Let me tell you some of my background to give some insight into why I have a passion for evangelism. I was not born into a family of believers. We were Catholic by name, but we didn’t know Christ; we attended Mass purely out of duty. Ours was a moral home, but we didn’t have Christ as the center. That changed after my older sister, Nita, was invited to a small group in which she experienced the love of Christ through the group members.
She then brought that love of Christ home to our family. One by one, she began working on each of us. My parents became Christ followers at the age of fifty-four. I remember my mom asking, “Where were all of the believers while we walked around in the dark?” Evangelism became her passion. Soon evangelism became a natural part of not only her life but my father’s as well. I remember one time a repairman came to our house to work on something, and before my mom gave him the check, she shared the gospel. That’s not quite my style, but I am certain God used her. My dad was a bit more subtle, sending Christian tracts along with his checks in monthly bills and leaving his Bible on his desk at work.
Now, one thing everyone appreciated about my parents was that they knew how to throw a party, and I loved those parties. Before they were followers of Christ, their parties centered on alcohol, and I learned how to make and serve drinks. After they became followers of Christ, the parties were about community. I still served people drinks, but after these drinks people could still drive safely. My parents threw two huge parties a year, inviting Christians and non-Christians so the people not following Christ could see believers having fun. It was a true Matthew Party (Matt. 9:10, “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples”).
So when did I join the family of believers? I will never forget the day Nita asked me if I wanted to become a follower of Christ. It blew me away. We were upstairs in the den watching a show on the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. I wanted her to draw the fish or PTL symbol on my arm like she had drawn on her own. She asked me if I knew what it meant. Of course I didn’t; I just wanted it on my arm. It looked cool. What a perfect lead-in for my sister to start sharing. I was in junior high when that question led to a conversation that started my journey with Christ. In our den, my sister and I both fell to our knees, and she prayed and led me to the Lord.
I wouldn’t be in my current ministry without the three girls in Nita’s small group. What if those girls had not invited my sister to a small group? What if they hadn’t stepped out of their comfort zone and shown her the love of Christ? Where would I be right now? I certainly wouldn’t have written this book, and you wouldn’t be reading it.
I also have three brothers. They had moved out of the house by the time of Nita’s conversion. As I write this, two of them know the Lord through the constant prayers, conversations, and modeling of parents who wanted to make sure their sons will be in heaven. And my third brother says he is closer than I know. My parents couldn’t rewind the tape and raise us in a Christian home, but they did their best to share the gospel with their sons. Nita is currently on staff at a church in Wisconsin, helping in their recovery and small group ministries. I will forever be indebted to her and that small group for showing me the love of Christ.
Steve Gladen, Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 112–113.