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FIRST-PERSON: Making evangelism good news again

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–“The world I learned to reach in seminary 20 years ago no longer exists!” These words from a pastor friend have riveted me since I first heard them last year.

I recently took part in what might possibly be most unique father-daughter mission outing ever planned. DragonCon is one of the largest fantasy film, pop culture and science fiction conventions in the world. Thousands of people converge on Atlanta dressed up as their favorite comic book or film characters to enjoy concerts, attend seminars, visit exhibits, trade comic books and play fantasy games.

My daughter, Perry, and I decided to attend the four-day event to present Christ. We used the JoePix strategy, taking photographs of the conventioneers in their costumes and uploading the pictures to an Internet site. Subjects then could go to the website to retrieve their photos, engage Christians, and learn more about the Gospel. Witnessing opportunities abounded. There were so many people. They were so far from God. Yet, they were so fascinated with our message of Jesus Christ. In this crowd, where rebellion was the status quo, we were the strangest characters of all with our JoePix t-shirts, hats and cameras.

Never have I been around a more eclectic crowd. Where else in the world can one go and hear a concert by a new age Celtic band and see hundreds of elves, Romulans, zombies, storm troopers and Disney characters doing the Macarena to Irish music? As I walked around this sea of humanity in a four square block area of Atlanta, the words of my friend echoed again in my mind, “The world I learned to reach in seminary 20 years ago no longer exists.”

In an international missions context no denomination is better positioned than Southern Baptists to understand reaching new types of people. We know that on the foreign field, we must engage new cultures on their turf. We must learn, appreciate and accept them without losing the essentials of our faith. We must be relevant in communicating to a variety of cultures without conforming to them. We also must reach these people groups with the Gospel of Jesus Christ without obscuring their cultural distinctives. We must be missional, exegeting culture and exalting Christ in appropriate ways without succumbing to the world. Southern Baptists get it — at least on the international scene.

Across town from DragonCon, a large metro Atlanta church recently held a Global Missions Conference. This was a well-planned event with around 100 missionaries from all over the world in attendance. Participants hosted parties in their homes with missionaries there to tell their stories. Sunday School classes and other small groups featured presentations on the customs and practices of different countries. A highlight of the weekend was a missions-themed worship service on Sunday morning. My favorite part of the conference, though, was the big missions fair that evening. Tables were set up with exhibits about people groups from around the world. People were fascinated by the unusual foods and by the missionaries who wore the traditional costumes of the people they were called to reach.

The emerging postmodern culture that we encounter in North America is as new and exotic as many on the foreign mission field. But sometimes, instead of celebrating the missionaries and pastors to this culture, we react to their unique style with caution and criticism. Why don’t we invite them to set up their tables at the missions fair so we can hear their stories and experience their (and our) new culture? But as we lengthen the cords of acceptance of new styles and new ideas, we must not forget to strengthen the stakes of biblical authority, theological fidelity and holy living as we forge into “foreign” territory with the Gospel.

“The world I learned to reach in seminary 20 years ago no longer exists!” I now realize that this statement is accurate. But this was also true when a young woman named Lottie Moon went to a new world she knew nothing about. She endured criticism for adopting some of the dress and culture of that world to reach people for Christ. She served faithfully. She gave her life. And she made a difference.

We must be more like Lottie as we go about reaching and keeping our own continent for Jesus Christ. We must make evangelism Good News again to the world, both globally and locally. We must begin to think missionally about our own home.
Toby Frost is the director of strategic evangelism coordination at the North American Mission Board.

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  • Toby Frost