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February 05, 2020

By The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D., Dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary

An Insight from the Internet

“You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48)

Last week I attended the annual gathering of ELCA rostered leaders from the three Ohio synods. It was a time of good fellowship, nourishing worship, and stimulating presentations and conversations.

The theme of the event was “Practical Evangelism.” For many years, we’ve talked about evangelism as the coming together of “your story, my story, and God’s story.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But Lutherans have a reputation of not actually being very good at evangelism. Despite our deep love of the Scriptures, we don’t always feel confident about our ability to share “God’s story” with others.

I think there are two aspects of the word “practical” to consider when talking about “practical evangelism.” The first sense is practical rather than theoretical. We need to move beyond the idea of evangelism to actually evangelizing. To borrow a slogan from Nike, just do it! If the Gospel is the Good News we say it is, we should be eager to share that Good News with others, just as we share the news of a new child in the family, a new love, a promotion at work, etc.

The second aspect of the word “practical” that is worth considering is its relationship to the verb “practice.” We get better at things as we practice. As we repeat behaviors, they begin to feel more natural, and it’s easier to do them the next time.

The Bible study leader for the Ohio Rostered Ministers gathering was Trinity’s own Professor Emeritus of New Testament Dr. Wally Taylor. Those of you who experienced him in the classroom know what a gifted scholar he is and how powerfully and persuasively he applies his scholarship to the mission of the church and the life of faith. One comment he made has stuck with me as a powerful insight into the work of evangelism. In discussing the importance of witnessing from our own experience (sharing “my story”), he pointed out that many of us already do this regularly online. People don’t think twice about rating a product on or rating a restaurant or hotel on Yelp. So many people seek out the witness and experience of others online that Facebook has a “Seeking a recommendation” option for posts. We want to share our experience for the benefit of others, and others seek out advice from trustworthy sources. In one sense, we are already practicing evangelism – it’s just for other products and services.

So how do we “rate” Jesus? What do we say about our own experience of faith to encourage others to “come and see” for themselves?

The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D.