Evangelism is reaching a 4-letter-word status in America today, I’m afraid. Say the word to any Joe or Jane on the street and they’ll likely retort with descriptive images of greasy pulpit predators who, with eyes flowing with glycerin tears, look into the camera, pleading for you to ensure the blessing of God on their ministry (and your life) by picking up that phone right now–not later because later is too late–and pledging your bank account number and your commitment to monthly payments.
That’s evangelism? No, not at all. Today, “evangelism” has become synonymous with “televangelism”. But in reality there is one big difference. The first is commanded in Scripture. The other is a sham world of scam artists who are themselves headed toward a Godless eternity, I’m afraid. In reality, most Christians are laughing at those idiots on TV right along with non-Christians.
The word “evangelism” shares its Greek (“euangelos”) roots with the word “angel” (found nicely in the center of the word). And the word “angel” simply means “messenger”. Read the stories of angels in the Bible and you’ll find that by and large, they’re primary job was that of messengers. And that is the glorious burden of Jesus’ followers to this day.
But we’re slow to get after it. That’s because we as Christians are painfully aware of the baggage that evangelism has carried. Here are a few words spoken to me over years from those I’ve tried to speak with about Christianity/God/faith/the Gospel:
“Don’t shove your beliefs on me.”
“I’m glad your truth works for you, but I have my own truth.”
“Faith in God is for the weak. You Christians just need a crutch to lean on that logical people don’t need.”
“I’m so sick and tired of you Christians who think you’re so much better than anybody else, when in reality you’re all a bunch of bigots and hypocrites.”
“Go to hell.”
“No. No. No. No. No. I don’t want to talk about that and I don’t think you should talk to anyone about your so-called ‘God’.”
We live in a world of “tolerance”, where no one is wrong unless they dare say that someone might be wrong. And many Christians today have given into the fear of being misunderstood, grouped with “those guys”, ostracized, cut off from current relationships, or even persecuted for opening their mouths to speak “the Truth”. (By the way, 180,000 Christians lost their lives last year for simply following Jesus. So much for “tolerance”.)
What must happen is for Christians to shake off the chains of fear and step into their God-given responsibility to share the Good News of the Gospel to anyone they can, relying on God for the opportunity, for the words to speak, and most of all for the outcome. In essence, we need to return to our role of “messenger”.
Jesus told His apostles in the book of Acts that “you will be my witnesses…” What does a witness do? A witness is called to simply speak what he/she knows; nothing more, nothing less. To “witness” to someone is to tell your story, to tell what you know, what you have seen and heard.
So, while I’m not “bible-thumper” who’s going to pounce on every person I see at the grocery store, I do take seriously the call of God on me and on all followers of Christ to invite others to follow Him as well. I love the story found in the Bible about a man born blind that Jesus healed. When crowded around by those seeking answers as to what happened to him, and who healed him, and what were the details, the man could only give this answer: “I don’t know if He [Jesus] was a sinner or not. But one I thing I DO know: I was blind, and now I see!” (John 9:25)
Now that’s evangelism.