Stories of conversion are literally evidence of God at work. But how exactly does God work? What can we learn about him from these stories of conversion? What can we learn about how to bring his Good News to others? In what at first appear to be very different stories, five common threads can be clearly seen.
1. The kindling of faith often begins with a question. What is the purpose of life? Why is there human hatred and racism? What is this overpowering feeling inside of me? While the questions themselves differed, they were questions that reflected each writer’s experience of grappling with life. God begins his work precisely where people are, often by stirring them to question.
2. The centrality of Word and Sacrament. The written Word, whether contained in the curriculum of a course, shared one-to-one at a ‘Jesus party’, or woven into the liturgy of worship, spoke its words of truth to each of these seekers. For some, the sacraments offered them the way, mystical yet physical, to connect their story to The Story of the unrelenting love of God in Christ
3. The crucial role of the community of faith. To these people, the Church offered invitation, teaching, worship and mentoring. The Church enabled them to grapple with their hopes, doubts and questions. For some this meant active engagement in discussion and teaching. For others the Church’s role was passive–simply being a gathering of the faithful to which seekers could come, to observe and feel accepted, allowing them to participate at their own pace.
4. The wonder and joy of a personal appropriation of God’s love and his call to follow Jesus. The story writers use the language of amazement, awesomeness, and new beginnings to describe these moments. While God is forever calling human hearts, these stories point to the freedom and responsibility we are given to respond to that call.
5. Some form of existential experience, often expressed as an inner peace and joy, a freedom from fear, a call to service, a ‘coming home’, or a profound sense of God’s love and goodness. On the long walk of the obedient Christian life, often fraught with struggle, it is these somewhat mystical gifts that can encourage us with a deep sense of God’s abiding presence with us.
And what of the differences between these conversion stories? We learn from them that God has many tools in his toolbox. For some people God may use intellectual engagement, for others a deep emotive craving or life changing dream, and for others something as simple as a friend to share dinner with.
We also learn from these stories that God has a passion for people of all backgrounds and worldviews: whether coming from a long line of church goers, some other faith tradition, or even a purely pagan pedigree. This we know for sure: God is a God of mystery and of surprise. His kingdom is marvelously diverse and is built one human heart at a time. And all of us are the evidence that he was, and is, and always will be, at work in this broken world.
The question is: how can we become congregations that pray for, welcome, and nurture this amazing work of God?