How to Evangelize When You Don’t Believe in Evangelism

Man giving a talk but only a dog is listening.  Today I celebrated my younger cousin’s wedding in Michigan with a number of my relatives and several of the bride and groom’s friends.  Summer is always buzzing because of wedding season.  This summer alone, my family has been invited to 7 weddings, and we know of at least 2 that are currently being planned for next year.  Weddings are a wonderful time of laughter, tears, and joy.  They are also a perfect example of telling a story.

In a wedding, the love story between the bride and groom is told in multiple ways.  Traditionally, the story includes not just the couple themselves, but also their families, their closest friends, their pastor, their church, and God.  The story is told repeatedly when the bride joins hands with her husband, when they are pronounced a couple under the union and Lordship of Christ, when they exchange their rings as a token of their affection and respect for one another, when they promise to love each other regardless of the difficulties and challenges that life together will bring, when they seal their vows with a kiss, and when they wear their shoes out on the dance floor.  Although I am a feminist and planning to do away with the majority of traditions in my own future wedding, I must admit that the parents also play an important role in this unique love dynamic between the bride and groom.

Historically, the groom went to seek the bride’s family’s permission for marriage.  This is not necessarily because the bride is “property” or “owned” by her mom and dad, but rather because the parents are the gatekeepers.  They are the ones who protect and nurture their daughter until someone else promises to do the same for her.  And they prove their love to their child by their approval and honouring her future husband.  The parents once again tell this same story when they walk their daughter down the aisle – sharing in one last moment and bond before she is forever wedded to a new family and invited into a new home.

Today, the pastor mentioned something I have never thought about before.  You will recall that I just mentioned I am a feminist and for years I have taken issue with the idea of a father walking his bride down the aisle.  I viewed this as seeing a woman as merely property and lording his authority over his daughter in a way that is not expected of a son.  Yet, today, the pastor mentioned that this is really a sign of how God formed Eve out of Adam’s breast, and brought her to him.  This natural companionship, fashioned by God as the ideal for human relationships, shows us how God – the Father, gave away the first bride, Eve.

Being at the wedding also encouraged me to think about evangelism in broader terms.  Yesterday, I met with the chaplain at my grandmother’s nursing home.  He and I ended up chatting for about half an hour and he asked me how I would describe evangelism.  I responded, “telling other people about Jesus and making disciples.”  But he gave me an altogether different definition.  He mentioned that evangelism is really all about telling a spiritual story.   It’s about sharing with others what God has done and is doing in your life (also called testimonies) and it’s about honouring God by living a life that tells about His creation and His good work even when our culture pressures us to go in a different direction.

I went to a fairly evangelical Bible College and it was instilled in us that we need to go and convert the masses.  I became frustrated because I noticed that quite a few (though certainly not all) Mennonite churches weren’t doing that.  In fact, when I confronted my pastors suggesting that they could do a whole lot more than they were willing to try, they made some remark about how Anabaptists have suffered severe persecution over the years and I need to be more understanding of the tradition they are coming out of.

I am willing to say that perhaps I don’t have that big of an understanding of religious persecution coming from the cushy west and maybe that makes me lack sensitivity.  However, in my opinion, persecution is not a reason to stop witnessing.  In fact, it is exactly BECAUSE of persecution, that many have come to know Christ.  When someone is willing to be bold in their declaration of Christ even though it may cost them property, status, wealth, or their life, others around them take note.  And I am pretty sure those who have lost their life for the cause would be greatly disappointed that those of us who have it easy are apathetic when it comes to evangelism.   In fact, one of my friends, a staunch atheist with absolutely no interest in religion at all mentioned to me that the reason she respects Christianity is because “if people were willing to die for something they believed to be the truth, maybe I should start taking this whole thing more seriously.”

Nevertheless, I’d like to suggest that if you are uncomfortable standing out in the middle of the street handing out tracts, preaching from a soapbox in the park, or going door-to-door, don’t worry.  That’s really not what it’s all about.

Instead, it’s about how we choose to live out our faith on a day-to-day basis.  When you experience a profound answer to prayer, it’s about raising your hands to heaven and thanking God rather than just rationally justifying how the event took place.  When your friend is struggling it’s about actually taking the time to pray for them, not just saying a bunch of “feel-good” words.  When you go about the most menial tasks – cooking for your children, cleaning the house for the fifth time that day, assisting an elderly person or someone with a disability with personal care, doing paperwork, writing a research proposal, seeking out funding for a grant – you respond to each person as if they were Christ in the flesh.  You don’t raise your voice in anger or protest, you don’t show signs of impatience or frustration – you take a moment to pause, ask the Lord for counsel, and receive His great wisdom.  Every act becomes one of worship.  Every bush is ablaze.  Every moment is sacred.

A few months ago I was on the bus about to meet with one of my church friends when all of a sudden a profound realization hit me.  Those of you who have me as a Facebook friend will probably have read about it:

Many people say that that they feel uncomfortable when it comes to evangelism.  They may think it’s backwards, stuffy, or arrogant to suggest that their way is the only correct one.  In a world that promotes individual choice and freedom of religious expression, you don’t want to be singled out as the “odd-kook who still believes this Jesus stuff.”  Yet, if we were to be honest with ourselves, almost everyone evangelizes in some way (even including non-religious people).  For example, you may have a favourite restaurant, movie, coffee shop, book, or hobby.  You may have a favourite park, picnic area, or tourist destination.  When you hear that your friend is travelling through a certain area and you know all about what that area has to offer, you generally would not hesitate to share your knowledge and your experience.  You wouldn’t hold back about which hotel to stay at, which restaurants to eat at, which scenic route to take, and which to avoid.  The best fish and chip place in Scotland is something that makes you happy.  It’s something you don’t want to keep to yourself.  It’s something you want to tell the world (and especially) those you care for about.  If it was so great, you might even have left a review on Trip Advisor.  Even in the business world, sharing positive experiences of a certain product or place is called a “testimonial” – it’s about witnessing to others about what you’ve seen, experienced, and learned and encouraging them to do the exact same.  If we don’t hold back when it comes to these trivial things in life, why on earth would we choose to keep the love of Christ a secret?  Why would we hide the greatest gift God gives to humanity just because we’re afraid of looking dumb?

Perhaps you are convinced that you need to tell the Biblical and spiritual story more often, but you don’t know where to start.  Perhaps you are a bit shy and introverted, or you don’t have much experience sharing your faith, or you come from a tradition that has discouraged this.  Don’t worry, you can start small.  Think about all the things the world requires of us.  It wants us to buy into certain cultural norms of how to look, act, and think.  It wants us to become a slave to materialism, militarism, and oppression.  It wants us to believe that certain cultural and ethnic groups are preferred over others.  That certain socio-economic statuses and careers are greater than what most people achieve.  But if you are truly convinced about telling the spiritual story, you can see this in another way.  You can take that extra moment to get outside your comfort zone and to smile at the homeless man or woman you are passing on your way to church.  You can allow yourself to speak up about causes you really feel passionate about.  You can allow yourself to fan into flame a system that sees all people are relevant and important.  You can work on minimizing yourself (even though culture teaches us to be pretty self-absorbed) and instead use social media and networking to encourage and build others up.  It might not seem like you are sharing the Gospel, but you are and you are doing it in a way that is far more relevant than your average soapbox preacher.

We all tell stories in our lives.  Stories of love, stories of grace, stories of forgiveness, and stories of peace.  Oftentimes we tell more than one story a day and to more than one person.  Being a Christian is not only about continuing those stories, but allowing other people to enter into the story with us.  Permitting them to also play an important role, and ultimately asking God to be the divine Scriptwriter.  What is the story God is calling you to tell today?

Missional Living and Evangelism – Is There a Difference?

For the last few years the phrase missional living has been tossed around in my mind and in my congregation.  Not carelessly tossed around, mind you.  But rather well thought out.  An invitation into a discussion evolving around how one can incarnationally live out the truth of Christ and His desire to see a reign of justice, mercy, and peace take place in this world.

I’ve notice that there seems to be a bit of a disconnect, though, between the more “evangelical” churches and the so-called “liberal” churches.  I’ve been a part of both camps as an observer, a participant, a member, and a university placement student.  I spent a large portion of my young, formative years in more conservative and evangelical camps where you had to remember the day that you became a Christian or you weren’t really one.  If you had doubts, you would look at the cover of your Bible to reassure yourself that you truly did belong to Christ.  I’ve also belonged to the more liberal churches – believe what you will as long as you live out a life of love, peace, and joy.  Churches which said it wasn’t my place to tell someone who was not a Christian they were wrong.  It wasn’t my place to try to convert anyone, but rather I should help that individual to live out their lives and their spirituality in the fullest way that is possible to them.

So, who’s right and who’s wrong?  The answer: both camps have things going for them and both camps have things going against them.

Let’s dissect the more conservative churches first.  Growing up, I was part of a culture which taught children “you should accept Jesus today because you never know if you will be alive tomorrow.  Anything could happen.  You could die in a car accident tonight.”  Looking at this type of theological position at my age, however, is a bit more than simply unnerving.  For one, I disagree with this type of preaching because it is so heavy on scare tactics.  We would shake our heads if someone made a decision for what school to attend, what major to pursue, or which geographical house to buy on the whim without thinking it out.  So, I tell you today that Queen’s University (just for an example) is prestigious and that my brother went there and you automatically sign up for the same program he was in without doing your research, without knowing anything else about Queens, and without even knowing the options for courses that are offered there.  Perhaps it will work out for you.  Perhaps not.  So, if we cringe and think decisions made on the fly are foolish for things in this life, why should we not apply that same mindset for the most important decision of our lives.  One in which not only our present life but also our eternity will be built?

What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t just make a decision to follow Jesus on the fly because we are scared of what COULD happen.  YES, you could die at any time.  Yes, none of us knows the future.  However, it is highly improbable that that will happen to you.  The average person needs to hear the Gospel 6 times before they will accept it as truth.  So, why should we make all those times full of doom and gloom?  We should focus instead on making it a positive thing.  Not feeding into this mindset that God is an angry God who is willing to banish someone to hell just because they didn’t make a split second decision.  To me, a God like that would be rather fickle.  I’m just not interested in serving that type of God.

