What’s Evangelism??? (5/15/20)

Posted by on May 21, 2020 in EventReminder, Training | 0 comments

On March 20, our church hosted the first session of an advanced Lay Servant class entitled “Transforming Evangelism.”  It was led by Rev. Bob Costello and organized by the Greater NJ Conference.  About 15 “Advanced Lay Servants” from around the Delaware Bay District joined the class as part of their Lay Servant retraining responsibilities.

It was supposed to be a five-session course, meeting weekly in our building on Wednesday nights.  We completed the first two sessions, but then- the Coronavirus struck, and the rest of the class was put on hold.

On Friday May 15 we had a teleconference and wrapped up the course by working through session five together.

That’s the background to the story.  But here’s the message…

 

Evangelism!

What thoughts come to mind when you hear that word?  If you feel that you’re on on the “receiving end,” you might feel threatened.  Somebody’s knocking on your door.  They’re thinking they can get you to join their church. But you’re thinking that you want to get rid of them as soon as possible. 

And if you’re being asked to “Evangelize” you’re scared.  You’re checking your calendar hoping that you’ve already scheduled something that will give you an excuse to say “sorry, but I can’t make it…”

The word is threatening.  It’s scary.  It’s something we’d rather not think about.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  If we can change the way we think about evangelism, maybe it can actually be a positive thing.  After all, among the Fruits of the Spirit is Joy and peace.  Jesus told us, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. ” (John 10:10).  A lot of good stuff comes our way when we know God. 

We should want to talk about it.  Just before He returned to heaven, Jesus told us to go and “Evangelize.”  He left us with these parting words: “Therefore 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.” Can hearing the experience of a “witness” or can being a “witness” be a positive experience?  Jesus says so.  He says that it’s part of our Christian journey.

  Here’s a definition of the root meaning of the word…

The word evangelist comes from the Koine Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (transliterated as euangelion) via Latinised evangelium as used in the canonical titles of the Four Gospels, authored by (or attributed to) Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (also known as the Four Evangelists).

The Greek word εὐαγγέλιον originally meant a reward given to the messenger for good news (εὔ = “good”, ἀγγέλλω = “I bring a message”; the word “angel” comes from the same root) and later “good news” itself.”

From Wikipedia

Bottom Line:  “Evangelism” means “Good News”…

 

Trading Stories…

Listening to somebody else’s life story and honestly telling your own life story can be both a humbling and uplifting thing to do.

But we do it on social media all the time.  We post pictures of our dinners.  We tell a story about some cute thing our kids did.  We write posts about birthdays, graduations, or weddings.  We tell our life stories all the time.  And, we scroll through our timelines to read what other people are saying.  Not only do we like to tell our stories, we like to listen to other’s stories too. 

There’s something that’s built into us that makes us want to share in other people’s life stories.  We want to share in other people’s joys and to let others tap into the joy that’s in us.  Somehow, trading stories makes life richer and more fulfilling; it’s almost as if each of us has a piece of the puzzle that needs to be shared with someone else.  Opening up our lives to others by sharing stories somehow makes us feel more secure and less alone.

It may seem strange, but that’s what “Evangelism” is all about too.  Evangelism is simply trading stories:  Listening and telling. Listening to eachother’s struggles and sharing how God has gotten us through those struggles.

Ok, you might be thinking now is the part where “Facebook” is going to turn into religious tracts… when “scrolling through my Facebook wall” or “scanning my Twitter feed” is going to be equated with opening my front door to an Evangelist…”  Tracts and front door conversations are just means of communication.  What we really need to be open to are the stories.  Your stories.  Their stories…. OUR stories.  We’re all on a journey. 

 

Traveling on a Journey…

Social media is a one and done thing.  You read the post, click “like”, maybe share it (if you actually did like the post), and then you scroll down and look for something else.  Later on you come back and read the next posts on your wall or see if anyone commented on your shared posts.  Each post eventually fades out and you move on to something else.

But life doesn’t work that way, and neither does the Christian Experience.

Being a follower of Christ is a lifelong journey; it doesn’t “fade out” as long as we’re on this earth.  Evangelism is an invitation to begin or to refresh that journey.  It’s not an imperative to make a decision on the spot, to instantly be “born again.”  It’s the beginning of a relationship and an extension of your story.

