Evangelism. Ugh. This word seriously grosses me out. It sparks memories of faith communities in which the true message of the Gospel was perverted, and people used “evangelism” to condemn and judge others. It reminds me of the preacher at college who stood outside our dining hall proclaiming that we were all going to hell for our “liberal” education. It reminds me of religious tracts disguised as dollar bills and scattered around the community in hopes that these shallow tactics might convince someone to be a Jesus follower. Even worse, I am reminded of those smarmy TV evangelists who used cheap sales tricks to convince people to send in money for a better life and surefire way into heaven.
As you can imagine, I had no desire to be an evangelist for Jesus. Not me! Nope! As an elementary teacher, I respected the separation of church and state, and I learned to compartmentalize my life. Church talk is for church, and that is that. When out with people who were not from my church, I avoided any of this talk so as not to offend someone or worse, be mistaken as one of the loud, crazy Ameri-Christians. Let’s just take a minute to recognize that these people exist, and their chatter is constanton blogs and social media, at family reunions and work. There are a large number of people claiming to be Christian who are spouting out messages of judgment, bigotry, intolerance and downright terrible theology. This group is damaging our religion by cherry-picking verses and using them to push their own agendas into the world under the guise of God’s will. So, no thank you. I’d rather not be evangelical if it means I’ll be seen as one of those Christians
However, then I started hearing people whom I respected in the Christian community urging us to be more evangelical. The Greek root of this word means “good news,” they assured us. Meh. Still not for me. I decided that was for someone else. Instead, I chose to dig deeper into my own faith by joining a Disciple small group and increasing spiritual practices of prayer and devotion. Nevertheless, over time, I noticed that the questions in Disciple were really forcing me to examine my spiritual journey in ways I had not explored before, and the more I talked with this group, the more I began to feel comfortable articulating my own faith story. I’m not sure when it happened, but this “church talk” began to leak out into my daily walkout at happy hour with friends, getting a haircut or meeting new people on vacation. Somehow God began to sneak into every conversation I had. It finally started to click when I had two non-religious friends tell me in the same week that they appreciated the way I talked about my religion. They said I wasn’t pushy; it was just a part of me. God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “This. This is evangelism.”
A-ha! Perhaps evangelism is not about clubbing strangers over the head and forcing them to see that their way is wrong. It is about building real, honest relationships with people. It’s listening to your friend’s struggles and offering a shoulder to cry on. Evangelism might be inviting a family in need of community to volunteer with you or attend your church’s discussion on suicide and depression after their neighbor took his or her life. It’s about letting others know about the people who have been placed in your life at just the right time to speak truth to a problem they didn’t even know you had. Perhaps it is even sharing the story of the time when life got too hard and you said, “I can’t do this anymore,” but God whispered, “Yes, you can.” God was there, and God is always there. It’s a miracle worth sharing.
Recently our country was faced with yet another tragedy as a shooter took the lives of nearly 50 people in a nightclub in Florida. Sadly, someone performed this carnage in the name of religion by targeting those that he felt should be judged or condemned. Although this was not a Christian terrorist and not condoned by those sharing this man’s faith, all religions are brought into question when lives are taken in the name of God. Not only that, as I read the news in anguish, I began to see comments on social media from a few supposed Christians actually stating that these people deserved to die because of their sexual orientation. At that moment, something snapped in me. I realized that we absolutely cannot afford to ignore our responsibility as evangelists in a world with such loud hatred. I can assure you that Jesus, the ultimate evangelist, would not have stood for this. He would have flipped every table he could find if he saw someone using his name to spew hatred. We desperately need to stop worrying about what others think and start speaking up. Our voices must unite to drown out the noise of those polluting Christianity with irresponsible rhetoric. Educated, rational Christians need to stop fearing the word “evangelism” and start spreading the actual good newsthat our God, the creator of the universe, loves us deeply and wants us to love one another. He loves us so much that he sent his son to Earth to experience the complexities of humanity fully. He was willing to sacrifice himself so that everyone could experience grace, mercy, peace and compassion.
So please, I beg of you. For the sake of our world and the true gospel of Christianity, let’s all become evangelists. Share a scripture or song with someone who could use it. Invite a friend to your small group. Define and articulate your own faith journey so you can share it with others. Learn to truly listen to others to identify ways in which God and the Church can help them. Align your lives with the principles of love taught by Christ so that others can see and feel your palpable transformation. If nothing else, just speak up against hatred. Let’s make love be the new face of evangelism.