Another thing that I rebel against from my childhood experience is the concept of evangelism without discipleship.  I definitely believe there is a place for sharing the Gospel, however, I would argue that discipleship is a far more important piece than simply sharing the Gospel.  You see, when we just go out into the world to convert others and then we leave them a week or two later what have you really done?  Did not Jesus Himself warn against this type of conversion tactic when He said,  You Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You travel over land and sea to win one follower. And when you have done so, you make that person twice as fit for hell as you are.” (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+23:1-15)

Lastly, I am not sure where I stand on altar calls.  I believe that there are good ways to do them as well as not so good ways.  I’ve witnessed churches which do altar calls in such a non-evasive way and then churches which use them for show.  Perhaps, some people do need an invitation to truly come forward and surrender their lives to Christ.  For others, perhaps this is seen as too forward.  I believe God can use altar calls, but I would strongly disagree that this needs to be the case for every conversion.  In fact, I would say that it probably needs to be the case in less than 10% of all conversions.

Now let’s turn to the more “liberal” churches.  I think, perhaps unfortunately, that the more liberal churches DO tend to emphasis acts of social justice and justice more than the conservative churches do.  At least in my experience, though there are certainly evangelical churches which do care about creation care and social inclusion.  I say, unfortunately, not because I think that the liberal churches are doing anything wrong by espousing this type of theology, but rather because I wish ALL churches would actively pursue a reign of justice and peace in this world.

However, the downside of the more liberal churches is that some of them tend to lean more to the side that everyone is right and because everyone is right we should not offend anyone.  This does not make logical sense because it is impossible for every single person to be right since when it comes down to it many ideas contradict themselves.  Having a personal moral ethic may work in some cases, but it does not always work when it comes to global and political affairs.

I have been shut down from teaching the Gospel in liberal churches before even though I have never used scare tactics.  To me, my life and my walk with Jesus Christ is the most precious and powerful thing going.  I cannot imagine life without Him and that is the reason I want to share about His love and forgiveness with everyone I come into contact with.

My personal ethic of evangelism is not about shaming someone or telling them that they are wrong.  It is my belief that we should respect and honour everyone regardless of their spiritual preferences or religious leanings.  At the same time, I am aware that the Bible espouses Jesus (not Ghandi or Buddha) as being the ultimate choice.  That’s not to say that I can’t also get to know other religions because I truly believe that each religion has much to offer and in reading their holy books I often stand back amazed at the similarities we share.  But in the end of the day, my personal understanding of the Bible is that we are called to follow the Great Commission.  To go out into the world preaching the Gospel AND disciplining.[1]

So, let me pose the question again: who is right and who is wrong?  The truth is, it’s not an either/or dichotomy, it’s a both/and dichotomy.  It’s about unashamedly sharing the Gospel, BUT also caring about social justice and peace advocacy rather than only caring about the number of converts.  Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is God’s powerful method of bringing all who believe it to heaven. This message was preached first to the Jews alone, but now everyone is invited to come to God in this same way.”[2]  If we are followers of Jehovah God, there is no reason to be ashamed to unabashedly share our faith because it is Gospel – Good News.  It is the saving message of Christ.  If we had the cure for cancer we wouldn’t keep it to ourselves, we would give it to everyone we know who is sick and dying of cancer.  How much greater is the Gospel which has the power to save EVERYONE from death and the grave?  From the very effects of their sin and to offer them hope and peace.

Ultimately, I have found that what I understand from studies and much personal research to be the Anabaptist vision of missional living greatly articulates my already held belief that we are to incarnate Christ.  In missional living we serve the least of these and offer them a cup of cold water.  We do not simply preach the Gospel without living the Gospel.  We choose to be faithful followers of God going into places of darkness, despair, and hardship.  We live in neighbourhoods that are rough or we live in intentional communities that reach out to people who are otherwise shunned by society.  In missional living we don’t just preach the Gospel, but we empower others to live the Gospel just as we are living the Gospel.  Sometimes we empower them to live the Gospel out even before they know the vocabulary of evangelism.  The Christianese. 

Intentionally living missionally requires a commitment and a dedication to walk alongside others not just for a short time, but for the long haul.  It’s easy to preach the Gospel once.  Even twice.  It’s a lot harder to form an ongoing relationship, an ongoing mentorship, where community is fostered and grows.  It’s hard to not see progress overnight.  It may be hard to patiently toil and pray for YEARS before a person accepts Christ, but once the decision is made we will know that is was not made in vain but with careful consideration.  Living missionally strips away the altar call and transforms us into Christ’s living altar calling each individual into a deeper awareness and fulfillment of themselves.

That’s why I want to encourage each one of us who considers ourselves a Christian to choose this lifestyle.  A lifestyle not of scare tactics and rushed decisions, but one of careful observation and fellowship.  When we do this we will gain many friends and pilgrims along the way.

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