learning from atheists

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading worship at First Baptist Church in West Monroe, LA. Dr. A friend of mine, Dr. John Avant, is the pastor and Suzanne and I enjoyed a delicious lunch with he and his wife Donna after church. During that lunch, he shared with me about a special Sunday they were looking forward to. Today, Ed Stetzer, one of the most passionate voices for calling the Church back to its missional roots posted the following on his blog:

This Sunday at my church I talked about sharing Christ. As always, you can listen to my Sunday messages here. I included a video clip that went around a while ago. In this case, it was from Penn (of Penn and Teller) talking about proselytizing. I told the church I would post it here today so, if you have not already seen it, check it out:

I thought Penn, an atheist, shared some important things that Christians need to hear. Then, this morning, I heard from my friend, John Avant. He sent this email.

“Yesterday I was part of one of the most unique experiences I have ever had within the walls of a church building. I shared my pulpit with an atheist. Lauren Sandler is the author of the book Righteous: Dispatches on the Evangelical Youth Movement. The book is a must read for all of us. Some of it will make you mad. You will not agree with all of it. But it is an amazing book. 
Lauren visited evangelical churches and movements all over the country. She predicts that “we are poised on the edge of the next Great Awakening.”

She believes that she found ample evidence that a great spiritual movement is coming to North America, led largely by a young generation that is no longer welcome in our churches. How ironic that an atheist believes in revival more than most Christians! Her book challenged me to the core. She shows us the worst of who we have become as evangelicals – and the reason why we are reaching so few radically unchurched people. Beyond all this, Lauren and her husband Justin have become dear friends. Of course I want them to come to faith in Christ. But our friendship is more than that. We will be friends if they never come to faith. So Sunday, a Southern Baptist preacher and a NYC Jewish atheist took the platform together! We modeled how easy it is to actually share the gospel with friends. Lauren made it clear that she is open to talk about God anytime, but that the real draw for her is seeing people that actually live like Jesus. In fact she said that she doesn’t understand why Christians don’t talk about how cool Jesus is! She challenged us with what has repelled her from Christianity and expressed amazement at the way the people of our church had responded to her. For me it was the most authentic expression of New Testament Church I have ever experienced. None of our doctrine was compromised. But we actually had God’s people, together in dialogue and relationship, with unbelievers – kind of like…well, Jesus! I am blessed to pastor a church that not only allowed this but embraced it. When Jesus hung out with unbelievers, the religious crowd wanted to kill him. Our people showered her with gifts and love. What if, just maybe, our churches decided to love people again instead of oppose them? Maybe we are almost as lost as the unbelievers we have shunned. After all, since Jesus has left the 99 and is in pursuit of the one who is lost, if we are not with him, but are cloistered away in our Sunday clubs, are we not lost from Him too?”

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