Offer them Christ –

By Rob Renfroe –

I had a strange reaction as I read a United Methodist News article about a youth conference held this summer. The theme of “Youth 2023” was BOLD – Being Ourselves, Living Different. It was sponsored by Discipleship Ministries and brought over 2,500 students together in Daytona Beach.

The article’s title “Students Reflect on ‘Life-Changing’ Youth 2023” took me back to my teen-age years when my life was changed. The year was 1972 and I was sixteen years old.

We received our first youth director during the same period as the recent movie “Jesus Revolution.” The revival that had begun in Southern California had reached a United Methodist Church in Dallas, Tyler Street UM Church. They had recruited college students who were willing to go to other UM churches and share the Gospel with youth. Eddie Wills was one of those sent out from Tyler Street and we were thrilled when he was introduced to us one summer Sunday evening at MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) as our first youth director.

I was a church kid. I read the Bible and prayed every night. I was a good kid who didn’t smoke, drink or curse, and I was too afraid of girls to get into trouble that way. And I was a kid who was asking questions, like “how can I be sure I’ll go to heaven when I die?” Knowing that some people were going to make it, I thought I needed to do my best to be in the top 10-20 percent of the world’s “good people.” I felt fairly certain that by being a good kid and going to church I’d probably make the cut. So I set out to be as nice and polite and as good and as religious as I could be. That was my plan for going to heaven. That was my life.

Then I met Eddie Wills. In short order I could see that Eddie and I were different. Eddie knew God. I knew something about God. I had a religion about God, Eddie had a relationship with God. Eddie had a confidence that came from trusting in Jesus. I had a constant concern that maybe I wasn’t doing enough to get to heaven.

By God’s grace my eyes were opened to see that what Eddie had was real and beautiful. I wanted that for myself. When I spoke with him about it, Eddie told me how to accept Jesus as my Savior and begin a personal relationship with him. That summer my life was changed. I treasure the friends I made that summer. I can still sing some of the “cool” Christians songs we sang. But they didn’t change my life. Jesus did.

So, I read the article about the Daytona youth conference with a good bit of nostalgia and excitement. Nostalgia because I remembered how my life was changed as a teenager when I came to Christ. Excitement because Jesus is still at work and he still loves teens.

Eight youth from several states were quoted in the article. They talked about how meaningful BOLD had been, elaborating on all the things youth rightly value – meeting different kinds of people, new ways of seeing themselves and others, incredible music, the beauty of the beach, and making friends they never would have met without going to the conference. I’m glad the conference provided those experiences for the youth there.

As I continued to read, though, I became concerned. Something seemed to be missing. I read the article again. Then again. Finally, I did a word search of the article. And what was missing wasn’t something. It was Someone. Nowhere in the article was Jesus mentioned. At that point, my concern turned into real, genuine sadness. Had a great opportunity to introduce 2500 youth to a personal relationship with Jesus been missed?

Maybe I should not read too much into that. Maybe the news story didn’t relate the full extent of what students experienced at BOLD. Maybe Christ was clearly and compelling presented, and those attending really got it – that Jesus is the life-changer.

Here’s why I’m possibly more concerned than I should be. Before retiring I was a pastor at The Woodlands United Methodist Church for over 20 years. Over those two decades I received the same report from dozens of our members. Some had moved away and had been looking for a new church home. Others had been on vacation and had attended worship on a Sunday morning. And the reports, usually about attending church in one of the western states, or the northeast, and sometimes the mid-west went like this, almost verbatim: “Rob, we went to a United Methodist Church and it wasn’t anything like ours. They didn’t even mention Jesus.” I’d follow up with, “Well, what did they talk about?” Again, the answers were strikingly similar. “They talked about politics.” “They talked about social issues.” “They talked about how bad corporate America is.” More than one told me, “It felt more like a political rally than a service of worship.”

Offer them Christ. In 1784 an elderly John Wesley sent Thomas Coke to America to ordain Francis Asbury and organize the first Methodist Church. Wesley, standing on a pier on the River Avon, gave a final, simple charge to Coke and his party as they set off for the New World: “Offer them Christ.”

The Methodist Church has always believed, and its founder certainly did, that we are called to make the world a better place for others – materially and spiritually. We are to work to make society fair and just. We must oppose all forms of oppression and prejudice. We are called to spread scriptural holiness across the land. But above all we are to “offer them Christ” because it is Jesus who changes lives, brings hope and gives us the power to fight injustice. Without Jesus, we are just another social agency, just one more special interest group, just one more political party.

One of my mentors, Dr. William Hinson, was appointed to First United Methodist Church in Houston in the early 1980’s. The church was in rough shape – finances were difficult, the building was in disrepair, and membership had declined. All this was made worse by an oil bust that had rocked the city. Downtown, where First Church was located, was becoming a ghost town. It was no longer thought to be safe.

Bill was a man of immense strength and faith. He went to work, preaching the Gospel, casting vision, and raising money. After a few years both downtown and the church began to turn around. One Sunday after church, a young couple waited to speak to Bill privately. They were bright, gifted, both were leaders, and they were financially committed to the church.

After everyone had left, the couple told Bill, “Dr. Hinson we love you. Because we respect you so much, we didn’t want to just stop coming without telling you that we are going to start attending another church.” Bill responded, “May I ask why?” They answered, “It’s not that we don’t like your sermons. It’s just that with you it’s always the same thing. It’s always, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.’”

They were right. Bill preached the whole Gospel of God, including justice and social holiness. But no matter what he spoke about, it always came back to “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

Jesus our teacher. Jesus our example. Jesus our healer. Jesus the Son of God. Jesus the light of the world. Jesus the way, the truth and the life. Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus the Word who was with God and who was God. Jesus the King of kings and the Lord of all. Jesus the One who changes our lives.

With Bill, it always came back to Jesus, to offering them Christ. And struggling First Church came back under his preaching and his leadership both downtown and at a second campus on the west side of Houston which the church built while he was there. What that young couple meant as a polite criticism, Bill took as a supreme compliment. “With you, it’s always, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.’”

I know I shouldn’t read too much into that article about this summer’s youth conference. I have to believe that Christ was presented and lives were changed by the presence and the power of Jesus. I just want to remind myself, the GMC, and the UMC to “offer them Christ.” No one else is who he is. Nothing else can do what he can do. No other power can save a soul or fully transform a life. So, offer them Christ. First, foremost, forever: offer them Christ.

Rob Renfroe is the president of Good News. This was his editorial in the November/December 2023 issue. 


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