the

invitation to preach today; thanks for letting me live earlier this year at your Parish House for

four months; and, of course, thanks for the gift of these furnishings. We at Chain of Lakes have

been blessed by your community.

I’d like to be the pastor at Chain of Lakes for 25 years—until I retire at 70. I’m looking

forward to a long partnership between our churches, one where we deepen the Presbyterian

presence in the north Metro. I’m also looking forward to the day when we at Chain of Lakes

bless you at Presbyterian Church of the Way, where we are on the giving and not just the

receiving end.

Let me give you a brief update on where we are at Chain of Lakes. I started on February

15 of this year. We had seven families who came to a meeting that night. We’ve grown. I keep

a directory of people who have attended an event and have indicated an interest in our ministry.

I looked at our directory this past Friday and counted 26 families.

Our reality is still very fluid. This month we started offering the Alpha course. Two

weeks ago we kicked it off with an Alpha Celebration Dinner on a Wednesday night. We were

overjoyed that 38 people came to that event. We packed a hotel room. For a week we thought

we were ready to take off. Then the next Wednesday 13 people came. We realized we weren’t

as far along as we had thought. Two steps forward; one step back.

It is a blast starting a new church. How many people have the opportunity in their

lifetime to be a part of a new faith community?


As a New Church our future depends on evangelism. So I thought it would be

appropriate to preach about evangelism today. The title of this sermon is “moving the ball

forward.”

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I’ve been a Presbyterian all my life. We Presbyterians are really good at making fun of

our own inability to do evangelism. Most Presbyterian evangelism sermons start with a

Presbyterian-deprecating joke—so I thought I would continue the tradition.

What happens when a Presbyterian and a Jehovah Witness work together on a door to
door, evangelism crusade? They knock on a door but don’t know what to say.

Or did you hear the one about the Catholic Priest and the Presbyterian pastor. The
Catholic priest was complaining about all the mice in the rectory. We used to have mice in our
church, but we took care of it, said the Presbyterian pastor. The Catholic priest was interested.
“What did you do?” The Presbyterian replied, “We baptized them and confirmed them—and
then they never came back.”

Many Presbyterians have stereotypes about Evangelism. We might think that evangelism

is going door to door—to be good at evangelism you have to be good at sales. Or we think that

the tool of evangelism is a bullhorn, yelling out “are you saved.” Or evangelism is carrying a

sign saying that “Jesus is coming back, are you ready?”

Believe me, I understand these stereotypes. My Dad has taught Adult Education in a

Presbyterian church for over 40 years. When I was growing up he was always very quick to

make fun of TV evangelists, and he still does today. I went to one of the most liberal seminaries

in the United States—Union seminary in New York City. Believe me you won’t find an

evangelism course in their curriculum. I understand our stereotypes—I learned them from my

own family and in my seminary education.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some of us here today have some stereotypes about

evangelism. If you do, I want to say that I understand where you are coming from.
But I guess the joke is on me—because I’ve grown in my love for Evangelism. I helped

a church experience significant growth. Here I am a New Church Development pastor—where a

significant part of my work depends on evangelism.

I want to say today that Evangelism does not have to be hard, it does not have to be

offensive or confrontational—I even think it is fun. It takes courage, but we’re all capable of

courageousness. I want to encourage us to be Evangelists.

I guess I should start off with a definition of evangelism.

Our denomination’s formal definition of evangelism is “joyfully sharing the good news of the

sovereign love of God, calling people to repentance, to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior

and Lord, to active membership in the church, to obedient service in the world.” That’s good.

A shorter definition is offered by famed church leader D.T. Niles. He said that, “Evangelism is

just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

A definition that I use is sharing God’s love with another person through our words and/or our

actions.

We Presbyterians are outstanding at sharing love through our actions. You at

Presbyterian Church of the Way share your love through all your mission projects. Take your

well project in Ghana for example. In a way we could look at that as evangelism. You are

providing drinking water to people in Africa who need it. That project is a witness to God’s

love.

It’s my experience that we Presbyterians are a little less skilled in sharing God’s love

through our words. To actually talk about God with others; Thus all the jokes!
I want to take the hard road today and share some thoughts about talking about God with

the unchurched. Yah—I want to encourage you to have conversations about God with the

unchurched.

