WHAT IS EVANGELISM?
As Chrisitians, we often think of our faith as something intimate and personal. We are often happy to serve others and engage in work motivated by our faith, but we are often reluctant and uncomfortable about sharing our faith with others.
However, our faith offers a way of understanding God and of following Jesus that needs to be heard and shared. Many of us have heard the apocraphyl saying of St Francis to “preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” Good advice, but not an excuse to neglect sharing our faith directly.
At its heart, Evangelism is telling the story of God in our own lives and inviting others to share that experience
I’ve heard it said that the average person invites someone to church once every 27 years; I’ve also heard that you have to ask 35 people to get one to accept. If either were true; we would all have to live as long as Methuselah just to find one person to replace us in church. The good news is that, in my experience at least, people are far more willing to invite people to church than that. And surprisingly perhaps, many people are more willing to come than we might imagine.
One can be a Christian who’s alone, but one cannot be a Christian by oneself. Our God is relational; three persons in such closeness that they become One God. Evangelism, then is also relational. It’s not just impersonal marketing (though there are tools there we can use) and it shouldn’t just be awkward one-sided conversations with strangers. Evangelism is listening for the movement of God in another and inviting them to explore that with you, so that together we might walk the journey of faith.
Let’s look at an example from the very beginning of the Gospel of John.
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.“ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.“ John 1:35-46, NRSV
Notice what Jesus says to Andrew, “Come and See.” He doesn’t tell them what they should do, or what’s good for them or even that he’s the incarnate God; he merely invites them to “come and see.”
Similarly, Philip, Andrew and Peter’s friend, invites his skeptical friend Nathanael with the same words; “come and see.”
As an evangelist, you don’t have to convince anyone to believe in God or to accept the whole edifice of Christian tradition, or even to commit to being a member of the church. You are asking them to open themselves, just a little, to a different possibility; you are asking them to “come and see” for themselves. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need to know what’s important to you and be willing to articulate that.
Remember, evangelism is an integral part of the church’s life, articulated by Jesus in the Great Commission as recorded in the closing words of Matthew’s gospel and our responsibility as stewards of Christ’s story and ministry. Our Jesus Movement goes nowhere without people.
Evangelism, Formation and Mission together define the life of the church in a fundamental way. Each is necessary for the other two to be effective.
Ok, now you’re willing! So how do we go about evangelizing? There are four things to consider in evangelism; especially when thinking about Evangelizing as a parish: