By Kimberly Durnan
Diocese of Dallas
A crowd of 300 gathered in Dallas, Texas, on June 10 to hear the guidance of Rev. Canon J. John, a popular evangelist in the Church of England, as he talked about leading people to Christ. John spoke as part of a Sharing Your Faith Conference, sponsored by the Diocese of Dallas, at Church of the Incarnation.
John used wit — and even examples from children’s books — to encourage the congregation. “Even Winnie the Pooh said, ‘You can’t stay in your corner of the forest, you have to go to them sometime,’” he said. “We must be global Christians with a global mission because we have a global God.”
The evangelist said that an important strategy for telling others about Christ involves praying, showing others care, and then sharing the gospel. He added that this strategy can be effective at home. Instead of going to another country for outreach, evangelists can consider praying, caring, and sharing with family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, John said.
“You often hear in church, ‘Let’s go on a mission trip,’” but walking next door can be a way to reach the world by cultivating existing relationships with intentionality and prayer — and without year-round fundraising, he said.
John mentioned taking a woman to coffee when she expressed anger about Christianity after one of his sermons. Each day he invited her to hear him speak, and each day he asked her to coffee. After five coffee meetings, she became a Christian. Now she is a prolific speaker against human trafficking.
Sometimes evangelism efforts can become discouraging, but it’s important to not give up. “I’ve been trying to evangelize my mother since 1975. She’s on our prayer list. Relatives, family, neighbors, and colleagues — you have to keep on sowing.”
Christians carry the power and presence of Jesus, John said. “When you pray to be a carrier of God’s presence, non-Christians are everywhere.” A good way to reach non-Christians is through telling personal stories of times God made his presence known through friendship, mercy, prayer, and times of fear.
Carrie Boren Headington, the diocese’s missioner for evangelism, said the conference aimed to ignite renewed interest in telling others about Christianity. “Our goal, with a conference like this, is to be a resource to serve you, come alongside you, and determine how we can best share the good news of Jesus.”
Bishop George Sumner launched the conference with prayer and then introduced John, who is the evangelist for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He said John is committed to reaching those who do not know God, and that it is everyone’s responsibility to do the same.
Sumner said that while it is a cliché in the church that all baptisms and confirmations are really ordinations, “this morning that cliché is true. We are all ministers and part of a priestly nation. We all need to continually be formed. J. John doesn’t come with all the answers, he comes with the answer: the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Rev. Leslie Stewart, who attended the conference and is a church planter for the diocese, said she agreed with John on the effectiveness of personal testimony and added that it’s a good idea to connect people with their own stories to share. “It’s as easy as answering a question: Are you aware of God’s forgiveness, hope, provision, or power to answer prayer? Then you have stories to tell. We need to scatter the seeds for the kingdom.”
The Rev. Bob Corley, rector at St. Mark’s in Irving, said that John’s message resonated. “Evangelism is a scary prospect for many, and J. John has a disarming manner that breaks down barriers,” he said. “The simple formula to pray, care, and share to bring people into fellowship with Jesus is profound in its simplicity.”
A street choir from South Dallas performed and Darell Smith of the Greater Dallas Coalition talked about the Dallas Champions Academy, which unites 200 youth with 17 current and former National Football League players.
The conference concluded with a discussion about how to reach millennials. Speaker Grant Skeldon, age 26, acknowledged generational differences and suggested that Baby Boomers and Generation X reach the younger demographic through respect, trust, and mentoring. “Ask young adults about their passion and ask them about their parents and it will reveal a lot about who they are and where they are going,” Skeldon said.
Part of the conference focused on discussion of making sure the church is ready to receive the unchurched. John talked about a couple he and his wife, Killy, had known for a long time and had finally convinced to attend church. The couple’s young daughter had gotten sick at the last minute and needed a change of clothes, making the family about five minutes late. When they tried to enter the parish, the doors were locked. They tried other ways to get inside but could not.
“Do whatever it is, or whatever needs to be done,” he said. “The church exists for people who don’t go. That’s the reason it exists.”