At a recent speaking engagement at the Presbyterian Mission Agency, evangelism coordinator Ray Jones asked a group of church leaders what their hearts were breaking over in their communities.
“They talked of children they knew,” Jones says, “who were often left home alone by single parents who had to work—and of poverty and homelessness plaguing rural North Carolina.”
Invited by the Coastal Carolina Presbytery, Jones spent two days taking leaders through the Engage curriculum—learning together how to share their stories of faith within the larger story of scripture.
“We wrestled with questions like “What is authentic evangelism?” says Jones. “What does it mean to live out the gospel as a disciple—a follower of Jesus?”
At the heart of these questions, Jones says, is relationship.
“For churches and their leaders to know what is breaking God’s heart [and theirs], they have to be outside their church walls—engaged with people in their neighborhoods.”
One of the church leaders at the two-day event was Jane Hawthorne, Christian educator, of First Presbyterian Church in Whiteville, North Carolina.
Having gone through Engage at First Church this past year, she told a story about her teenage daughter. To get engaged in their neighborhood, the church decided to host an outdoor worship and picnic on church grounds.
Youth, including her daughter, went into the neighborhood, knocking on strangers’ doors, inviting them to come.
After meeting a woman in a wheelchair at one of the homes, her daughter said, “Mom, I don’t she’ll be able to come.”
“What do you want to do about that?” Hawthorne asked.
“I can pray for her,” her daughter replied.
About a dozen new people came to the outdoor worship and picnic, including the elderly neighbor in the wheelchair.
She came with another neighbor, and was grateful for the invitation and offer of food.
“Jane [Hawthorne] told us how much that event meant to her daughter, the youth group, and their church,” says Jones.
“She told us how they are getting more involved in their neighborhood—and how that rural church is growing.”
First Church pastor Joshua Bower adds that Engage helped the congregation understand the gospel differently.
“For the folks who grew up here, the gospel was defined in one way— ‘getting saved.’
“But we’re beginning to realize that we’ve been designed [for] good—restored and sent as God’s healing agents in the world.”