Evangelism gets a bad wrap in Episcopal circles. We’ve abdicated our responsibility to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We’ve allowed others to proclaim a Gospel of fear, guilt, and shame, and done very little to show the world that John 3:16 is about perfect love that casts out fear, guilt, and shame. In so doing, we have lost at least two generations of potential disciples of Jesus to a form of Christianity that can be more damaging than good. There is good work beginning to happen. From the Presiding Bishop’s Revivals to the General Convention Task Force on Leveraging Social Media for Evangelism, we are beginning to turn the corner. The E-Word, as Brian McLaren once put it, is no longer a bad word in Episcopal circles. The time is now to being re-learning what Episcopal Evangelism looks like.
One place to turn is this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, which includes no less than three evangelistic encounters. It begins with John pointing out Jesus to his disciples. “Here is the lamb of God!” he proclaims, and he can do because he has first hand experience with Jesus. That’s the first lesson we have to learn: evangelism is telling the story of our experience with Jesus. How has following Jesus changed your life? How had attending your church been transformative? When have you seen God at work in the world about you? In order to be an evangelist requires nothing more than being willing to tell your story.
The second evangelistic encounter comes from Jesus himself. He can feel Andrew and the unnamed disciple sniffing around and he invites them to “come and see.” Those of us in the church are used to people sniffing around. They are curious, hungry even, to know what it is that makes us different. Why is it that we can have joy and hope in dire circumstances? Who in their right mind gives up a Sunday morning of sleeping in and the Times crossword puzzle to teach three year-olds gospel stories on felt boards? Here, the challenge isn’t so much to be wiling to tell our story, they’ve already seen it in our lives, but instead to have our eyes open to their interest. They might hover nearby or ask tangential questions; unsure of how to get at the meat of what they are looking for. One of the ways God’s had is at work is bringing people into our lives who are hungry for God’s love. Pray that your eyes might be open.
Finally, there is the story of Andrew and Simon Peter. Here we have the classic model of evangelism where one person, often a convert, excited about what God is doing in the world finds someone with whom they already have a relationship and shares the Good News. “We have found the Messiah!” It is the form of evangelism to which every disciple is called. This is the easiest form of evangelism, and often the most effective, as one person who loves and cares for another shares what is important in their lives.
Sunday’s lesson might be another in a seemingly unending string of stories about JBap, but deep down, it is a delightful lesson on evangelism. Thanks be to God.