The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Spanish preacher and songwriter Alex Sampedro: “It is time to make it clear that we want to bless the cities, we want to present Jesus to the people around us.”
In an interview with Spanish online newspaper Protestante Digital, Sampedro reflected on the situation of the evangelical churches in Spain; its challenges, its difficulties, and the need to build its own essence.
Question. First of all, the urban camp with the youth has been crazy...
Answer. Yes, a blessed madness. More than 1,000 young people have gathered all week, from Monday afternoon. We have been in the morning receiving training, about the Word of God and the person of Jesus; in the afternoon, we went out, to subway stations, to the streets, to make social initiatives, to share the message of hope that we have.
We also celebrated a symbolic event in the Puerta del Sol (centre of Madrid), something that was very special for us. It was a very special moment, not only for those who were taking part in the initiative, but also for other people that were in Sol, remaining totally silent while we were praying there.
Apart from that, there are several social initiatives: the Red Cross came so we could donate blood one morning. They came 4 hours, and just 2 hours after they arrived, they told us that they were could not handle any more donations, because many people had come, they were amased with the willingness of the young people to donate blood.
I believe that it is time to make it clear that we want to bless the cities, we want to present Jesus to the people around us. This message is very important and we do not want to keep to ourselves.
I think the essence of being a real church, apart from religion, has to do with this, to go out into the street and tell people that God is not angry with us, that God cares.
We also made had a flashmob at the Puerta del Sol to denounce and make visible the problem of human trafficking.
Q. Can the camp be a turning point to equip those young people who will return to their churches? Will it make a difference to the evangelical work in Spain?
A. I hope so. I do not like to say that this is what will make the big difference, because that idea is a little overused. But being realistic, I believe it can be, a critical mass of young believers gathered for this.
There is no doubt that it has been significant for them, very significant. I know that, throughout the week, there have been many testimonies of young people who never thought they could do the things they have done.
Although the apparent goal was just to go out in the streets, the organisers also dreamt with making disciples of these kids, disciples of Jesus, and I think one of the most incredible ways of making disciples is to put them to work.
I believe that young people are already prepared to serve, and I have a phrase that it is a little cliché but it is true: you do not have to be just like Jesus to start serving. It is the other way round: we have to serve to be like Jesus.
No matter how you are, there is always something you can do for others. I hope that, if there has been a missionary seed in the broadest sense of the word, if there is a sense of reformation, of not to conforming to this world, in these young people who now go to their local churches, they will be able to bring that freshness of returning to the word of God. They will bring it to today and make it relevant.
Q. There is a lot of talk about young people that leave the church, do not participate, do not commit to the gospel, and yet here we have had more than 1,000 young people.
A. One of the things we said to young people was: look, we know that many young people are leaving the church, but we are going to propose something to you. We are going to stop leaving the church, it is time, not for you to leave the church, but for the church to go, be the church that goes, be an agent of change.
When you see things that are not right, you can take 2 routes. To complain and end up being part of the problem, to go away. Or try to be a catalyst for what God wants to do with the church, and if God has put you there maybe it is for a reason.
I think that when the kids are motivated well, they respond, and I was surprised by their initiative, not ours. How they were distributing the materials, approaching people naturally, praying for the people in the streets, with a freshness that sometimes we who are a little older have lost. In fact, they inspire us more than anything we can say to them.
Q. How do you see the format of the 8th Evangelical Congress, and the idea of reflecting on the Protestant Reformation. Can it help us?
A. I find both content and format important. It is different way, not just hearing the sermon. The proposal is: come, and we build together, with small groups divided in working tables. It is a way of listening to the people too, thinking together.
Obviously the topics are semi-directed, but even the presentations have been prepared collectively, so I think a different and necessary proposal.
From time to time we must stop and realise what paths we are taing as a church, so that we can decide whether to reinforce what we do well, eliminate what we do wrong, analyse the dangers that may come, and see the opportunities that are now being presented to us and we did not have 10 years ago.
I miss having mroe moments of reflection in the church. We take many things fro granted, we are in an 'automatic mode', we answer questions that people are not asking, we have a speech that people are not understanding, we solve problems that people do not have. I think that is important to stop, take the map, pull the compass, ask the guide, and make decisions to go ahead.
I think this week we should mark the course of the church in Spain for the next 10 years. See where we are going, each one in our place, but together. I think what we are doing is key.
Q. Because of your work as a songwriter, you travel to many countries. We hear a lot that there is a revival in Latin America, but with no deep roots there. While in Spain there seems that there is not much vitality in the church but we resist against secularism. What analysis would you make of the current situation in Spain?
A. I have heard many things. For example, on the other side of the Atlantic it is said that in Spain we are 20 years behind how the gospel is in Latin America. I do not know if we want to be where Latin America is now, which sometimes is a great sea with very little depth. There sometimes we have moved from Christianity to that old European concept of Christendom.
There is a country in Latin America where 43% of the population is believed to be Christian. With 43% of believers, if each one of them preaches to one, in a year the great commission would be finished. But that is not seen, the revival is not only temples, churches, or crowded places, but also social transformation.
So, I think the path that we, as a country, churches, and communities have to take is different. Because I think that Latin America is beginning to enter into secularism, postmodernism, and the church will have to be very prepared for what comes in the next 20 years.
I always say that the most beautiful mega-churches are in Europe, but they are empty. I do not know who is behind or ahead.
Speaking specifically of us in Spain, I do not believe that God only calls us to resist. We have to seek to be a church in a relevant way here, and maybe we are trying to imitate models of church that are very successful in other places. Glory to God for that, but these models do not assure us that they fit in the Spanish or European mentality.
I think it is a golden opportunity that we have now, because we are a very committed people, with a committed, thoughtful faith. And it seems to me that the Spaniards lack a lot of action, of praxis, of believing that we have to pull forward because is our calling. We must leave the four walls of our place because God is real, He continues to work in hearts.
God came in Jerusalem, in the Middle East, 2,000 years ago, which is a more difficult context than the context we have here today. We have a great opportunity in Europe, where all nationalities are represented. The Lord has brought us the nations to share the message of Jesus.
But, do not pretend to do it as they do it beyond the sea, we have to do it the Spanish way. If someone is offended by this, I will say that we have to be an Iberian church, using our own language.
Believers are already used to the Christian jargon, but we have to have a language that is understandable to our friends. They may agree with us or not, but at least give them the opportunity to understand.
We cannot assume that preaching the gospel as I understand it means that I have already preached it to the listener. Because who decides if the message has arrived is the receiver, not the one who speaks.
It is their decision to accept it or not, but our job is to make it as comprehensible as possible. Through the words we use, our approach, and above all, our attitude.
You can have the best speech in the world, but if you come with an attitude of "I am above you morally", people will not listen to you. Because when you go with the truth, but with pride, nobody listens.
Jesus, being the Son of God, said: "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble". And we sometimes want to see ourselves as above people.
We have so much to learn, and we need a right attitude. Many times people listen more to our attitude than to our words.