by Rob Weingartner
I’ve been thinking about evangelism and about how it is a word that frightens people. It seems to me that many in the church struggle with the “E” word because they associate it with other words like coercion, manipulation and judgmentalism. But that is not the way it’s supposed to be.
The English word evangelism comes from the Greek word euangelion; the Greek word means good news and is often translated gospel. What has happened to lead us to the point where people are afraid to share the good news? Are we afraid it will be heard as bad news? Are we afraid of rejection, as if someone else’s response to the gospel is our responsibility? Is religious belief now so personal and private a matter? Why so timid?
I remember as a young pastor, years ago when there were still banks of pay phones in public places, seeing an excited young man talking on the phone. Although he was at a distance down the hall and I couldn’t hear his words, I am sure that I knew what was happening. He was calling family and friends to do the only thing that one does with good news – share it. He was calling to announce the birth of a new baby.
In the gospels evangelism does not appear as a project or program. Rather, it is the natural result of experiencing the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Remember the story about the demon possessed man at Gadara who was liberated by Jesus and then goes about the cities of the Decapolis telling others what Jesus had done for him? The Book of Mark begins with these words: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” We even call the first four books of the New Testament gospels because they tell the story of Jesus Christ, the one who brings good news, the one who is good news.
Darrell Guder writes that the gospel is news that is so urgently good that it must be shared. I wonder if we truly believe that. In response to our awkwardness, lack of confidence or whatever it is, back in 1989 the PC(USA) General Assembly adopted the following definition: “Evangelism is joyfully sharing the good news of the sovereign love of God and calling all people to repentance, to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, to active membership in the church, and to obedient service in the world.”
I suppose many of us get caught up on the calling people to repentance part of this definition. But I think even that can find its place if we stay focused on lavishly sharing and showing the love of God in Jesus Christ. If we believe that abundant life and everlasting life are truly and only found in Jesus Christ, and if we care for others around us, how can we not share with them this very good news? Perhaps part of our struggle is that too often, as we think about sharing the gospel with others, we focus on how different we are from them – we’re in; they’re out; we’re right; they’re wrong; we have Jesus; they don’t. How different that approach is from the way D.T. Niles described evangelism: One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
I love the story in Acts 4 where Peter and John are taken before the authorities because they healed a man on the Sabbath. The leaders simply don’t know what to do with them. Finally, they tell them that they may no longer speak in the name of Jesus. And Peter and John answer them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Lord, suffuse me afresh in your grace that I might not keep from speaking about you. May I humbly and openly share your good news. Amen.
The Outreach Foundation