Friday, November 30, 2012

Evangelism: Learning to Listen

"Evangelism" is a term that many folks do not like. Many Christians affiliate the term with fanaticism and spectacle that they are not interested in associating with. Yet, those that give the term the bad rep' most often are going about the practice of evangelism poorly. 

In their massive work, World Christian Trends, authors David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson compiled financial data from churches across North America on the "cost-effectiveness of mission" for the year 2000. In that year, it cost the collective church of the U.S. $1,551,000 per convert. The U.S. is listed by the authors as one of the least cost-effective nations in evangelism.

Image from "World Christian Trends" by David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson

Does a soul have a price? Certainly, the human life and soul are priceless! But this is enough evidence, to me, that we are doing something wrong. All the programs and projects that we accumulate to share the good news of the Kingdom appear to have poor results. So, what are we to do?

The answer begins with you.

In order to share God's good news with others, we need to know God's good news for ourselves. You can't share good news that you haven't experienced yourself. It is because we so often are unable to articulate this that we produce such a poor effect with others.

Evangelism feels icky when we hear “colonizing” undertones. We hear talk of one person bringing a better god to another person and it's just so off-putting to we twenty-first century, postmodern westerners. I couldn't agree more with such a concern. But here's the truth: God is already there. At the core of the good news of the Christian gospel is the announcement that we are not alone, God is with us. As Jesus said–and John the Baptist before him–the kingdom of God is here. That the effective rule and reign of the Creator of the universe would actually be so near… this is good news! Our job is not to "bring" God. But to simply point out God when God goes unnoticed. Yet, as I said, it begins with you. Taking notice of this in our own lives comes first.

One of the best ways I've learned to uncover where God is at work in my life is to draw out a timeline. With paper and pen, I simply scratch out the major points of my life. Highs and lows, the beginning and ending of meaningful relationships, etc. And in conversation with others I love and trust, I ask a simple question: Where has God been showing up in my life?

Evangelism begins with listening. Listening to the often hushed, sometimes loud, tones of the Spirit showing up in our lives. When we begin to see God at work in our own lives, we'll be better prepared for listen for God showing up in others.

Jason Evans is the Diocesan Young Adult Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. His posts on evangelism will continue on Saturdays during Advent 2012. Join an online discussion of this series on the EDOW Facebook page.