Editors’ note: The following is an excerpt from Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop’s outstanding book The Compelling Community: Where God's Power Makes a Church Attractive (Crossway, 2015) [20 quotes | review].
My friend Walter was an addict. Here’s how The Washington Post told his story:
He used crystal methamphetamine, and then he discovered crack cocaine. He was homeless for a time, and then he was a thief. He lived in doubt and fear, in paranoia and darkness, until one morning in 2010, when he went for a run.
Barrera believes it was that experience, when he needed a break after only one block, that he replaced drugs with running. Three years later, its hold is as strong as any narcotic. Instead of waking each morning in search of the next high, he tried going a little farther than the previous day, a few more seconds without stopping. After a few weeks, he ran a 5K, and the feeling afterward was familiar.
“Everything just feels perfect, feels right,” he says.
Soon he was running marathons, but eventually that wasn’t enough. Barrera ran a 50-mile race last June, and three months from now—if the rain holds off often enough, if his legs stop sending pain through his body, and his old life spares his new one of surprises, such as last year’s jail term—he will run a 100-mile race in the mountains of Colorado.
Reading the Post article, you would think that running saved Walter. And in one sense, it did save him—from homelessness, joblessness, and crack. But talk with Walter and he’s quick to tell you that running merely changed the decor of his prison cell. True freedom came not from a run, but from a walk—through a train station.
Several months after Walter’s first run, another friend of mine, Brady, walked through the train station looking for people to talk with about Jesus. He noticed Walter and passed him by. But his conscience was pricked, so he retraced his steps and asked if Walter wanted to talk. As Walter reflected later on, he’d noticed the Bible Brady was carrying and had an odd urge to ask him about it. But being the quiet type, he’d resisted. So when Brady walked directly up to him, he was surprised and delighted. They talked through the gospel, read through sections of the Bible, and parted company. Walter was intrigued, but still lost in his sin.
The next time they met, Brady started reading through the gospel of Mark with Walter. And he began introducing him to various members of his church, who introduced him to yet other Christian friends. One of those new friends sang a song on Easter Sunday about Christ’s resurrection that Walter couldn’t shake. At the end of a long run a few weeks later, with the lyrics of “Jesus Is Alive!” repeating through his head, Walter suddenly realized he believed Jesus was alive. On his knees, he trusted in Christ. By the time he was baptized, dozens in the church already knew his story.
So who led Walter to the Lord? Who gets to “notch his spiritual belt” with another miracle of conversion? Ultimately, it was the Lord himself, wasn’t it? In John 6:44 Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” But whom did God use? Was it Brady, who had the courage to walk up to a stranger and explain the gospel? Was it Andy, who met him a few days later? Was it Mark, who preached one of the sermons God used to pierce Walter’s heart? Or was it Shai, who sang that song?
I suppose you’d have to answer yes to all of these! In my experience, Walter’s story is typical in the pattern it follows. For him, evangelism was personal. That is, he didn’t simply wander into a church by himself, intrigued at what they had to offer. Instead, he first heard the gospel through a relationship with Brady, even if that relationship was only two minutes old. But evangelism wasn’t merely personal—it was also corporate. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who “led him to the Lord” since all sorts of people from the church were involved. “Mob evangelism” is how I like to describe it.
And the wonderful news about Walter is that this personal, corporate evangelism didn’t stop with him. Shortly after his baptism, he told the church that before his conversion, he’d committed crimes that deserved jail time. Following Christ meant repenting of these things, so he turned himself into the authorities and went to prison to serve his sentence. While in jail, a congregation he hardly knew showered him with visits and letters. To his fellow prisoners, that love added weight and reality to the testimony of God’s grace they heard from Walter. Before his release, Walter’s cell mate also professed faith in Christ.