Putting Evangelism on Cruise Control

August 01, 2005 | Karl Haffner

My brothers didn’t think I could survive an hour of aerobics. I knew they couldn’t. So a friendly wager was on. We were on a cruise ship with some midnight buffets in the belly to burn off, so I ventured onto the gym floor and tried to mimic the moves of the instructor. Since I have the rhythm of an irregular heartbeat, I found it very challenging. But because my brothers were behind me, I kept kicking.

When I saw my brothers next, they looked like they had just come from a banquet. “Didn’t you think the aerobics were hard?” I asked.

“Actually,” my brother confessed, “we started behind you, but we figured that if we looked half as dumb as you did, we wanted nothing to do with it. So we dropped out.”

Here the only reason I stayed with it was because I assumed my brothers were behind me. Come to find out I was exercising alone.

I wonder if that is not a parable of our church. We work hard and sweat through a tornado of the religious motions. We’re frantically busy with our schools and camp meetings and prayer meetings—but are we just talking to ourselves?

Shortly before moving to Walla Walla, I was enrolled at Pacific Lutheran University taking business classes. One evening a classmate cornered me and said, “I hear you’re moving to Walla Walla.”

“Yes!” I replied. “You’ve heard of it?”

“I used to live there—actually in a suburb of Walla Walla.”

“Really? I didn’t know Walla Walla was big enough to have its own suburb.”

“We lived in College Place in a cul-de-sac with all Adventists.”

“Adventists?” I asked, fearful of what I might hear next.

“Yeah, I think it’s a religion or something. The only thing I know about them is that they don’t do garage sales on Saturday. Isn’t that weird?”

I smiled and nodded.

Then she asked, “So why are you moving there?”

“A job transfer,” I said, hoping to cut the conversation.

“What kind of job do you do?”

“Well,” I said sheepishly, “I’m an Adventist pastor.”

“Really? You’re a pastor? You seem so … normal!”

That conversation still taunts me. How is it that a woman could live for years in a neighborhood comprised exclusively of Seventh-day Adventists and the only thing she knows about us is that we don’t do garage sales on Saturday? It makes me wonder: are we just talking to ourselves?

One of the ways we can stop talking to ourselves and start sharing Jesus with our neighbors is through recreational evangelism. By being intentional about including people who are far from God in our recreational pursuits, we can establish a forum in which spiritual conversations flow easily and evangelism happens naturally. There’s no pressure to prove the 2300-day prophecy or know all the proof texts to argue about the seventh-day Sabbath. Sharing faith becomes as natural as taking a walk or putting a golf ball.

I have found recreational evangelism to be a very effective way to share my faith. That’s why I play in a city softball league. And I’ve participated in the “Lousy Bowlers League.” Although I still haven’t joined the neighborhood aerobics class.