What Does Evangelism Look Like, Anyway?

I’m always grateful when someone feels compelled to share a blog post.  I’d say it is humbling to know that my thoughts are influencing preachers and lay people alike, but anyone who knows me, knows that humility isn’t something I’m very good at.  I do consider it a blessing to be invited into the lives of people I don’t even know, which is, apart from my own spiritual need to do this, the main reason I keep blogging even on busy and stress filled days.  Of course, as much as I enjoy having my posts shared, I do need to remember the Cardinal Rule of Blogging, “never read comments on your stuff.”  It can be hard to put yourself out there, only to have a troll say mean things about your theology.  Of course, having a rule like “never read comments” means that you’ll a) miss important critiques, which means b) I always read the comments.  So yesterday, after my Facebook friend and Priestly colleague shared my post, I saw this comment:

“It is slightly easier for clergy to talk about the importance of telling people about Jesus when we hold a position in which people expect us to do so. Not to let the laity off the hook but I can understand how its more difficult for them in a culture where “evangelism” has become almost synonymous with a kind of fundamentalist bigotry. I agree evangelism is important but I think we have to go beyond simply guilting people for not evangelizing and teaching them “how”.”

A fair critique.  In the midst of my snark, (that should not be construed as guilt, I don’t do guilt, I think it is of the Devil and has no place in the Kingdom of God) I forgot to mention just how one might go about doing evangelism.  The RCL sort of gives us an “in” to the topic of evangelism by including 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 in Sunday’s readings, but stopping at verse 18 is like turning off a football game at halftime: you think you know what’s going on, but halftime adjustments, which make up verses 19-31 of 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, mean that a whole new game is starting at the next kickoff.  In fact, we’ll have to wait two weeks, through Super Bowl Sunday, I mean The Fest of the Presentation, to see where Paul is going with, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  For those who’d like to look ahead, you’ll note that Paul rambles his way through a pretty helpful definition of evangelism from 1:18 to 3:11 (we’ll get there on 6 Epiphany).

Items worth noting in Paul’s theology of evangelism are:

  • You don’t have to be an expert in rhetoric or theology to tell people about Jesus (1:18ff)
  • Evangelism is the work of humans, but under the power of God (1:25ff)
  • The key to evangelism is knowing the saving power of Jesus (2:1-2)
  • The Spirit precedes the evangelist (2:12)
  • The goal of the evangelist should be nothing more than planting the seed, God will do the watering (3:6)

All that to say, evangelism is done when one person who knows the power of God in their life is willing to tell someone else about it.  It takes the form of relationships.  It looks a lot like conversations over coffee or lunch because that’s exactly what it is.  Evangelism is, as I’ve said before, as simple as sharing the hope that is in you: the hope that comes through life in the Kingdom of God.  It isn’t elaborate, it doesn’t need to be painful, it just needs to be genuine and cloaked in prayer.  The Spirit will do the work, all you have to do is tell the story.  “Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom, I am the worst of all,” will suffice for me.


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