This past Saturday The Branch Church had their annual Vancouver Family Fun Fest. Everything went extremely well. The place was packed most of the day. For the most part, everything went as expected. However, something happened which I did not expect.
Early in the day, my job was to pass out entry sheets to people. When they turned the sheets into the “Branch Booth” they would then be entered into our grand prize drawing. As I was passing out these sheets, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman (Jeff, clearly a name change) as he walked by. We then proceeded to talk for twenty minutes. Jeff was very excited for his family to come to the event. Jeff, his wife, and five kids had come every year and loved it. Jeff had moved up from Los Angeles because the Vancouver/Camas area had it all together and there was a significant lack of crime and violence. Jeff commented about how he was taken aback by the friendliness of people in Vancouver; how people genuinely cared for one another. I was able to share that I was new to the area and came to be a part of the Branch (certainly testing the waters for an invitation to church). Jeff noticed my shirt. The conversation took an explicit religious turn. Jeff asked what denomination the church was. I responded with, “We are not affiliated with any denomination. We are just trying to love and follow Jesus and serve the community.”
Jeff seemed positive. Jeff then suggested that I do some research as I sought God. He asked, “How many abandoned church buildings do you see everywhere?” He then encouraged that I should do some research into some of the things he was about to share with me. Jeff revealed that he and his family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. His brothers were elders in their religion. He himself had not been to a Kingdom Hall in awhile because he had picked up smoking and needed to quit before he went back. Jeff then began telling me a story of how he had asked his neighbor to research on how many scandals the Jehovah’s Witness leaders had been convicted of compared to church pastors. Of course, he noted how one could not find any. Further, he challenged me to compare the dropout rate of pastors in ministry against their leaders.
[PAUSE] It was about at this point in the conversation I realized what was happening–I was being witnessed to by a Jehovah’s Witness.
Jeff returned to his earlier question by suggesting I look up how many abandoned Kingdom Halls there were in comparison to abandoned churches. Jeff was taking seriously the lack of negative evidence against his faith as a sign of certainty in his faith’s correctness. As he repeatedly put it, “We all have to find God in our own way since we are all certain our religion is the right one.”
Jeff also noted how if I went to a meeting, I would see how nice everyone was dressed and how they all had money. Jeff was radiant with how put together his religion was. They would meet after service with a meal and then were given field assignments by the elders. They were bound by a true sense of mission. Jeff recounted how many people he had challenged with these very same statistics. None of these same people had ever known the benefits of being part of a Kingdom Hall.
Jeff concluded with some final apologetics by encouraging me to do my research, visit a Kingdom Hall (no one would have to know he added), take a Watch Tower, and realize that anything they had was mine as well. Also, I needed to check out the Watchtower production, which was in the center of the ghetto in NYC, but unphased by the gangs because they were doing the Lord’s work.
During this whole conversation, I could hardly get one word in, so I just listened. Jeff was artful and well spoken. I mean, I was being witnessed to by a Jehovah’s Witness! The experience would never be forgotten. I was hearing from someone the value they found in their religion.
I did manage to sneak a version of my new favorite Jared C. Wilson question into the conversation and an invitation to the Branch before George was able to get away and rejoin his family.
“What would you say the message of Christianity is? How does this message compare to the primary message of your faith?”
Jeff’s response: “Just do your research. You will see our lack of empty buildings and scandals prove we are doing the Lord’s work.”
To which I responded, “True Christianity teaches we do not have to have it all together. We can be forgiven through faith in Jesus and not by our own works or morality. I hope you consider doing some research on a faith of grace and not just the scandals.”
Jeff came back with, ” See, there you go trying to convert me and all. I should not have opened that theological door. Neither of us will change our beliefs.”
In essence, Jeff had no clue of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. His message of Jehovah’s Witness–We have our lives together. We will help you get your life together.
Here are a few takeaways from my conversation with Jeff:
- A perfect image on the outside does nothing to satisfy the soul on the inside.
- Knowing the difference between Christianity and other religions is important.
- Both loving the community and personal witnessing of Christ outside the Sunday gathering time are needed.
- I did not have a good response to address the scandals challenge.
- There is value in the evangelism strategy of giving specific details for someone to look up.
Here’s a question for you: How would you respond to Jeff’s points and challenges?