Friday, December 21, 2012

Evangelism: Following Jesus

If you’ve followed this series of posts on evangelism, you may have noticed that what I’m proposing is basic communication skills. It’s not all that radical. Our unease with the subject of evangelism simply skews what most of us can do quite well in other conversations. Listening well to others, attempting to understand their perspective and communicating in a coherent manner–these are practices we are accustomed to.

There are other things you may have noticed about these posts. I work from the assumption that we are interested in relationships with others. Relationships take time. We are all put off by utilitarian efforts at relationships. We can’t expect anything less from others.

At the beginning of this blog series I mentioned the cost-effectiveness, or lack thereof, of evangelism in the west. Part of this problem comes from counting the wrong things. What we need to value is often hard to measure. Nonetheless, conversations are something we ought to be counting. And we ought to share with each other, more frequently, of our opportunities to tell and listen to the stories of God at work in our lives. Boiling evangelism down to conversion experiences is short-sighted. We’re called to make disciples, not simply converts, and that takes a lifetime.

Every time I travel for work, I cherish the last few moments I have with my family. Those last few words and touches before I get on a plane are precious. They are what I hang on to until we are reunited. Imagine what was like for Jesus before he left those friends he had spent his last three years with. They had laughed and cried together. They had experienced an incredible adventure together, spending almost every waking hour in each other’s company. Then, at the end of his post-resurrection time with these friends, he would ascend into heaven. He knew his last words with them would matter. And they would cement each word in their memories.

What does he say to them? In the Gospel of Matthew, we call it the “great commission.” It is the passage in which Jesus tells his closest friends to go and make disciples. Many theologians have argued that a more appropriate interpretation of Jesus’ words would be, “In your going...” That is to say, as you go about your everyday business of life, make apprentices of Jesus.

Why would we invite people to be apprentices of Jesus? Because he embodies the good news of heaven. He became God with us. For some, the idea of Jesus as God feels like a stretch. It’s part of the reason why some resist the idea of evangelism. People have often debated whether Jesus intended to say he was God. I’d argue that you can set this worry aside. One thing that is clear in the Gospels is that Jesus said, “Follow me.” And he was called “Lord” by those who did, even though this was a title reserved for Caesar (the king).

Few would debate that Jesus was clearly onto something. Even those that have not called themselves Christians, like Mahatma Gandhi, have acknowledged Jesus’ profundity and incredible example. Can you follow the way of Jesus? Can you consider him your leader? If you can, do that and let the rest take care of itself. As Billy Graham once said, “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” The pressure’s off. I would not encourage you take on the practice of those that have smeared the term “evangelism.” Yet, they will continue to be those that define it for the rest of the world until we reclaim the practice for ourselves. You are invited to share your story of God’s goodness in your life. You are invited to listen to the stories of others and celebrate God’s goodness in their lives. You are invited to tell the story of your faith community where Jesus’ apprentices learn how to live in the world through an ancient–future lens. You are invited on a journey that will transform you as much as others. You are invited to follow Jesus. I hope you will join in.

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.