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Pastors, lay people learn practical approaches to evangelism

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The Rev. Gary Exman

Jan. 11, 2006

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) ? Instructions exist for almost every aspect of our material lives, but pastors and church leaders came to the Congress on Evangelism seeking instructions of a spiritual kind: the ?how-tos? for winning souls to Christ.

More than 950 people, including United Methodists from the Philippines and Norway, came to learn how they can ?Let the Good News Roll? at the 2006 Congress on Evangelism, held Jan. 3-6. The annual congress provides evangelical methods and methodology to earn disciples for the Lord.

?Evangelism is important because God mandates that we are to go and preach to the whole world that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life,? said the Rev. Gary Exman, Columbus, Ohio, immediate past president of the Council on Evangelism of the United Methodist Church. The council is a sponsor of the congress and affiliate of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

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Bishop William Willimon

According to Bishop William Willimon, evangelism is done as a response to the God who first reached out to us, and it begins in the heart of God and God?s desire to have a people.  ?We call it Good News because it is something that came to us rather than something that is derived from us,? said the bishop, who leads the denomination?s Birmingham (Ala.) Area.

Exman, a pastor in the denomination for 39 years, told United Methodist News Service that the 50-year-old council was created to ?propagate? evangelism in local churches, districts and conferences across the denomination.

Since 75 percent of United Methodist churches are in small-town and rural settings, the congress aims to lift up Christ, to teach those church leaders how to evangelize and to foster church growth, he said. Exman also leads Come and See Ministries, designed to strengthen small-town and rural congregations.

Congress officials also have been concerned about involving more young people in evangelism work. In the last three years, the council has provided more than 300 pastors and lay people under the age of 40 with scholarships to attend the national event.

During the congress, church leaders focused on how to win people to Christ in individual and corporate ways. ?Evangelism is to bring people to Christ and to bring them to a relationship with him,? Exman said.

Jesus is called the evangelical who said that no one gets to God but through him, Exman noted. ?We must challenge people, even in this politically correct day, in appropriate ways ? which we Methodists are very careful to not offend if possible ? to bring people to Christ, which Jesus called us to do.?

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A UMNS photo by Linda Green

Participants at the 2006 Congress on Evangelism respond to an altar call for healing.

But pastors often do not know how to extend an invitation to discipleship. ?An invitation is a long and tried and true standard of evangelism,? he explained. ?Many of our seminaries teach theology, but they don?t teach as much ?how-tos.??

To address that, the Foundation for Evangelism, based in Lake Junaluska, N.C., has provided financial support for each of the 13 United Methodist theological schools to have a professor to teach the how-tos of bringing people to Christ.

Willimon outlined the differences between preaching and evangelism in his discussions.  Evangelism, he pointed out, is a claim about who God is and what God does, and it?s a claim about reality.

?Evangelism is something God does. Evangelism is an act of God,? he said.

He said a lot of preaching, including his own, is far too ?anthropocentric and not theocentric,? or is modern or individualistic when it should be cosmic.

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The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, told participants that before anyone can do evangelism, that person must make certain he or she is whole, healed and well as a result of applying the spiritual disciplines in his or her own life.

Caldwell, pastor of the denomination?s largest congregation, said that in order to make local churches grow, leaders who have a heart for God are needed, and they must possess five characteristics: be Christian; be consecrated and tithe; be competent; be compassionate; and be community-minded.

?Once you get yourself together and your leaders together, the church will follow,? he said.

The Rev. Billy Abraham, professor of Wesleyan studies at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, told the gathering that bringing people to Christ requires a recovery of nerve to say that regardless of what is happening in the world, God created his kingdom and invites people to become a part of it.

In other action, the congress:

  • Collected $13,000 for survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and pastors affected by the storms. The money will be disbursed by bishops in the affected areas. This year?s congress originally was to have been held in New Orleans.
  • Honored Charles Whittle of Fort Worth, Texas, for 50 years of evangelical service.
  • Elected officers for 2006-08: the Rev. David S. Kerr of St. Louis, president; the Rev. Joe Peabody of Dalton, Ga., vice president; the Rev. Allen Black of Fayetteville, Tenn., secretary; the Rev. Patti McGinn of Marshall, Texas, treasurer.

Next year?s Congress on Evangelism will be Jan. 2-5 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio Interviews

The Rev. Gary Exman: "Evangelism is the mandate."

The Rev. Gary Exman: "Evangelism is important."

Bishop Wil Willimon: ?Evangelism is something God does.?

The Rev. Kirbyjohn Caldwell: "You want to make certain."

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Resources

2006 Congress on Evangelism

General Board of Discipleship?Section on Evangelism

Foundation for Evangelism