Models of Evangelism
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Eugene Peterson’s striking paraphrase of John 1:14 in The Message (NavPress, 2002) might be understood as a kind of mission statement for authentic, holistic evangelism in the twenty-first century. Churches seem to be not only surviving, but truly thriving in places where the good news of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in word and deed – by real flesh-and-blood people, for real flesh-and-blood people. We hear exciting stories of conversion, transformation, recovery, and reconciliation from places where the church has truly “moved into the neighborhood,” bringing God’s Word made flesh to people where they live.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles is the story of how God’s Word “moved into the neighborhood” and God’s Spirit swept through the nations of the ancient Mediterranean world. Acts 2:38-42 sets the stage for this amazing story of testimony and transformation.
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
As you consider what kinds of evangelism and mission your congregation might be called to extend in your own local community – that is, how the Word of God might be moving into your neighborhood – here are a few simple practices to guide your action and reflection, centered around the story of the early church’s outreach and growth in the book of Acts.
(1) Read Scripture: Host public readings of the book of Acts (or some section of it) in your congregation, and invite people from throughout the community to attend. After the readings, explore ideas for mission and ministry in your neighborhood. (Note that the whole book of Acts will take two and a half to three hours to read; you may wish to divide the readings into several smaller sections.)
(2) Pray Scripture: It is evident from Acts 2:42 that a profound part of the early church’s common life was their devotion to prayer for the church and world. Pray for your community, ideally with others in your church. If your congregation doesn’t already have a regular group that gathers for daily prayer, start one. In particular, pray for the specific needs of your neighborhood. Be mindful and thankful for the work of God’s Word and Spirit in your midst. You can find resources for this practice in the Book of Common Worship Daily Prayer edition (WJKP, 1994).
(3) Study Scripture: Organize a Bible study on the book of Acts, and in the context of this study, seek to discern new directions for mission and ministry in your congregation. (This might take place in combination with the idea of a public reading mentioned above.) N. T. Wright’s two-part study Acts for Everyone (WJKP, 2007) is a good resource.
(4) Remember Scripture: Memorize a passage from the Book of Acts so you can know and pray these words by heart as you go about the work of mission and evangelism in your community. Valuable sections to memorize might include: the words of the prophet Joel proclaimed by Peter in Acts 2:17-21; the sermon of Peter in Caesarea in Acts 10:34-43; or the sermon of Paul in Athens in Acts 17:22-31.
(5) Live Scripture: Consider the four simple practices of Acts 2:42 as a model for Christian life, and a foundation for authentic and holistic evangelism: studying the Bible (devotion to the apostles’ teaching), fellowship, sharing meals (breaking bread), and prayer. How well does your community attend to these central practices of Christian faith and life? How do you invite people in the larger community (i.e., your neighborhood) to participate in these activities of the church?