One word that brings with it a variety of responses based on each person’s own experience is the word “evangelism.”
To some, evangelism can be a passion of the soul that brings purpose to a person’s role in this world. Every day they wake up ready to evangelize the world.
To others, the idea of evangelism creates anxiety. Talking to strangers about one’s faith is out of their comfort zone.
And yet, to others, the word evangelism invokes feelings of downright anger. Perhaps they experienced the abuse of someone who preached a gospel of judgment and hate, all under the guise of evangelism.
Evangelism a tricky word because of all the different meanings it has adopted, and yet, it is a word that we need to take seriously as Christians.
In its essence, evangelism simply means to announce good news. Most of the time that it is used in the Bible it is translated as “preach,” but not always.
Oftentimes when we think about evangelism in the Bible, we think about the New Testament. After all, when we talk about preaching the good news of the gospel, we are usually referring to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But have you ever thought about evangelism in the Old Testament? If you think about it, God created the nation of Israel as God’s holy people. They were to be set apart from the world to point the world to its one, true God. As a nation, they were living the good news of the kingdom of God.
They didn’t have to sit people down and verbally convince them that their theories about God made more logical sense than somebody else’s. No, they simply lived differently, and by doing so, they pointed people to God. They were practicing evangelism by living within God’s plan and design for their lives.
The truth is, there isn’t one, true way to practice evangelism. Think about how many different ways people find God on their individual journeys of faith!
Yes, for those who are intellectual, someone may need to provide a convincing argument for the existence of God.
But for those who are hurt, someone may need to love them with God’s unconditional and forgiving love.
Or for those who are lonely, someone may need to invite them into their home with the radical hospitality that Jesus showed to everyone he met.
Really, we could spend all day talking about the best methods of successful evangelism. But what, exactly, makes evangelism successful or not? What if the success of evangelism wasn’t based on the immediate outcome, but was instead based on the faithfulness of the person to practice it in the first place?
In other words, what if we focused less on the result, and focused, instead, on the practice?
Sometimes we focus so much on the goal, that when it doesn’t turn out like we think it should, we give up on trying at all.
It’s kind of like the game of golf.
You can spend 4 hours building frustration toward that little white ball that will never, ever go where you tell it to, and completely lose sight of the fact that you have the physical ability to be playing golf in the first place, the freedom in your schedule to take a four hour break, the resources to participate in such an expensive game, all in the context of God’s beautiful creation!
You can get so focused on your perceived goal, that you lose sight of the main goal of any game: to provide enjoyment.
It’s the same with evangelism. We get so focused on our perceived goal (to amass countless numbers of converts to Christianity) that we lose sight of the main goal to which God calls us: that is, simply living out God’s love publically and faithfully, announcing the good news with each breath we take, each word we speak, and each decision we make.
1 Corinthians 3 reminds us that we can do the planting and the watering, but God brings the growth.
Does that mean we don’t want to see people give their lives to Christ? Of course not! We want every single person to experience the good news of the gospel as we have!
What it does mean, is that we don’t have to be afraid of the word “evangelism.” We don’t need to feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of saving the souls of the world (which often leads to giving up trying at all). Yet, on the other hand, we also need to recognize that although God brings the growth, God uses us in that process.
May we learn to point the world to its Creator, simply by the way we live our lives. May our words and actions be a reflection of the One who created us, and who desires for us to thrive. And may we be faithful in our calling to continually plant new seeds, to water the seeds that have already been planted before and around us, and to pray to God for the growth that God has promised.