“I hate evangelism!” my friend Edward said as he wrinkled his nose in disgust.
“No you don’t,” I said. “You just don’t know what it is yet.”
To be honest, I used to think I hated evangelism. To be extra honest, I have a personal preference for the word ministry, but that’s just because I’m working through my own evange-baggage.
The dictionary defines evangelism as “the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.”
The reason why Edward thinks he hates evangelism is because all he’s heard about it is that he should go knock on people’s doors and pressure total strangers to start believing the way he’s been told he’s supposed to believe.
Edward’s a pretty socially savvy guy and that whole concept just totally wigs him out. His dilemma makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It makes me want to sit him down for a cup of tea and tell him how crazy I used to be.
But Edward is on the other side of the country now, so I’ve decided to write him a letter. Feel free to listen in, especially if you have evange-baggage of your own.
It’s time for a paradigm shift. I know you think you hate evangelism, but I don’t think you do. You hate what you think evangelism is. I hate that too, but it isn’t evangelism.
Once upon a time, I thought that evangelism meant social suicide. It was primarily about disseminating factual information in a non-relational way and then challenging people to accept and act on it. I thought that everyone who did evangelism was weird. I thought a lot of things that were wrong.
But I don’t think those things anymore, Edward. And I’m really glad I didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water, because evangelism is one of my favorite things. Evangelism is simply the sharing of Jesus. We naturally want to share the things that we’re excited about.
If evangelism means sharing Jesus and Jesus is awesome, then true evangelism just has to be awesome.
I’m excited about Jesus, Edward. Not as excited as He deserves, but still excited. Why? Because Jesus is the most consistent, compassionate friend I’ve ever had. When I spend time with him, He gives me His peace, and His love, and His joy, and thousands of other things that I don’t even have time to say.
But in order for Him to give me those things, He had to really suffer. But He chose to because He loves me. And Edward, the reason I’m telling you this is because I want Jesus to make your life awesome! Oops. I think I might have just accidentally participated in evangelism. It sort of just slipped out…
So here’s the deal. If evangelism means sharing Jesus and Jesus is awesome, then true evangelism just has to be awesome.
My head is about to explode, Edward. Because I’m going to tell you something epic.
You know how you care about the environment so much? Well, you might not believe me, but evangelism is environmental activism. Bear with me here for a little bit. Let’s think of five super-worthy causes that are aimed at making the world a better place:
- efforts to end human trafficking
- world hunger initiatives
- environmental activism
- efforts to end child abuse
- animal compassion
Evangelism helps with all of this. It’s the most effective form of activism. How? First of all, because we can’t share Jesus without getting involved in causes that bring relief to the suffering. That’s what Jesus does in the here and now. But in addition to that, evangelism promotes the total restoration of all things. When we share Jesus, we’re sharing the One who will ultimately bring an end to all suffering. He will recreate the environment. He will end world hunger. He will end abuse.
I don’t have time to get involved in every cause. I get overwhelmed when I think of the many varieties of suffering that exist. But evangelism gives me a way to cooperate with Jesus in the restoration of all things. What more could an activist ask for?
“But wait,” you might say. “Isn’t evangelism also about sharing truth… like sharing doctrines with people?” Yes, but not in the way you might think. These days, when we hear the word “doctrine,” it’s usually in a negative context. But doctrine is simply a set of teachings. If Jesus is awesome, then wouldn’t His teachings be awesome too?
True doctrine brings freedom.
If Jesus is love, then wouldn’t his doctrine be full of love? Yes. Sometimes humans fail to present the Bible the way Jesus wants it presented, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
Doctrine brings justice, Edward. I believe it with all my heart. The devil is the oppressor of minds. True doctrine brings freedom.
You should have seen the fear in my friend Katie’s eyes as she told me how scared she is of burning in hell forever. I’m sure it has grieved the heart of God to see her believe such lies about His character. What more of a loving thing could I do than share the teaching of how a loving God deals with the problem of evil? Don’t let doctrine become a dirty word, Edward. True doctrine brings justice to the oppressed.
So Edward, please don’t give up on evangelism. I don’t want you to miss out. Call it ministry if you need to, or outreach… call it whatever you want. But remember
…if evangelism is sharing Jesus and Jesus is awesome, then true evangelism has to be awesome too.
Elise studies theology at Andrews University. A registered nurse, her background is in health ministry and resource development. She is the coauthor of Goodbye Diabetes, Diabetes Undone and graduated from ARISE in 2007.