What’s evangelism, and how are we doing it?

It’s a question that’s come up fairly frequently in conversation lately, which is a good thing!  “Sharing the joy of faith” and “welcoming all” are all part of our mission statement.   Since we’ve begun to hear from Matthew’s Gospel again this year –  let’s get back “in tune” with an important evangelism text, the “Great Commission,” and notice some things:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (the very end of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 28)

1). Evangelism is not the same as outreach.  “Outreach,” as I hear the word used, means a church’s general effort to engage and serve people.  Hosting a neighborhood watch meeting or inviting someone to a church activity can all be part of the foundational work of building relationships.  Evangelism, however, involves relating to one another on a different level – getting involved with one another in the activities of “making disciples,” “baptizing” and “teaching to obey Jesus.”  Where the focus is on outreach alone it can makes of the church a community center or club, which can be a good thing, but not the main thing.  As Anthony Robinson puts it – in a book council is reading together – even if the past churches could function this way, in this era, there are many possible ways people can find community.  The church would do well to reclaim its primary purpose of seeking life change and transformation together in the good news of God.   

2). It’s not about expert Christians teaching beginners, but God’s claim and gifts for each of us.  That is to say, evangelism centers around Baptism, something many Protestant Christians neglect.  Even when a child is baptized, we say “let your light so shine …” God has “lit” something in that child that we need to see, and that only she can show us: even as an infant, she’s not just “student” but “teacher!”  Paul says “to each is given a manifestation of the spirit for the common good.”(see 1st Corinthians 12)  I’m sure many of us who have talked about faith with visitors have been amazed as I have at the kind of insight and questions people bring to our community.  “Questions” are maybe more important to share than answers.  As you will notice above, the commission to evangelize isn’t just give to those who are certain and advanced in the faith – but to those who doubt even as they stand before the Jesus risen from the dead!  

3). Evangelism is something we do together.  Just as at the Last Supper, here also Jesus commissions not just individuals, but the whole group of disciples together.  Evangelism sounds scary if we think of it as something we’re supposed to do alone “out there” in the world.  But part of the good news we have to share is the presence of a whole family of forgiven sinners, there to support us and learn with us.  If you want a primary “snapshot” of evangelism, picture the people of St Luke gathered around in support of people being baptized or affirming their baptism, saying together the Apostles Creed.  At a conference Pastors Hillesland recently hosted in Chatsworth, worship teacher shared passionately how important it is that we involve many members as sponsors and catechists for each visitor – as we do in Sanctuary – not settling with just a “pastor’s class.”

So how are we doing evangelism at St Luke?  Certainly in many ways that go unseen – in the way people are welcomed, comforted in grief, invited to talk or sing about faith and God – from coffee hour to choir to prayer group.  As you read further in this Chatter, see also description of Santcuary and Your Kingdom Come (which is focused precisely on what it means to ‘obey Jesus’).

New this year: a different approach to Lent and Holy Week, and a new service.  In the early church, Holy Week – stretching from Palm Sunday to Easter – was centered on baptism.  The celebration wasn’t just Jesus’ death and resurrection in abstract, but as Paul says, that in fact  “we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  The season of Lent was all about evangelism, the preparation of candidates for baptism.  

We seek to regain that emphasis this year, as we shape Holy Week around a new, “kid friendly” and very dramatic  worship service – the Easter Vigil on Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday), with baptisms and affirmation of baptism (new members).  Mark your calendars now!