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New Horizons

Surprising Shoe-leather Stories

Mark Sumpter

Some of us wear cowboy boots, some heels, and some flip-flops. We all follow our Savior, who walked and talked, who ministered: “The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary” (Isa. 50:4 NKJV). In our fellowship with the Lord Jesus, we appropriate strength and boldness to speak the Word in season.

About two years ago, when Faith OPC moved to a new location in our city, we prayed for the Lord’s direction regarding the old approach of knocking on doors, being hospitable to neighbors, and making friends with people living nearby. God, in his grace, birthed wonderful opportunities. We have charted progress with maps, names, and addresses, and have had varying results. As we have been doing door-to-door calling on Saturdays, a surprise has come our way. In the Lord’s goodness, many more of us in the congregation have been befriending our neighbors and speaking with folks about the gospel. Door-to-door evangelism has opened up more ministry!

Door-to-Door Ministry

“Good morning, my name is Ted. We attend the church down the street, Faith Presbyterian. We are out getting acquainted with our neighbors. You see, we’re new to this neighborhood. May we leave information with you about our worship services?” Faith OPC has gone to over 550 homes in our area. Approximately half of these neighbors take literature about our worship, faith, and life. Half of those will take a few minutes to talk with us. The goal of these visits is to meet people, to befriend them. We try to take down names and learn something about their religious background and circumstances. The conversations vary. At times, we have prayed at the doorway—and sometimes we’ve been invited in! On occasion, we’ve been asked to come back for another visit.

While handing out Easter invitations one time, we knocked on a door and a man with a sour look on his face answered. A team member took one look at him and immediately became nervous, getting her words all mixed up: “Hi! We’re from the church across from Faith Middle School.” She should have said, “We’re from Faith Church across from South Middle School.” After correcting herself, we all laughed and it seemed to break the ice with Ernie standing at the door. He opened up, explaining that he had recently had cancer treatments in his mouth and wasn’t eating very well. So that explained his sour look. He turned out to be a hurting man for whom we could pray. We have returned to visit him other times.

When we’re out on the streets, we meet all walks of the spiritual spectrum. Often we use a few questions to get a conversation started. We let people know openly and directly why we’ve stopped by. Three of us will not soon forget Jamie, a man in his mid-thirties. After greeting him, it went something like this:

Jamie: “Uh … guys, I don’t think you want to visit with me. You see, I’m a post–New Testament Christian.”

Us: “What’s a post–New Testament Christian?”

Jamie: “Well … Paul, the apostle, wrote for his own times, not ours. I was a pastor of a church, and I’ve come to see that Paul’s writings are just one way to see things.”

After we started to present a smidgen from the Bible, he challenged us, saying we have a view of truth that shows how small, tiny, and narrow we are. We ended up discussing a few Scriptures, and then we spoke of his own narrow, tightly wound worldview. His faith and life were wound in a tiny way, a narrow way, about his own thinking and experience. He smiled when it dawned on him that he had a grid of thought that was his own narrow interpretation of life. We graciously, openly challenged him: “Jamie, does it really make sense to trust in your own narrow interpretation?” We expanded on things with him. This conversation lasted nearly an hour—right at the door.

We’ve spoken to theological liberals, Wiccans, New Agers, and those mixed up in the traditional cults.

As a result of going door-to-door, we’ve returned to several homes for private prayer or counseling, for full-scale prayer meetings, to drop off groceries, and to give more invitations to worship. We have sought to be patient about the fact that our doors on Sunday mornings are not being stormed with new visitors. That’s OK, in a sense. We are aiming to be faithful—to go! The shoe leather has opened our eyes more generally about evangelism.

One of our couples has sought to reach out with a Bible study. Another couple or two have led a study of Christianity Explored. Two individuals have been greatly used of the Lord to befriend the lonely. Some of these new friends have come to worship. Some folks use the Ultimate Questions booklet or other booklets from P&R Publishing to hand out as a gift or to use for discussion. About a year ago, the interest in evangelism spilled over into a one-day training workshop, where around ten of our church members worked on memorizing Scripture and specific conversational points. Walking the streets of Grants Pass generated interest in church-wide summer volleyball. Several friends came to these evenings to mix. Initiating and building relationships remains the bread-and-butter way of reaching out. Opportunities like these enable us to cast the net and to see how God might work in starting friendships.

As a pastor, I often struggle with juggling priorities. But a funny thing happened on the way to rearing children. Some priorities have been reset. For several years now, our children have had an afternoon newspaper route. At first, I would substitute on a rare occasion. Then I started doing an early morning Wednesday weekly for them. The shoe leather around the streets of our neighborhood turned into phenomenal conversations with people. Our children opened the way.

Three or four months ago, Dan, a neighbor, asked me, “Mark, I know you don’t deliver papers for a living—what do you do?” Bingo. Off we went, talking about things of the Lord. Then there’s Betty, who wants input about ways to care for the homeless in our city. Then there are Jim, James, Sam and Leigh, Lynn, and Patti and George. Some mention an item for prayer. Some indicate concerns about societal things. I have to say that I have not been speaking directly of Christ to each one. But the conversations have moved beyond sidewalk courtesy. Volunteering at a school, a hospital, or at the neighborhood tutoring center will result, often, in quality conversations. Once again, it’s all about mixing with people, fostering conversations, and opening up to one another about matters of common concern that set the stage for talking about the truth. I am learning as I go.

Preaching in the Park

Jim worked through the throng of concertgoers, distributing tracts in our city park one evening. He stopped by me and said, “Here, good news.” I grabbed the booklet and followed him out of the crowd. That started a relationship with Jim. He attended another church in the area. What caught my attention was Jim’s zeal. After he learned that I was a pastor, he prepared me for taking a turn to preach at a park. As I watched him, I swallowed slowly—gulp. I had spoken to crowds before, but this was intimidating. He distributed booklets and gospels of John, and inquired of people about their spiritual interests and questions. My time with Jim, watching and learning from him, meant more shoe-leather times on Saturday afternoons. With a jam-packed week, was it easy to shoehorn in this ministry on Saturdays? No. But I kept trying to carve out time. I was scared. I stumbled along and I botched things up. But it helped me to do the work of evangelism.

There has been revived interest at Faith OPC in Grants Pass in getting out to mix with people—to listen well and to present the gospel faithfully. The shoe-leather experiences—some fruitful and others not so fruitful—have increased our desire to be the Lord’s witnesses. Door-to-door work might seem out-of-date and associated with the practices of cults, but the Lord is doing wonderful things, helping us to speak of his mighty deeds of grace and truth. Christ is our Savior and Lord. In his strength we go. By his grace we open up to people around us. For his honor we speak. We are eager to see what he will do with the opportunities.

The author is a minister in the OPC living in Grants Pass, Oregon. New Horizons, July 2013.

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