Monday, January 08, 2007

Reflections: Congress on Evangelism - Part 2

Still trying to collect my thoughts from The Congress on Evangelism. I arrived at the event part way through Adam Hamilton's preaching/speaking in the opening session. I really enjoyed getting to hear him speak in person after reading many of his books. He seems to be a very down-to-earth easy-going kind of person, and his presentation was very practical/straightforward. He strikes me as a person who is just full of good, usable, practical ideas. He tries to make things concrete, and I think this must be part of the reason for the success of his ministry at Church of the Resurrection.

For the most part, I appreciated what Hamilton said. He came down kind of hard on the "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" campaign of the UMC, calling them "soft values" - I wouldn't exactly agree with him. I don't think those things are necessarily soft values. But he offered some alternatives (too many too fast for me to catch) that were pretty good.

He spoke a lot about his own faith journey, and his struggle to find a denomination where he could be a pastor - he knew he was called to ministry, just not sure where. He describes a funny story of wanting to learn what the UMC was all about. So he goes to a library and checks out the Book of Discipline. Everyone was laughing at this, suspecting he'd find it boring. But Hamilton said this is what clinched it for him - he loved our statements about doctrines and beliefs. Actually, maybe his story isn't so rare. I know one of the staff at GBCS became a United Methodist after reading the Social Principles. She saw in them a church she wanted to be a part of. Something to think about.

Hamilton also wondered why we don't teach people to memorize scripture anymore. Actually, I had a great deal of scripture memorization in my childhood church. Hamilton knew a Sunday School teacher who used the same approach as mine: bribery. I got paid a nickel for memorizing verses, which I did with dedication because of this incentive. I think on of the biggest mistakes liberals make actually is not knowing their scriptures well. I know my bible pretty well - it doesn't make sense to speak from it or argue for or against certain interpretations or whatever if you don't even have ready access in your mind to what you are talking about.

He went on to talk about things that are holding back churches from reaching people: 1) Self-centered churches that focus not on the unchurched or nominally churched but on themselves. What are we really willing to do to save lost people? 2) Failure to have authentic leadership 3) Lack of vision 4) Poor preaching and worship. I think he is on point with these.

He also talked about his preaching - he tries to have every sermon teach something specific, touch the heart, and contain a concrete action that people are meant to try, so that they leave knowing what they are supposed to do. It is this third part that I think I lack in my own preaching sometimes. I'm not very specific or direct in what I think people should do. I wonder how being more concrete would work - would it limit people in ways they can respond to the word, or help them focus in on something?

Hamilton also gave a great comment about his frustration with people who insist that God's actions in human suffering are meant to test us, punish us, teach us a lesson, etc. He said that parents would never hurt their child, give them cancer, harm them to teach them something, so why would we say that God does to us what we, imperfect humans, would not even do to our own children? Well said.

Anyway, Hamilton modeled well, since I left his lecture with some concrete ideas to try. More reflections to come - I still want to touch on Bishop Jones, Ellsworth Kalas, and workshops...
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