I know that statement might have crossed a line. We Presbyterians talking about God

with the unchurched. Stay with me. (Actually breathe) Breathe in/breathe out/breathe

in/breathe out. It’s okay. We Presbyterians can talk about God with the unchurched. It’s not as

hard as we think. //////////

I like those definitions of evangelism I shared earlier. Let me add one. Let me set it up

by saying that I am a big football fan. I played football in college. I’m still a fan. I might be the

only person in the world who thinks that the most important football game of the year is Carleton

versus St. Olaf. Carleton won this year—for the second year in a row.

I’m guessing that most of us know that the goal of playing football is to score a

touchdown. We can’t do that if we don’t move the ball forward. What if saw evangelism as

helping to move the ball forward in another person’s life. The ultimate goal of course is a

touchdown. When a person accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, joins a church, commits their life

to being a follower. When we talk to people about God our task is not necessarily to score a

touchdown. What if we saw our task as partnering with God to help move the ball forward?

Let me share an example. Our office at Chain of Lakes is on the intersection of Lake and

Hodsgon Drive. When I stayed at the Parish House I would get there by driving north on

Lexington, take a right on Lake and go to the office. I am a bit obsessed about reading the

newspaper, so I every day I would stop at the same gas station and buy two newspapers.
After a while I got to know one of the workers at the store. His name is Scott. He’s a

classic Minnesotan—nice guy—in his late 20’s. When I started buying the newspaper we would

talk for about ten seconds, mostly about the weather.

In March we at Chain of Lakes did a “Meet the Pastor” event. I encouraged everyone in

our community to invite someone. As a leader I wanted to be a role model for inviting. My

problem was I was new to the north metro and didn’t know anyone. So in my morning prayers I

would ask God to bring someone to my mind who I could invite to this event. After praying a

couple mornings I received an impression to ask Scott. My first thought was, “God, I don’t even

know him. He’ll never come to this event.” That was my first mistake. I was too focused on

scoring a touchdown instead of just moving the ball forward.

I finally decided to ask Scott to come. What do I have to lose I thought—I was only

extending an invitation. So I printed out a flyer. I pulled up to the gas station. I have to admit

my heart was pumping a little faster than on a usual morning when I bought my newspaper. I

went into the store, bought the paper and said to Scott, “I don’t know if you’re looking for a

church, but I’m starting a new church. We’re having an event tomorrow night, and if you’re

interested you’re very welcome to come.” I then gave him the flyer for our event.

I wasn’t sure what to expect.

He floored me by saying, “in fact my wife and I are looking for a church.”

I don’t know if this is what I did, but this is what I felt like doing.

He was looking for a church. God had been working in his life, and I didn’t even know

it.

As it turns out Scott didn’t attend that event. But I know that I moved the ball forward.

From then on I could talk about God


I think we’ve been conditioned to think that the unchurched don’t like God or are turned

off by church. I don’t think that is the case at all. I’ve found the unchurched to be some of the

most spiritual people that I’ve met. I know that God is working in their lives. Sometimes the

unchurched are just waiting to have a conversation about God. I don’t think there are waiting for

someone to be confrontational or offensive to them in the name of God. But I’m absolutely

convinced that they are willing to talk to someone who models God’s love in front of them—

someone who will display the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,

generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Someone who is a Christian who will say, “I

really care about you as a person.” I think our approach is everything.

Of course, Jesus was the master of this style of conversational evangelism. He displayed

his mastery in today’s story.

Let me set it up. Jesus was walking through Samaria. Samaria was the home of the

Samaritans. In Jesus’ day the Samaritans and the Jews were hostile to each other. Their hostility

had a history. About two hundred years before Jesus the Samaritans had built a religious shrine

on Mount Gerizim. That mountain is about 30 miles north of Jerusalem. The Samaritans

thought that Mt. Gerizim was the only proper place to worship God. The Jews believed that the

Temple in Jerusalem was the only proper place that a person could worship God. So these two

separate religions—with the same Old Testament heritage—had dueling places of worship.

This disagreement turned to hatred. Some Jews destroyed the religious shrine on Mt. Gerizim. .

Guess where Jesus was when he met the Samaritan woman at the start of today’s story?

On Mt. Gerizim. For many Jews Jesus was on enemy territory.

On enemy territory Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink.


