I love receiving feedback from my Simple Church Letters even if the feedback challenges what I have written. A long time friend and esteemed colleague sent me back a quote from my last letter, with a question and a couple of comments. Here they are:
A comment on your quote from Neil Cole. He says,“When a person comes to faith in Christ, most churches tell them to just sit back and receive. They're spoon fed by the church. And what happens? They imprint on the church or the pastor. They expect the church to do everything. And we wonder why there are so many passive Christians.
“Has this been your experience?"
In reply to my friend’s question, I told him my story as a brand new Christian. He suggested that my testimony would have more impact than Cole's generalizations. I agree that a positive example is more impacting than a negative one. But I still agree with Cole that most new believers are spoon fed and not personally pushed in at the deep end (read mentored). But I took my corresponding colleague’s comments on board and here’s what happened to me back in the years 1954-55. My experience saved me from being too cloned, or imprinting too deeply on a church or pastor. And it laid a foundation for my 50 plus years of seeking to see people brought to an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ. I need to add here that I deeply appreciate and gratefully value all of the good things that both pastors and church have imparted into my life, as well as the opportunities I have been given to serve the Lord.
Back to my friend’s question, “Has this been your experience?” My conversion was a sudden plunge into pretty radical witnessing. A Salvation Army missionary couple got a hold of me and took me into Wellington pubs where we gave out tracts and witnessed to anyone who would listen. Not many did! We did the same on the inner city streets on weekends late into the night . One notable late night character I befriended was known as the “Meths King.” The reason for his nick name was his love of drinking methylated spirits. I bought him a meal one night and afterwards another Wellington drunk attacked him with a knife. The knife fell to the ground and I kicked it into the gutter and we made our escape.
Mr Meths King sometimes came with me to church but his motive was to ask for money. He had no job and needed money for food – so he said! I soon learned that any money was spent on his favourite drink. When his request was refused he would loudly grind his teeth in demonic anger. Walking with Mr Meths King into church, I wondered why we were being stared at by the church members. I naively thought that this was the normal thing to do – after all we talked and sang a lot about ‘rescuing the perishing, caring for the dying…’ Didn’t this include my perishing, dying friend?
My Salvation Army mentors also got me involved in a correspondence course. This course challenged me with the present condition and future destiny of lost people. It challenged me too to memorise stacks of salvation Bible verses. I was also thrust into Sunday School teaching, preaching in the open-air street meetings and talking to kids at a Sunday afternoon beach mission.
These experiences threw me somewhat desperately onto the Lord. I realise now that what we were doing was using our energies to extend the Kingdom of God. Sadly I was later influenced by the church growth “experts” to use most of my energies to extend the church. But that’s another story. I’m now older and hopefully wiser