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Finding the Way, Part 4:

Friendship Evangelism

by Dan Stolebarger, Director of Koinonia Institute


When I left First Baptist to plant a new church, EastLake Community Church, I made some changes in my approach to ministry. First of all, I decided to go bi-vocational and that whole concept still feels right when it comes to “pasturing.” I think it is good for our flocks to know their pastor realizes what it’s like to work among everyday people in the world and that they do not just reside and work in a sanitized office. For me, at least, that seemed to give me some added credibility, especially among our newer members.

The second thing I experienced was the need once again to be “evangelistic.” I had grown comfortable just feeding the sheep week to week and was startled when I realized how long it had been since I had led someone to the Lord! EastLake needed to be intentional in its approach to evangelism, which led me to embrace the concept of “friendship evangelism.”

During the time I was at EastLake, I worked at a sporting goods store and specialized in Team Sales. This gave me the opportunity to hobnob with coaches and folks who were passionate about sports. Our church became involved in everything: we had teams in indoor volleyball, beach volleyball, wallyball, softball and basketball.

Our goal was to invite our neighbors and people we worked with to join us, and as the pastor, I played basketball every Saturday morning at the Community Center, and I know that my being there every week is what brought new people to our church! In fact, Bill Dobyns, who is now one of my closest friends, committed himself to Christ because we played all kinds of sports together. There were many more and, as I look back at EastLake, I must admit I liked the focus of our little church.

Problems did exist, however. The problem was twofold: first, we were in a master-planned community and there really was no place we could afford to grow into; and secondly, there was something not quite right with most of those who had been with me at First Baptist. They seemed like spiritual zombies that looked okay on the outside, but were nothing more than the “walking dead.”

EastLake grew to about 100 members, but I kept feeling like I was still building on someone else’s foundation. I came to the realization that our church needed to die in order for us to experience resurrection. I decided to begin the process of “replanting” my flock so I could have the peace of mind to see what the Lord had next for Sharon and me.

This process took some time and I had a lot of doubt and confusion. Once EastLake Community Church closed its door, I entered “limbo land.” These people were so much a part of my life that I was deeply confused as to what was next. In looking back, I know that it was God’s hand that pulled the plug which was just artificially keeping this church alive. We all needed a new start!

One major blessing during this time was that my mom and dad made a commitment to follow Jesus. The new church was a good setting for them to visit and then weeks and months passed and they were hooked. The big question for me was, “Where would they be planted?”

Fortunately God, who loves them more that I can ever imagine, had just the place for them. They began attending a small Calvary church, which allowed my dad to become an usher. I remember him telling me while he was in the hospital, right before he passed away, that his greatest joy in life was when he got to usher at Easter.

This is from a man who was quite well known in the community because of his work ethic and the sporting achievements of his sons! In fact the baseball field at the local high school is named Froede Field in remembrance of my brother Kent. It amazed me that he divulged to me that this was nothing compared to helping folks find a seat for his church’s Easter service!

Before leaving this era of my life, here are some distilled insights I have learned in my attempt to find The Way.

1. Be not conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2): As Christians we must look at the Text and not cut and paste in regards to what we want to accept and what we want to reject. I have heard it said, “Jesus says what He means and means what He says.” Too often we want to personally interpret what Jesus said instead of taking it at face value. My experience in our Christian commune opened my eyes to what life looks like in Christ’s upside-down Kingdom. I must always be on guard to the “ways” of the world and make no room for compromise. Easy to say but almost impossible to do, which is why life for today’s believer often feels quite shallow.

Despite his fall, Ken Pagaard (the pastor of the church during our community days) was an inspiration to me. In him I saw a man willing to disregard the kingdom of this world for the one to come. I also will never forget his believing in me when no one else did. I look forward to getting reacquainted with Ken in the Kingdom which is to come!

2. I will not forget my community days where I experienced fellowship and unconditional love. Besides, it was in community where I met my bride!

3. Also I am blessed to know that the day will come when I will be reunited with my step-dad and my step-brother. God is faithful! Households can be saved by praying Christians!

4. Finally, during this time in my life God won my heart! I will follow Him even though no one joins me! And the work at the cross demands my complete allegiance!

5. I am blessed whenever I have the time to be with Bill Dobyns, because seeing him reminds me of friendship evangelism! Remember the angels dance when one comes to repentance!

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Next Month, Part 5: “Call Me Coach!”


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