This month at the “Awaken” worship and small group experience, we’ve been tackling the difficult issue of Evangelism, something that – for me – is something of a four-letter word. Jay (a colleague here at UM4GI) shared some of his difficult experiences in early life and early ministry related to evangelism, and my own experiences haven’t been any better!
More than once, someone has asked me if I was “saved” and if I had given my life to Jesus. And while I think it’s true that I am “saved” (although those who ask may define “saved” differently than I do) and I have absolutely given my life over to my God and Savior, the question itself seems to indicate some kind of hierarchy. If I haven’t experienced the work of the Holy Spirit and the redeeming love of the Christ, does that somehow mean that God loves me less? Does that mean that God’s grace isn’t available to me? I don’t think so. I think God’s love and grace are bigger than that.
The perception of evangelism has become fairly negative, seeing evangelism as something twisted and judgment-filled where one person or group holds their holier-than-thou we-have-something-you-don’t attitude over the heads of another person or group saying that God won’t love them, unless. I even went to an evangelism training once where the instructors actually taught that tricking someone into a relationship with Jesus was OK as long as the relationship was established. The rationale seemed to be that the ends justified the means.
I don’t think that’s evangelism. I don’t think that’s love. And I’m abundantly clear that that isn’t how I am called to treat my “neighbors.”
I think of evangelism as invitation. That’s it. Invitation. And in my experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean telling someone that the place that I worship is exactly the best place for them. What if invitation was more about the one being invited rather than the person doing the inviting? What if we expressed more care for them then for our membership numbers?
What if the invitation was something like this: “I go to this great church and I really like it. I’d love for you to come and check it out. And if you don’t really feel comfortable at the place where I go, I really hope you’ll check out some other churches until you find a place where you are comfortable.”
Invitation without guilt; welcoming without pressure; an expression of love. To me, that’s more like evangelism.