Friday, February 19, 2010

Do We Have to Discuss the E-word?

"Please don't ever ask me to evangelize."

That was the one definitive statement I made to God, shortly after becoming a Christian as a young adult in 1988.

Turns out God has a sense of humor.

Within a couple of years, God let me know quite plainly that evangelizing was EXACTLY what he wanted me to do. Eventually I realized it was what he created me to do. It had been hardwired into my brain.

At that time, however, I had a misguided notion about evangelism. I had it in my head that evangelists were either people who knocked on doors, or those guys shouting on street corners, or a towering figure like Billy Graham, or my well-meaning Born Again friends and smarmy televangelists who had turned me off to Christianity as a teenager.

Over the 21 years I have been involved in Presbyterian churches, I've found I am not alone. Many of my fellow congregation members have shared that they have the same notions about evangelists. Partly because of this, they want nothing do with evangelizing. Faith is a private matter, after all, they say. "I can't ever bring THAT up at work." "It would be rude to discuss faith with my neighbors who come from other faith traditions." One member said of non-Christian parents at the church's preschool, "We might turn them off if we invite them to church." Another suggested we can't engage in evangelism because "we tried that once and it didn't work."

Questions, Questions

As an evangelism elder I get these ubiquitous questions:
"Do we have to call it 'evangelism?'" and "Do we have to discuss the e-word?"

Yes and Yes.

While we weren't looking, the secular business world has co-opted the word "evangelism." Business people bypassed the first part of the dictionary definition - specifically about converting people to the Christian faith - and latched onto what comes after: "a passionate advocate of something" (Compact Oxford English Dictionary). Business evangelists are passionate about their company or product, they share that passion and enthusiasm with others.

Don't we have something to be passionate and enthusiastic about?

Looking at the literal translation in Greek, an evangelist, is a "bringer of good news."

Don't we have good news - the best news - to bring to the world?

One of my goals over the last 10 years as a lay leader has been to convince my fellow congregation members that evangelism isn't that scary a word, and the act of evangelizing isn't as hard or as terrifying as they think. The good news for us is, the Holy Spirit does most of the heavy lifting. But we have to be willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to participate in the work of evangelizing, using whatever spiritual gifts of skills we were given. We each have a different style, and a different way of participating in the work of evangelism. We also have to trust God as we step out in obedience and faith by following the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

Loaded Questions

What is evangelism? And what is it not?

I'm going to leave that discussion for next time. I look forward to talking about evangelism in this space the third Friday of every month. In the meantime, what are your preconceived notions about evangelism? Why are you passionate about Jesus? Do you think the Holy Spirit wants you to be a partner in sharing the Good News?

A little about me: I am an elder of Outreach and Evangelism at a PC(USA) church in the Silicon Valley. For the past 10 years I have spent a lot of time thinking about evangelism, reading about it in books and blogs, learning about it at conferences, studying about it in the Bible, talking about it with other Christians, and practicing it to varying degrees of success and failure. I am by training a journalist. I ask questions, I research, I report. Ultimately, I hope to point to ideas that get us all thinking, discussing, and most importantly, taking action.


NicodemusLegend said...

Consider me intrigued. I look forward to your future comments.

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Finally someone who is prepared to speak as it is!
Many Christians are too eager to please people and NOT speak about their faith than please God and shout HIS news from the roof tops.!! You go girl.

Nancy said...

I'm looking forward to this. Thanks.

Evangelism Coach said...

I've seen and heard many different responses to your questions. Working in two different cultures, I see big differences in what hinders effective evangelism.

Read about it here:

Evangelism Fears and Roadblocks

Chris W

Sarahlynn said...

Welcome aboard!