Have you ever thought, great, another lesson/post/article about evangelism? We all know evangelism is important, but if we are honest, most of us don’t feel adequate to participate in evangelism. We feel guilty because we don’t evangelize enough. We feel frustrated because we don’t know how to evangelize. Thus, when we recognize we are about to encounter another message on evangelism, we end up with mixed emotions about what we will encounter.
Part of this is because we know culture has changed. There was a time in the not so distant past when the church was the center of society. It was a time when even those who were not overly religious recognized the role of the church in helping to form a positive community. Many older cities/towns were centered around a church building in the heart of the city. During those times, knocking on doors and gospel meetings were highly effective.
However, times have changed. Not only have church buildings moved to different areas outside of the heart of the city, the role of the church has moved from the center of society to the margins. We are living in what sociologists have named a post-christian society, and the church must learn to live on the margins, including how to conduct evangelism.
(Before we lament this change too much, we must remember that throughout history the church has often been most effective in influencing society when it’s been on the outskirts of society, and not married to the powers and principalities.)
Thus our methods need to change.
Part of the problem is, we don’t know how to make the change. This is exactly the point my friend Andrew raised with me recently. In a conversation about how church has changed, he lamented that he’d never been trained how to simply be a friend or a blessing to others; sharing faith through sharing life. He, like many of us, had been raised in church, and once he was baptized was immediately enrolled in leadership training. This involved such things as learning to say a prayer in public, lead a song (including keeping proper time with hand motions), and for the most advanced, sharing a short sermon. These are all good things, and we need more older men and women mentoring younger men and women, giving them opportunities to learn and grow. However, these training classes didn’t prepare Andrew, or any of us, for the changing dynamic of culture.
Thus, when we read/hear passages such as Matthew 28:19-20, (Go 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 I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.) we often have mixed emotions which range from frustration to guilt to anger.
Yet, perhaps it will help if we change the focus of the passage. We often focus on going into all the world and speak towards sharing our faith with those who need to hear it. With this emphasis, Jesus is tacked on at the end, but the responsibility is ours. However, what if we make the focus of the statement the end, that Jesus is with us, or even better, Jesus is already in the world. When we make Jesus the focus, then the passage is not about our responsibility to take the gospel, but a reminder that Jesus is already active in the world sharing the gospel, and we are simply invited to come along and help.
Now, we simply need to find places where God is already working, and join in loving the world with God. While it’s easy to look around and lament our world and the horrible things happening, we also need to remember God is active. When we see a mother about to abort an unborn baby because she thinks she’s all alone, but she encounters a community that will walk with her, support her, help pay her bills, and help raise this unborn child…and she decides to keep the baby, God is working. When we find a young child who has never had their own mattress to sleep on at night, and they come home from school to a brand new mattress, given from someone who simply says God loves you, we know God is active. When we find a young family who last week went to bed hungry every night, but this week has found a soup kitchen that provides warm meals, we know that God is active.
The truth is, God is working everywhere and evangelism happens everywhere. Evangelism happens through Bible studies and sermons, just like we have always thought. But evangelism also happens through feeding the hungry, providing for the needy, and loving the unwanted. Instead of worrying that the responsibility is all ours, we need to find places where God is already working and then join God in the world spreading the gospel through love, through service, and through our lives. Always remembering, God will cause the growth.