Unraveling the “E-Word”
At the mention of the word “evangelism,” what images or questions come to mind? For some, the “E-Word” might conjure up mental images of a flock-fleecing, smooth-talking TV preacher. For others, perhaps the thought of “doing evangelism” brings to mind the age-old question. “If I tell people that ‘our way’ (Jesus’ way) is the ‘right way,’ isn’t that the same as saying ‘their way’ (other religions or no religion) is the ‘wrong way?’” Finally, perhaps others insist evangelism is all about saving souls for God, and therefore our noblest calling as Christians.
Although I’m not sure what to tell you about the TV preacher image, I have some thoughts regarding the other two. We’ll start with the “our way/their way” concern. In my opinion, such concerns are a good thing; being concerned about the things that matter most deeply to others is very Christ-like. If you’re not sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others, then that pretty much negates the message of the Gospel anyway. The Gospel message is a message of love. Each of Jesus’ recorded encounters with “others” was motivated by and filled with love.
So, if “motivated by love, Jesus-style evangelism” is our objective, then it’s safe to say that it’s not about coercing or overpowering others, and it’s not about arguing or winning “truth debates.” Instead, Jesus-style evangelism is about engaging people in the way Christ engaged people. With love so genuine and transparent that people are drawn into that love and ultimately transformed by it. In other words, it’s doing evangelism as the early Church did evangelism. Think about it. The early Church didn’t grow because its charter members went around beating people in the head with the truth. They grew because of the way they loved others with a genuine, inviting, contagious love. People who’d never experienced love or acceptance before were embraced and loved into wholeness in a community that reflected the spirit of Jesus in very concrete, tangible ways.
So, what’s that mean for us today? How can we go about living our lives and sharing our faith as Jesus-style evangelists? Martha Grace Reece, one of my favorite authors on the subject, reminds us that “a Christian is a powerful individual on a powerful team. It’s a life with no posturing, no pretending. It’s also a life with no fear. Do we believe Jesus is the fullest expression of God and that he came in the ‘fullness of time’ to reveal God to all people? Do we believe that Jesus is the answer to the violence and evil that fills our world (and often our hearts)? Do we believe we have a message everyone in the world needs to hear? Absolutely! But we’re also guided by the love of Christ―which is not only the heart of our message―but also our ‘modus operandi.’” In other words, as Christians, love is WHO we are, and lovingly is HOW we work.
Finally, the notion that “to be a Christian is to be an evangelist. Therefore, our number one duty is saving souls for Christ?” In my mind, the first part of that understanding is pretty tough to argue with; being a Christian and sharing our faith go hand in hand. The second part, though, is unrealistically ambitious and therefore misguided. The heavy lifting that goes into saving souls and transforming lives is way above our pay grade. That part of the equation, thankfully, falls solely into God’s job description. But, as Christians, we do have an all-important role to play. Our role is to be loving witnesses to the love Christ has for all people and then turn it over to God to do what God does best; save souls.
May God continue to bless us, his New McKendree family, as we seek to serve as motivated by love, Jesus-style evangelists. And as we do, remember God’s got this, so keep on looking up and keep on loving and caring for one another.
Your brother in Christ,
Your brother in Christ,