Acts 10 & Evangelism

Last week I had the opportunity to share about the mission and ministry of DOOR with a group of pastors. They were exploring the possibility of hosting a DOOR program in their city. After I finished there was a time for questions. As usual the questions ranged from the practical to the theological. The first 20 minutes or so were spent answering questions about facility, hosting and staffing needs. Then the discussion shifted. It started when a pastor offered an observation of what he had heard so far and ended with a question. It went something like this:

“It is clear that DOOR does a good job of introducing people to the city and its needs. Feeding the hungry, helping out with local VBS programs, addressing the “isms” (race, sex class), allowing local leaders to share their stories with participants and working side-by-side with community members are all good things to do. I want to applaud DOOR for engaging this. It seems to me that DOOR is not asking participants to do the most important work of evangelism. Do you train DOOR participants to lead people to the Lord?”

To be honest I was not surprised by this person’s assessment and question. I have had to respond to similar comments and questions many times over the past two decades. My response has evolved and changed over the years. There was a time I would have arrogantly suggested that this pastor take Scripture a little more seriously. When Jesus does talk most directly about separating people into two camps – the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, the four spiritual laws never come into play. Getting into heaven has everything to do with feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner and giving a cup of water to those in need.

These days I look to Acts 10 when thinking about evangelism or conversion. It is the story of Peter and Cornelius. Many scholars understand this chapter to be the passage that officially makes space for the Gentiles, everyone who isn’t Jewish, within Christianity. So it is an important section of Scripture when it comes to evangelism.

As a child I remember being told that this was a story about the conversion of Cornelius. I agree with that assessment, but it is an incomplete understanding. The story starts with Cornelius, a Roman Gentile, receiving a word from God that his prayer had been heard. Then the story skips to Peter having a dream. He is told that “unclean” animals are OK to eat and he is to go to Joppa. Peter goes and ends up giving witness to the work God is doing among the Gentiles. The interesting question of Acts 10 is who is converted or evangelized? I have come to the conclusion that both Peter and Cornelius are evangelized.

What are some lessons we can draw from this? Could it be that evangelism is a mutual experience? I don’t know how we arrived at a one way perspective of evangelism. In my mind conversion and evangelism happen when two or more people meet and are all led by the Spirit to a place none of them expected to be. This is what happens is Acts 10; read it for yourself.

In a small way this is how DOOR approaches evangelism. It is our goal to bring people who might not normally connect with each other together and create a space for mutual evangelism. When this happens the Kingdom of God begins to appear in powerful ways.