Opening Doors To God
Evangelism….Ug. It’s almost comical to watch the reactions when this word is dropped in a church gathering. If people were willing to put words to their facial expressions, we would hear statements like,
“O no, don’t bring up that subject again”
“I’m sure not going there, but the guilt I carry about not doing so gets triggered every time the evangelism word is mentioned”
“I can’t even say that word, it carries so much negative baggage”
“I love people and want them to experience Jesus, but I also don’t want to be considered a religious nutcase”
“I have no idea how to talk about my faith in a way where my friends won’t quickly write me off or lower their opinion of me”
“I know how I’m not going to do evangelism, yet that’s where I stop. I’ve never seen anyone model faith sharing in an attractive or winsome way”
“I believe it’s wrong to push my beliefs onto someone else who’s not directly asking me about my faith”
“Theologically I’m all in regarding evangelism, but interpersonally I know it’s more taboo now than ever and I don’t want to risk relationship breakdown with people I know”
We could go on. What a wide range of emotions, beliefs, and reactions this one word can evoke. Even more, it turns out there’s some research emerging on the attitudes of younger Christians toward faith sharing. According to a Barna Group study, 47% of Millennials believe "It is wrong to share one's personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same beliefs." Practicing Christians and non-participants were the respondents in this survey. Reference: https://www.barna.com/research/millennials-oppose-evangelism/
OK then. Given the lack of faith sharing among most Christians, and
Given the strong emotional baggage connected with evangelism among Christians of any age, and
Given the hesitation to simply invite someone to worship or other church events, and
Given the description of Jesus followers in II Corinthians 5:20 as “ambassadors for Christ,” then
How might we relate to this part of our faith given such prominence in the gospels and epistles? Where do we go from here? Though I’m not an expert on this subject, I would like to offer three discussion points; thoughts which may help your church engage the evangelism discussion.
1Living in the way of Jesus is beautiful
Even before a belief system, it’s a way of life. Jesus modeled, trained, and taught his disciples to be in the world with a certain posture, with distinct attitudes and outlook toward life. Jesus respected those disrespected in his world, loved the unlovely, challenged the privileged, and generally called everyone up to a better way of life. Grace permeated his interactions, drawing people to him like famished travelers sitting down to a really good meal. People couldn’t get enough of being near him, hearing his point of view, and soaking up his love. Jesus also confronted people regarding their death-dealing, self-destructive behaviors, while also pointing out the spiritual bankruptcy of rules-oriented religion. Jesus continues to call us up to a beautiful way of being in this world. When we sit at Jesus’ table and taste what he’s serving, we can’t quit raving about that meal.
2The Way of Jesus is transformational, giving great hope to this broken world
Where is the hope for planet earth? What’s the story, the narrative, which can give us the courage and heart for living into a better way? Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So, it appears as if Jesus was determined for the kingdom to come more fully on planet earth than it is…a kingdom of faith, hope, and love, to name only three descriptors. Wow. This is a hopeful vision with the power to live into it built right into the vision (“In Christ”). This Christian story has the power within it to transform this broken world toward the better. We Christ-followers are part of God’s effort toward planet earth makeover.
3Numbers 1 and 2 above are not judgments on other faith traditions
The best I can tell, God did not appoint judges post-Old Testament. Instead, God appointed ambassadors. I would recommend the Way of Jesus to anyone and everyone. It’s the faith story I know and in which I’m immersed. I’m one of those countless people who have experienced the power of personal transformation due to God’s grace, while I also see how it has and continues to transform our world. If I and others lived into this story just a bit more, our world would radically tilt toward the better. At the very same time, I’m not making a judgment on other faith traditions. The primary reason: I’m not God. That kind of activity is above my pay grade, so to speak. I’m interested in learning all I can about life from the great religious traditions, giving the respect I hope they would give me. I hope they are so passionate about their faith experience that they can’t help but tell me about it. When they do, they are not judging me, but are sharing the faith story they know and love. Being passionate about one’s faith story is not a judgment about someone else’s story.
So, here’s the thing – most people in churches avoid this entire evangelism subject as much as possible. We carry too many evangelism-related conflicting emotions and beliefs for it to be an even slightly tolerable topic of conversation. Yet, we are ambassadors for Christ (not appointed judges). So, perhaps it’s time for a grown-up conversation about evangelism in your church. Let go the pious platitudes, gather around tables, and actually discuss faith sharing. Perhaps you might share the 3 points above as conversation starters to which people can respond.
How good is the good news of the gospel for you? How good is the version of the gospel your church is sharing? Silence, in this case, is a shout. May we find our voices, always rising from the love of Jesus Christ our Lord.