As inches of heavy, wet snow piled up across the Twin Cities metro area, snarling traffic and causing headaches, more than 100 church leaders from across the area braved the elements to travel to Northwestern College to learn more about My Hope America with Billy Graham.
While event organizers hurriedly set out more tables for the growing crowd, and the attendees shook the snow from their hair and hung damp jackets on the backs of chairs, there was a common theme that reverberated through the room: the urgency of the Gospel.
“We’re too comfortable,” said assistant pastor Kurt Linn of St. Paul’s Church in South Minneapolis. “And maybe particularly here in the west, our churches are way too comfortable. Church is a compartment of our lives, as opposed to the thing that drives us day-to-day.”
That sentiment was echoed by Pastor Jim Bzoskie of Cornerstone Bible Church of Hastings, Minn., who made his own commitment to Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade in Ames, Iowa, in 1974. “I think what happens is that Sunday after Sunday, with everyone being so busy and all the cares of this world, that it’s easy to get comfortable.”
Both men believe that My Hope America with Billy Graham is an opportunity to step out of that comfort zone and equip their congregations to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are many roadblocks that tend to keep believers from sharing their faith with those around them, including fear (of rejection or of not knowing what to say) and not having the tools or feeling equipped to “do evangelism.” But pastors across Minneapolis/St. Paul — and across the country — are grabbing onto My Hope America with Billy Graham as a chance to overcome those road blocks and reach outside the church walls.
“People don’t feel equipped,” said Linn. “They don’t know how to do it. So to have resources and tools is huge.
“I think the local churches and pastors are grateful because obviously a lot of time and money and resources go into what the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is providing for the churches to use. A lot of churches don’t have the ability to print the material, or even just the knowledge, the best strategy, and all those kinds of things. It’s a huge gift.”
Of course, all the materials and tools in the world likely won’t lead anybody to Christ by themselves. That’s where Christians across the country come in. My Hope America with Billy Graham builds on pre-existing relationships (as well as new opportunities for relationships) to serve as the conduit for sharing the message.
“One of the most amazing things about this project is that being in a relationship with people allows you to share the Gospel very effectively,” said Matt Brown, an author, evangelist and founder of Think Eternity, a Minneapolis-based ministry. “It allows you to be in people’s lives to disciple them very effectively. These friendships that are being invested into, and the Christians that are bringing people to Christ, that’s the most powerful discipleship tool out there.
“We’re in their lives, we’re around them,” said Brown. “It’s important to just be around people who need to hear the Gospel, to get around our neighbors, get around people. Be their friend and that will usher in the opportunities to get them involved through My Hope and share the Gospel.”
And it goes beyond simply being in a relationship with someone, to being intentional about reaching them with the Gospel. “I’ve always been convinced that — just as my mother shared the Gospel with me and took me to a Billy Graham event — it’s one person at a time,” said Bzoskie. “It’s one heart at a time. In the ministries that we do, it’s that personal caring touch.”
Added Linn, “It’s all about relationships. Jesus had His 12, He had His three, and you could even say that with John, His ‘beloved disciple,’ there was a special relationship there. So relationships are special. Jesus modeled it, and we need to model it.
“And the large group corporate thing is wonderful — Sunday morning events, dynamic preaching, slick worship teams — and a lot of churches build around that and people go to church for those reasons,” Linn continued. “But discipleship and ongoing nurturing of the body of Christ has to happen in some sort of a small group community because it’s only there that we can really hear the heartbeat of one another. That’s how we do this. It’s not a solo deal. People need one another.”
The Importance of Follow Up
Christians in Minneapolis/St. Paul are joining other believers around the country in praying that the culmination of My Hope America with Billy Graham in November 2013 is just the beginning of a spiritual reawakening in the country, and that there are many new followers of Jesus to mentor in their newfound faith.
Following up with those who make a decision has been a cornerstone of BGEA outreaches for decades, and one of the most effective aspects of relationship evangelism opportunities like My Hope is the built-in network of support and encouragement that exists when one is already a friend of someone who makes a decision for Christ.
“It’s monumental. It’s huge,” said Linn about following up with new believers. “Discipleship means that you walk alongside people. You encourage them, you support them, you equip them, you live life with them. You eat, you cry, you laugh with them.
“As much as the focus is November 2013 — the big event — I know that Billy Graham and the organization, their prayer and hope is that this is just a tool to capture the importance that we’re reaching out to our co-workers and our neighbors and our friends and our family, and so it has to continue on.”
Brown added, “God uses men and women, and when we’re in their lives and we’re befriending them and spending time with them, we’re going to be able to walk with them. Not Billy Graham, not Franklin Graham, but each of us around America today who are involved with this.”
Please Pray for America
Just as those escaping the snow in the meeting room at Northwestern College were praying for the lost around them, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is asking Christians across the country to lift up this project in their prayers.
“The Gospel is not our work, our rules, our religious structure, but it’s that God is anxiously desirous of every person on earth. He wants to reconcile people to Himself. He’s given everything — and His Son — to reconcile people to Himself,” said Brown.
“That’s the hope in the Gospel that people around the world need to hear today, and it’s that simple proclamation — that simple hearing of this grace and this love that God has offered in His Son, Jesus Christ — that transforms the human heart; that transforms communities; that transforms nations; that honestly, through history, has retransformed nations, and God can do it again in America.”