 

Good News…

The word Evangelism is connected with “Good News”, and the good news that needs to be shared is that the God who made us actually wants to have a direct relationship with us.  That’s hard for anyone to wrap their heads around.  The almighty God who made you, me, and everything that we can see in the world cares about us.  He even made the things that we can’t see or haven’t discovered yet.  As we travel along on the journey of life, our knowledge of God grows.  But as knowledge grows, we become even more aware of the vast realms of God which we can’t understand.  And so, life is a growing, constant, and fulfilling journey.

The good news is that God is patient with us.  He works with our limitations to increase our knowledge of Him.  Then He increases our faith so that we can trust Him in the areas we don’t understand.

The good news is that God loves us.  In fact, He loves us so much that He became a man and even died for us!  Now that’s something that’s way too big for us to wrap our heads around. 

But there’s more good news.  Even if we can’t understand things like “sin” and “grace” and “propitiation” God doesn’t care.  Evangelism isn’t about adopting a “religion” or “theology.”  The only thing that matters is whether or not we are committed to having a relationship with God.  God will make the rest work out as long as we’re willing to work with Him.

And that’s why it’s a journey.  You don’t “get saved” in an instant.  You might be able to point to a specific time and place where you began your journey, but the road is lined with mountaintops (good times) and with valleys (tough times).  But along the way, we’re able to see more and more of God in our lives.  The journey brings peace, joy, and even love.

That’s the good news: God loves us. As we travel on our journey and share our stories, we learn to love Him more and more, and we become more like Him. 
Helping others on their journey and allowing others to help us on our own journey is what evangelism is all about.

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Transforming Evangelism

Back to the Lay Servant Class… The textbook we were using was entitled “Transforming Evangelism.”  That title immediately provoked a question at the beginning of the first session.  What’s being “transformed”?

  1. Evangelism?  Is the purpose to change the way we think about Evangelism?  To redefine our reaction when the word “Evangelism” is put in front of us?
    OR
  2. Us?   Does it describe a type of evangelism?  Can evangelism be transforming?

The answer is- BOTH!  Many folks inside and outside of the Church have misconceptions of what evangelism is, and so we need to “transform” our concepts.  The “evangelism” we think we know is frequently wrong.  Instead, we need to consider “evangelism” as something which can transform people.  Evangelism is “transforming.”

The founder of the United Methodist Church, John Wesley, viewed evangelism in a way that wasn’t blurred by the religious and political concepts that we have today.  Evangelism isn’t a type of church or part of a political party.  Wesley saw evangelism as part of a relationship between people on a journey.  It’s a relationship between people of a community (even if that “community” must practice “social distancing” and exists only “online”). 

The community that we want to be a part of has two purposes:

An Inviting Community

Jesus met people at their points of need, and that’s what we all want.  We don’t want to be around someone who wants us to do something for them and then breaks off that relationship as soon as they get what they want.  Jesus stuck around for the long haul, and all of us can be part of that ongoing relationship.  You don’t have to be a member of a church or even a “churchgoer” in order to be part of Jesus’ community. 

An Inviting Community reaches out and welcomes anyone into it.  It doesn’t exist just for the sake of the people who are already in it.  It reaches out and helps anyone who is in need (spiritual, emotional, AND physical).  And… all of us are in need!

 

A Sustaining Community

Following God and continuing to be His “hands and feet in the world” runs against our natural (sinful?) instincts.  We need help to stay on the journey.  So, evangelism invites us into a loving community which can support us in our journey by increasing our knowledge (Bible Study), love (helping others) and even to hold us accountable.  We need to be part of a community where we can openly share our stories with others and to listen to other’s stories.  We need encouragement, not judgement.  We need commitment, not salesmanship.  We need the same kind of community that Jesus demonstrated:  one that’s with us for the long haul.

 

 

Evangelism!

This word shouldn’t be threatening.  It’s transforming.  It invites us on to a journey that leads to a deeper, more loving, more purposeful, and a more loving life.  It’s good news!  It’s a story worth sharing.

 

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