Evangelism Reclaimed

I talk to lots of people about Jesus.

Some go to church and others fell away. Many have never been to church and are brutally honest about why they’d never start. They are atheists, agnostics, believers and “spiritual but not religious.” They come from a variety of Christian and non-Christian faith traditions in the U.S. and beyond.

Like it or not, that makes me an evangelist.

When I first thought this term might apply to me, I was skeptical. Evangelists are old men like Billy Graham or nutty guys who stand on the corner in mid-town with megaphones, right? How could a woman who grew up in a secular home and spent a lifetime thumbing her nose at Christ and Christians possibly be an evangelist? The thought of becoming a Christian, not to mention “sharing the Good News,” seemed awkward and embarrassing.

Yet, in the months following my unlikely conversion to Christianity in 2003, I kept meeting people whose circumstances dovetailed so perfectly with that of a Bible character or my experience of the transforming power of Jesus that offering them encouragement through any other lens seemed inadequate. In those uncomfortable but energizing encounters, sharing my faith happened in spite of me rather than because of me. It transcended duty and morphed into inexplicable moments that surprised and humbled me every time.

This sort of raw and unpredictably organic evangelism cannot be taught by formula. Nor can it be accomplished consistently by standing on the corner and hoping for the best. As with every other aspect of living this faith that we claim, it requires less “us” and more “Christ in us.” Less programming and more heart-transforming discipleship.  

But how can we, as a leaders, help people get there? And, if we are honest, how can we learn to get there ourselves?

One thing I’ve learned since coming to faith is that my best thinking rarely compares to God’s best idea. While most leaders or aspiring leaders would agree with this in theory, many life-long Christians, especially those with ministry responsibilities, spend more time pursing a deeper understanding of leadership principles than they do learning to hear God and submitting themselves to following. Confident in the strength of their unique perceived gifts and calling, many leaders angst over the ins and outs of daily ministry while barely making time to listen. As a result, questions like, What’s next for evangelism in a rapidly secularizing culture? are often answered based upon the latest Christian or secular marketing communications bestseller rather than according to the prayerfully discerned guidance of the Holy Spirit.

But what if there’s more?  

What if we really believed the wisdom, knowledge and understanding promised in Proverbs was accessible to us? What if, rather than seeking answers in books, pastors and ministry leaders opened their minds and hearts to the less certain possibilities that emerge when we let go and let God be God? What if we let statistics and demographics be forgotten and allowed prayer, meditation, fasting and reflection lead us to God’s answers about what it takes to equip our people to share their faith, even if it takes us in unpopular directions?

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I’d been chewing on the first two chapters of Proverbs for a few weeks before I began writing this piece, and when I reached this line again, it hit me like a ton of bricks: The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Really, God? I lamented. People barely tolerate those two words in the same sentence these days, not to mention in the context of sharing “Good News.” Yet, while contemplating the relationship between evangelism and the fear of God over the next few days, some thoughts about fear began to gel.

Whether it’s admitted publicly or not, many pastors and ministry leaders are riddled with it. Fear of empty seats. Fear of losing the millennial generation. Fear of falling behind in the race to be leaders of influence. Fear of moral failure. Fear of turning people off with old church tactics and fear of not being able to come up with new ones. But broach the subject of the fear of God with the same people and they pull back like they’ve touched a hot stove. “Not the right message for a new generation,” they’ll quickly reply.

But what if our perception of the fear of God is wrong? What if we’ve allowed this threshold of wisdom to be co-opted by bad experiences with power-mongers and an unforgiving media? What if the Moorish proverb that says, “He who fears something gives it power over him” is actually true? Could that be what the author was getting at when he described the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom? Could submitting ourselves fully to God’s power over us rather than relying on our own skills and perceived gifts be the key that unlocks the door to discernment? Might corralling our fear of the details of life and ministry into a single reverential fear of Father, Son and Spirit alleviate the growing anxiety, depression and addiction issues that plague our churches?

I’m not sure, but this fledgling evangelist would love to be part of a community of believers willing to submit themselves, their churches and their ministries to God long enough to find out.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Neue

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