Sorry this is so long, but I have to set this up just right.
On New Year’s Eve, some friends and I were invited to participate in a special event happening on the Rose Parade route. A particular Christian denomination, which will remain nameless, had set up on an entire corner of Colorado Blvd. Their goal: to lead as many people as possible to make decisions to believe in Jesus Christ. The method: very friendly people would offer each interested individual a customized horseshoe with “John 3:16” and his/her name impressed on it, and while they waited for the horseshoe to be completed, to lead each party to sit with an assigned counselor who would assess their spiritual state and lead them through a prayer, if permitted. Besides the horseshoes, there were also popcorn, candy, face-painting, and games to draw people to the area.
The horseshoe part of the event was put on by a group from Kansas, who apparently does this for events in Kansas–rodeos, fairs, etc., and everywhere they go the horseshoes are a monumental hit. Maybe because there are so many horses in the Rose Parade, or maybe because people just love the chance to get something with their name on it for free, but crowds were expected to flock to this site, just to get their own horseshoe.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that there was a team of teenage kids being sent out in teams to do Bible-based mime routines for the people camped out along the parade route.
No opinions yet. Just the facts.
There are a lot of different directions this post could go from here, and I will let any comments, and my own follow-up thoughts dictate the content of any further posts on this subject. And while I usually tend to start with a praise or affirmation when debriefing an event, I don’t believe that would be completely honest of me.
Let me first say, for those who don’t know me, that I proudly and confidently identify myself as a Christian. I know what that means to me, but I also know that it takes on very different meanings for different people. From the rest of what I have to say, you will most likely get an idea of what I mean when I say I am a Christian.
I came away from this New Year’s Eve event largely bothered, not at what was being done as a whole, but the approach of the “counselors” in the counseling circles. As I mentioned, while people waited for their horseshoe to be completed, they were taken to to an area off to the side, to be led into making a commitment to Jesus Christ. In fact, moments after we arrived on the site, it was announced to the group standing there that there had been 37 decisions for Christ that day. I soon found out what exactly that meant.
The first group I sat with was a group of about eight young men, in their teens and twenties. I decided just to look on, not wanting to disrupt the system that these trained counselors had in place. I soon realized that this system was, after very brief and unenthusiastic introductions, comprised of the counselor going over the contents of John 3:16, explaining why they needed to believe in Jesus, and then immediately having all willing individuals repeat a prayer after the counselor.
And it’s not as if the counselor’s theological explanations were comprehensible to the kids sitting in the group. I’ve seen enough glazed over expressions on teens’ faces to know when they’re not listening any more.
As soon as I could see where this was going, and after I noticed that my good friend was also sitting in the group, I felt prompted to get up and go with with another group of young men being led by a counselor. What was happening in this new group was almost identical to what was happening in the first group. I glanced over and noticed that my friend had jumped into the conversation in his group, so I decided to do the same.
After the counselor was done with what he had to say, I turned to the young man sitting closest to me. We’ll call him Byron, he is in his early twenties, he is working his way off the streets, is in transitional housing, and is trying to stay out of trouble. Byron grew up in church, and occasionally attends a church out in Compton, where he grew up. Byron considers himself a Christian, and he knows he’s been making bad choices and wants to get back to following Jesus Christ. I reminded him that when we’re tempted, Jesus always offers us his hand to help us out of that temptation; we have to reach out and take it (Heb. 4:15, I Cor. 10:13). Just before we finished our conversation, I prayed for Byron personally. He thanked me profusely, and said he felt really encouraged.
I’m not patting myself on the back, as if I was the hero who stepped in and saved the day from some big bad fundy, talking over everyone’s head. I did what I believe the Holy Spirit was nudging me to do. I did what I believe constitutes discipleship to faith in Jesus Christ, and not merely quick conversion. I did what I believe Jesus did and would have done in that situation.
Almost as soon as I was done praying, he was asked to move on so they could fill the chairs with more people waiting for their horseshoes.