Reports indicate that Evangelism is alive in Portland. Pastors, evangelists, and residents are sharing the Good News among the city’s ‘nones’ and Muslim refugees. Some argue that Portland is the most liberal city in America. It will be interesting to see how this evangelistic move will be received.
Reportedly more than a third of Portland's residents are religiously unaffiliated, with minority faiths growing quickly. Journalist Melissa Binder recently convened a panel on evangelism to the “nones” and Muslim refugees at the Christ & Cascadia conference, an annual gathering of Christian scholars, ministers, and culture leaders around the Pacific Northwest. Christianity Today released the report in detail. Below are excerpts from the conversation with James Gleason, pastor of Sonrise Church; John Baskaron, pastor of Arabic Christian Church; D. L. Mayfield, author of Assimilate or Go Home. Josh Chen, who directs Cru’s city ministry in Portland, later contributed to this conversation.
Gleason: We’ve constructed a culture around Christianity that isn’t the gospel. It’s not the gospel that’s the problem. The gospel is amazing. It’s what we’ve done to the gospel. We have to deconstruct the wrapper of culture that we’ve put on.
We want people worshiping God for eternity—that’s no question—but we also want people fed, people healed, and people to find homes. Words and works bind together in a way. When we do both, I think we have an open door for people who are more skeptical of the institutionalized church.
Chen: I’m careful about the language I use when I talk to the “nones,” or really any millennials. There are a lot of words we throw out there that mean something different to the person we’re talking to than what we’re trying to say. Instead of using a word like sin that has a lot of meaning behind it, I just say what I mean. The second key thing for evangelism is knowing what is good news for the person I’m speaking to. I listen to their story and listen for what they’re longing for. I ask myself, “How does the gospel resonate with this person?”
What kinds of “Christianese” words do you avoid, and how have you replaced them?
Chen: As part of my research, I went out and tested a bunch of Christian words—like sin, faith, repentance, salvation,and prayer—to see what nonreligious people hear. Prayer was really the only one received positively. Those other words tended to carry a lot of baggage. But I found that people responded pretty well when I communicated the same ideas with different language.
I’ll use sin as an example. Sin sounds to people like ideas of judgment, behavior modification, and trying to fit someone into a narrow box. It comes with baggage and can put people on guard. So, when I want to talk about sin, I talk about it in terms of heart issues. I use the concept of finding life where there is no life, which people recognize. People understand the concept of seeking fulfillment in something empty—for instance, they’ll tell me they binge-watch Netflix or seek life in something else that isn’t life-giving. That’s a starting point for a deeper conversation.
Gleason: Sonrise employs two women at the Hillsboro School District. (Well, we give the money. The district pays them, so I’m not their boss.) That came about simply because I asked, “Who in the district knows about all the needs at the schools?” and the district said, “Nobody.” I met the superintendent and said, “I have an idea. I want to pay a person, and you just set them loose to find all the needs in the community.” That led to a strong relationship.
Christianity Today copy / TRUNEWS summary.