When preaching on Acts 8:26-40, many pastors focus on the conversion of the eunuch. But Linnea Nilsen Capshaw’s father, a Lutheran pastor, preached a sermon about Philip, who put aside his prejudices about the eunuch’s social status to share the good news of Jesus.
“Philip has to look at himself and decide what is his truth,” Capshaw said. “He was converted so that the eunuch could also be converted.”
Capshaw spoke July 31 at the National Evangelism and Church Growth Conferences (ECG 2012), which includes conferences on church transformation, evangelism, youth ministry, collegiate ministry and new church development.
The purpose of evangelism is conversion, said Capshaw, who coaches faith communities to discern and live out their mission.
“We need to talk about our own conversions before talking about others’,” she said.
But mainline Christians don’t often think of themselves as being converted, Capshaw said. What do we hope to convert others to? New beliefs? A new way of life?
Evangelism can happen through the way we live our lives, she said. Do we live Christ-like lives that are authentic and reflect God? This way of living doesn’t happen overnight — it’s an ongoing journey that cycles over and over again.
Drawing from Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich’s book “The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith,” Capshaw outlined six faith-life stages:
- Recognition of God
- Life of discipleship
- Productive life
- Journey inward
- Journey outward
- Life of love
Many churches focus on stages 1-3 by experiencing and worshiping God, studying the Bible and learning how to be a disciple and equipping members for service.
The fourth step often comes at a time of crisis, when people can experience an apparent loss of faith. In this stage, people need one or two people to serve as a guide, providing direction but no answers. This stage offers opportunities to reflect.
Many people experience a wall between stages four and five, Capshaw said. This is when people must make the choice to either follow their own will or God’s. This is a time to face fears about God, and churches need to be open to people through this stage.
In stage five, people feel a deeper call and sense of purpose. They participate in service, but act out of a true call, not to satisfy their own ego.
“This is a deep, deep call,” Capshaw said.
Stage six brings wisdom and compassion and a detachment from the things and stress of life. But reaching stage six does not mean one’s faith journey is complete, Capshaw said. It’s a never-ending trek.