He moved the ball forward. In this story Jesus made seven statements to the woman. I

don’t have time to go through each of the statements he made. If you want to go deeper with the

story this week, write out the seven statements and ask yourself how each statement helped move

the ball forward in the Samaritan woman’s life.

He started out by asking the Samaritan woman for a drink.

Jesus was breaking all sorts of boundaries by asking her for a drink. First of all Jews

weren’t supposed to talk to Samaritans—especially on Mount Gerizim—the most holy of

religious places to a Samaritan. Second he was talking to a woman. Women were viewed as

property. The woman’s response to Jesus showed that she knew that Jesus had crossed some

boundaries. She wondered how a Jewish man would ask a Samaritan woman for a drink of

water.

Just by asking the question, Jesus opened the door to conversation with the woman.

It’s hard to say that Jesus took a risk in asking this question—because he was, of course,

the Son of God. His willingness to initiate conversation is one we can follow. Jesus’ action of

asking a Samaritan woman for a drink is no different than us starting a conversation with

someone at Caribou or the grocery story, or asking our neighbor who goes to a cabin on Sundays

during the summer to go to church next Sunday at Church of the Way. It’s no different than a

youth at Presbyterian Church of the Way asking a friend to come to youth group. It’s what I did

when I asked Scott to come to Meet the Pastor.

Like Jesus we have to initiate some conversations about God.

Really, what do we have to lose? The person says that he or she doesn’t want to talk

about God? Okay, we won’t talk about God. The person doesn’t come to our event? What did

Jesus have to lose when he asked the woman for a drink—he wouldn’t receive a drink. Our fears
about the other person’s response are much larger than how they’ll actually respond. And their

response might even surprise us, “you know I am looking for a church.”

Look at what happened at the end of the story. Jesus told the woman that he was the

Messiah—he was the one that Jews and Samaritans had been waiting for. The woman believed

him. She went into her village of Samaritans and told everyone what had happened to her.

Many of the Samaritans from the city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony. The

Samaritans asked Jesus if he would stay with them. Jesus stayed two days in the village.

How much fun would it have been to be there for those two days to listen Jesus teach the

Samaritans.

This is evangelism working at its highest level. Someone new to the faith or new to our

church comes to our faith community and experiences something special. Then the person goes

and tell all their friends. The person goes out and says, “something special is happening in my

life; something special is happening in that church. You have to come and check this out. All of

a sudden the unchurched are the evangelists. Can this happen? Absolutely.

If we create a faith community where people’s lives are touched, people will come. How

powerful is that. Suddenly evangelism isn’t only a newspaper ad or some promotional gimmick.

People are inviting their friends and family because something very special is happening in the

community.

Our task is to create this type of community. And our task is to move the ball forward.

My challenge to every person here is to have a conversation this week with someone who is

unchurched. See if you can talk about God.

Two weeks ago at Chain of Lakes we had our Alpha Celebration Dinner. Once again I

went to talk to Scott. I wasn’t very optimistic that he could come for I knew that he works on
evenings. I’m not hesitant anymore to talk to Scott about our church or about God. He knows

I’m a new church pastor, he knows a lot about us, he likes to hear what is going on. He still

hasn’t come to an event. Even though I was pessimistic about the outcome I extended an

invitation.

Once again I was surprised. He told me that he was working and couldn’t come. Then as

he was leaving he said, “You know what I would really like is to participate in a Bible Study

sometime.” Another one of those (jaw….) Okay—I wasn’t expecting that response. I tried the

move the ball forward even more. If you organized a Bible Study of your friends I would be

willing to teach it. He said, “I don’t know when I would have the time to organize a Bible Study.

I replied, “If we waited to have time to do things, nothing would ever got done. He agreed. We

left it at that.

Did he score a touchdown? No. Was the ball moved forward. Yes.

I haven’t talked to Scott about this Bible Study for a couple weeks. When I see him next

week I’m going to ask him if he would still like to do that Bible Study.

I think we can move the ball forward. What’s stopping you? My challenge to all of us is

to initiate a conversation this week. Do it in love, of course. But initiate a conversation. If you

don’t know have somebody to talk to, ask God for ideas. When you approach the person, don’t

assume anything. We don’t know how God is working in that person’s life. We don’t know.

Our conversation just might touch something in that person’s spirit that could change them

forever. At the minimum we can move the ball forward. God is on our team.