- What do you do when you eat out, the food is delicious, and the service is exceptional?
- Or, when you have your car repaired, the service is better than you expected, and your bill is less than the quote?
- Or you see a movie that captures your interest and touches you emotionally?
What do you do? You tell somebody about your experience. You recommend the restaurant, the garage, or the movie. And depending upon who is listening, you talk about your experience until someone says, “I’ll have to experience that for myself.”
The word for such experiences in the church is “evangelization.” It means “to tell good news” regarding your experience. So, when you talk about your delicious meal and the exceptional service, you tell the good news of or “evangelize” the restaurant. When you say to your friends about the deal you received for your car repairs, you “evangelize” the repair shop and the mechanic. You even say, “You might what to have your car repaired there.” When you go on and on about how good the movie was, you are “evangelizing” the movie.
In the church at its best, evangelism is living and talking about how you experience God’s love in and through Jesus Christ. When you talk about your faith, you are evangelizing the presence of God in your life, and the love of God experienced the lives of the people with whom you live, work, and play. Most pastors and church leaders agree that individual Christians and churches should evangelize the gospel and make disciples. It is easy to get agreement on the importance of evangelism, but it is not so easy to get people to talk about their faith experiences.
Because talking about your faith is essential in the life of the church, there have been programs designed to help Jesus followers “share their faith” with friends, relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors. The motivation for such evangelism programs is usually built upon obeying the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV):
“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 I have commanded you.”
These evangelism resources assume you will talk about your faith when you know how to talk about it in a non-offensive, non-manipulative way. Many of these resources have good training materials regarding how to share your faith, but they make one big assumption. They assume you want to tell others about your experience of God’s love in Jesus. Being taught to share your faith, to talk about your experience of God’s love, is of little use when you don’t have a faith to talk about, and to share.
How do you understand evangelism?
As simple as it sounds, evangelism has come to be known as something different than “sharing faith” or talking about God’s love in Jesus Christ. The word “evangelism” has come to be known as coercing people to accept Jesus Christ. “Evangelizing” neighborhoods or communities reduces the meaning of evangelism. Consider for a minute, are you seeking to give witness to the love of God experienced in Jesus?
So, evangelism is now identified as outdated programs once used to “add” names and numbers to membership rolls of churches and completed by a few “truly” committed people in the congregation.
I once held a denominational position of “Evangelism Executive.” I have done the research. Although I thought I was doing the work of evangelism, I confess I have helped to develop and to write some of the evangelism programs that have fallen short of their designed and desired results.
Methodists & Evangelism
I have also learned some critical facts regarding evangelism.
- The motivation of the early Methodists was the love of God in Jesus Christ, not the Great Commission. John Wesley taught that the Great Commission had already been fulfilled by the early Christians. He focused more on the commission as given to the apostles for their time rather than it being relevant to his own time.
- The early Methodists (preachers, class leaders, and members) were laity who were highly motivated to share the gospel with others. They had a deep desire to tell others about Jesus Christ and the difference he made in their lives.
- At the root of their deep desire to tell others about Jesus was a life-changing experience of God’s love. It was expressed as a heart renewed in love by the Holy Spirit. The new life was a work of grace that brought forth new motives and desires, new relationships shaped by a love for God and love for neighbor. It brought peace, joy, and righteousness.
- With this new life came a deep sense of well-being and purpose. The early Methodists had a deep concern for the well-being of others, both spiritual well-being as well as physical well-being. The new life led to new ways of living. Because of the love in their hearts, the early Methodists not only had a story to tell but a deep concern for others.
- The early Methodists received a wonderful new life in Christ through the grace of God. It was too wonderful to keep to themselves. Their best evangelism was rooted in their deepest relationship. They wanted to share this good news with everyone, and they did in the way they lived.
The evangelism of the early Methodists transformed England and spread across the North American continent like wildfire. Their sincere desire to tell others what they had experienced changed the world.
Who Do You Know Like This?
Over the years, I have met a few people who had this deep desire. These persons shared their faith because they could not do anything but share their faith, both in words and actions. Their witness was to preach what they practiced. What was in their hearts, they lived in their relationships.
I remember the first time I met Bob. He greeted me with a warm, inviting smile and a gracious welcome. He was an usher at the 8:30 worship service. As I began to learn more about the ministry of the church, I discovered that Bob was present in most places.
When we started a ministry at a nearby elementary school, Bob was there. As the ministry was moved to another school, Bob was there loving, caring, and serving. When the weekly feeding ministry expanded on Saturday mornings, Bob stepped up with his genuine care and compassion.
Because of his love for people, regardless of age, he had a unique way of connecting with them. He was often the first person to meet guests on Saturdays, to greet worshippers on Sunday, and to offer words of encouragement to children during the week.
Bob’s Connection with People
One Saturday, during the weekly feeding ministry, one of the guests was agitated. He was known to have a mental health illness. That day he was talking to himself, growling at anyone who got too close, and violent when anyone tried to touch him. As it sometimes happened, the leader for the day directed the volunteers to be watchful and to stay clear of this gentleman.
It was at that moment that everyone noticed the man was not in the room. The leader began to look for him, hoping to find him before someone was hurt. As the leader turned the corner in the hallway, he noticed Bob sitting with the man in the Chapel. Bob had his arm around him, listening to the man share something important. The man had a scripture book in his hand. As he got up to leave, he shook Bob’s hand and gave Bob a hug.
As the man left the Chapel, the leader approached Bob to tell him about the man’s disposition and agitation. Bob responded, “Thanks for telling me. I saw he was not feeling well, so I asked him if he needed to talk. I think he is better now.” With that, Bob smiled and went out to greet the other guests.
At the school, Bob made a lasting impact on the students. He was often mistaken for one of the staff because he found time to be there three, and sometimes four, days a week. He made a difference by loving each child as if he or she was the only one he had to love.
Bob spent most of his career at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. Even when he retired, he found time to keep his connection with students and faculty. He gave of himself whenever he was needed.
Bob never participated in an evangelism program, yet he was an evangelist in word and deed. He never had a course on how to share his faith, yet he shared the gospel by the way he lived in a relationship with the people around him.
Here is what I want you to do. Take time this week to participate in this exercise. Get a pen and paper and write down your responses to the following questions:
- When you go on and on about what is important in your life, who or what are you talking about?
- When have you experienced love so deeply that you wanted to tell others about it?
- How has your experience of being loved affected your living? How has your experience of love affected your relationships with the people where you live, work, and play?
- When you talk about is important to you, do you try to persuade others to adopt a point of view, or do you point people to who is important to you?
- People give their lives to God, not to programs. How are you telling people about God? What experiences of God’s love are you sharing?
The five questions above are based upon one big assumption. The assumption that you want to tell others about your experiences of who and what is important to you.
Share Your Experience of God’s Love
The same is true of evangelism. When you experience God’s love so deeply that you want to tell others about it, you will find ways to share your experiences of God’s love. As God’s love affects your living and your relationships so significantly that you can’t keep it yourself and when God’s love in Jesus is primary in your life, you will find ways to share your experiences of God’s love.
Remember, your new life in Christ comes through the grace of God. When you experience God’s love it will be too wonderful to keep to yourself. Your best evangelism is rooted in your deepest relationship. So, share the good news with everyone in everything you do and say. The world will be better for it!