In explaining the seminar topic, Gunter said, "We live in a world in which competing religious world views are in every newspaper and magazine, as well as in every radio and television news broadcast. We also live in a world of political correctness in which historic claims for truth are increasingly difficult to make without being made to sound like we as Christians are advocating a fresh version of The Crusades. At the practical level this has led evangelism and mission agencies to mute the claims of The Gospel, and it has led many local congregations to turn evangelism into little more than recruitment of church members with little call for radical change and commitment in life and lifestyle -- our Great OMISSION."
A sought-after speaker, Gunter focused on taught evangelism for many years. When asked how he got involved in the topic, he said evangelism has always a part of the Wesleyan movement which is rooted in the teachings of John Wesley. The historic Wesleyan bodies in North America include the United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Zion, Christian Methodist and the Free Methodist churches and the Church of the Nazarene. As a Wesley Scholar at Southern Nazarene University, he was contacted regarding a chair in evangelism at Emory's Candler School of Theology. After giving the opportunity prayerful consideration, he accepted the Arthur J. Moore Associate Professorship in Evangelism 1994, and served in the role for 10 years.
He feels that Wesleyan churches, and to some extent all mainline denominations, have omitted a distinctive emphasis on evangelism. For that reason, he sees the seminar's content being applicable to all denominations and to clergy and laity. In visiting and worshiping in churches in recent years, he hasn't seen much vibrancy around the issue, and he is interested in changing that viewpoint.
"I don't think evangelism should be seen as an individual practice," Gunter said. "Instead, it should be a congregational, even ecclesiastical practice. Stereotypically, I think many people see evangelism as something one person does to another. They say, 'Let's go out and do some evangelism.' I think it is imperative that we see evangelism differently."
Gunter says this conference "will address the foundational reasons why we find ourselves in this cultural situation and indicate some positive steps you and your church can take at the local and denominational level to move beyond this impasse." He won't be presenting a "formulaic band-aid that can be applied, like to scratch, and make everything fine." Instead, he is confident participants will leave with a new perspective on enabling and evangelizing congregations.
Gunter will invite participants to get involved. "I'm not envisioning standing up and lecturing for two two-hour blocks," Gunter said. "Instead, I want to give people the chance to push back a little. If they don't feel like I'm quite on target, they can feel free to say, 'Can we talk about that for a second?' I really do want this to be a dialogue and have a sense of give and take."
Dr. Gunter is a graduate of Southern Nazarene University, Nazarene Theological Seminary and the University of Leiden. In addition to his role at Candler, he is also a director for the E. Stanley Jones Professorship program for The Foundation for Evangelism in Lake Junaluska, N.C. His most recent publication is "Considering the Great Commission. Exploring Evangelism in The Wesleyan Spirit," written with Elaine Robinson (2005). He has several other works in progress, including "Overcoming the Silence. An Evangelism Primer for Wesleyan Congregations."
For more information, please contact Reinhardt Coordinator of Ministerial Relations Jim Jernigan 404-233-0999 or 770-720-5546.
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