“What is too good about Jesus not to share?” That was among the first questions that my professor asked our evangelism class in seminary. Some students were quick to answer. Others had trouble articulating an answer. The professor, Mark Teasdale, went on to point out, “Only when we offer the good news of Jesus Christ as that which has touched and transformed our lives does it become meaningful and interesting to others” (See page 3 of his book).
It makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s a lot like recommending a restaurant. Say you’re not the type of person that people would consider “easily excitable.” If you are constantly bringing up a restaurant in conversation, and when you talk about it, you light up and rave about it, I’m going to be very curious what it is about this restaurant that’s so great to you and maybe want to check it out for myself. On the other hand, you might think that the restaurant is great, but you’ve been going there for so long that you just take it for granted. You don’t really think about sharing it with other people. Yes, you go there every week and you enjoy the food immensely, but it’s just not on your mind that much because it’s been part of your life for so long. In this case, it’s not the food that’s the problem, it’s your familiarity with it. It’s the fact that you haven’t really stopped to think and appreciate what it is about the restaurant that’s so good about sharing.
How do we actually share the faith that (at least we think) we know so well? How do we get a fresh look at it in order to recognize how great it is and want to commend it to others? This is part of the reason that I am so excited that we’re starting to run Alpha courses at Lansdowne UMC: Alpha has helped me and many people I know to gain a fresh desire to share our faith. Moreover, it’s actually given us the means to do it effectively, even though we’re far from “natural evangelists.” All it takes is an invite.
On the surface, Alpha is like a lot of studies that we run as a church. There is a meal, a talk/video presentation, and a discussion. But don’t be deceived. Alpha is different. How? Well, come and see! Still, I’ll try to explain..
First and foremost, Alpha is meant for people who don’t believe, which makes it downright refreshing to those of us who do. It assumes nothing. It takes nothing for granted. It doesn’t get offended if you pick it apart. There’s no high pressure moments of decision. All participation is clearly optional, and non-participation is completely fine. Alpha doesn’t argue people into belief, it just presents Christian responses to life’s biggest questions, explains the faith clearly, and shares stories about how God transforms lives.
Secondly, Alpha is about making new friends, whether or not faith comes about as a result of the course. As we eat with one another and make friends with people who aren’t like us, we legitimately learn from one another and have the opportunity to see things in a new way. Because of this, Alpha thrives when non-Christians are in the room. It’s a safe space to express doubts, hangups, and questions. From a Christian point of view, Alpha is amazingly helpful in thinking through why you believe what you believe. And maybe, just maybe, you come to realize anew that you haven’t experienced all that there is to our infinite God.
Thirdly, Alpha has a profound dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit, which is what we Methodists usually just call the grace of God. Alpha recognizes that we don’t change hearts– only God can do that. Accordingly, prayer is an essential part of what happens in the background. Come to Alpha and someone will be praying for you without you even knowing it. You’re that important to us.
I talk about Alpha with pretty much everyone I encounter these days (can I get a witness?). Why is that? It’s simply the best presentation (or “re-presentation”) of the Christian faith that I’ve ever seen from anyone anywhere. Period. If you find a better one, I’d love to use it. After all, Alpha is just a tool (albeit a really good tool). God is the goal.
God used Alpha to grow my faith after I’d already become a pastor. I want everyone I know to experience Alpha. I want everyone at Lansdowne UMC to experience it– along with everyone they know. I want my pastor colleagues to experience it. I want my seminary to run Alpha. I want every church in the Baltimore area to run Alpha. I want all of my family and friends to experience Alpha. Not for Alpha’s sake, of course, but because Alpha is a way to encounter God! (Oh, and did I mention that it’s free to attend, and free to run, apart from the food).
Alpha is run by churches of (nearly?) every denomination. From Catholic, to Orthodox, to Protestant, to Pentecostal. The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas, the largest United Methodist Church in America, runs Alpha continuously. Alpha is run in prisons and in workplaces, in homes and in churches, with youth, young adults, the mid-aged, and with the elderly. Alpha is run all over the world and has been translated into 112 languages! Christianity certainly has contextual expressions, but it also has a core. Alpha has a way of articulating the core faith in a way that seems to appeal to Christians everywhere (and non-believers everywhere!).
Is my enthusiasm coming through?
I could go on, but at this point, don’t you simply want to experience it for yourself? It’s for you, no matter where you are in your journey of life and faith. We’re starting this coming Wednesday, October 4 at 6pm. If you can’t make the first session, just come the following week. If you like, use this form to let us know you’re coming so we’ll be sure to have enough food. The hardest part about Alpha is simply having the courage to walk in the door the first time. I hope you’ll decide to do just that.