BIBLE EXPLORATIONS: CONGREGATIONAL VITALITY
Understanding intentional, authentic evangelism
By Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today
We rarely talk about evangelism, let alone evangelism that is intentional and authentic. But on the first Sunday of Lent, the lectionary offers a great passage for pondering it. Take a minute to read Romans 10:8b–13 — and continue to verse 17 for extra credit.
Our Presbyterian hesitancy to talk about evangelism revolves around three questions: What is it? Why do it? And how should we do it?
What is evangelism? In Romans, Paul discusses the hope of evangelism — that everyone would call on the name of the Lord and be saved, because they confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead. To get there, though, a chain of actions beginning with the evangelistic impulse must take place: Jane proclaims Jesus Christ, so that Dick hears, then believes, and then calls on Jesus. Jane can witness to Jesus Christ by working for justice or through acts of compassion. But when she actually says something about her faith in Jesus, that’s evangelism as I’m defining it here. The advice parents give toddlers works here, too: Use your words!
Why do evangelism? Some Presbyterians believe that all humanity goes to heaven, so why would we need to share our faith? A statement from the 214th General Assembly (2002) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) called “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” sums it up beautifully: Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope and love in him. … Yet we do not presume to limit [God’s] sovereign freedom. … Thus, we neither restrict the grace of God to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith.
We share our faith in Christ out of the hope that Jesus’ promises for abundant and eternal life will be given to others. Another reason to focus on evangelism is because of the post-Christian nature of our society. Prior generations could assume that their friends, even if from another religion or embracing no religion at all, would be familiar with the story of Jesus. Not so today. As Paul reminds us, “How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?” This leaves us with the last question …
How should we do evangelism? Maybe, like me, you have been on the receiving end of painful, judgmental attempts to bring you to faith. Maybe, like me, you have been on the giving end of some glib or impersonal words trying to argue someone into the faith. We often avoid evangelism because of dicey interactions like these.
So often these uncomfortable efforts are transactional rather than relational. What if, instead, we thought about increasingly opening ourselves to our neighbors, colleagues and friends? As we invest in them, opportunities will arise for us to tell our stories of what our faith means to us. As we become closer to them and as we pray for the Spirit to nudge us when the timing seems right, our faith becomes one aspect of a rich, full relationship. If they are unreceptive, we keep loving and investing, and maybe the Spirit will one day nudge us again to share.
As we enter Lent, rather than giving something up, consider taking on a deeper relationship with some non-Christian friends or family. Maybe take a different person to coffee each week or plan a meal with several neighbors to build community. Over time as these relationships progress, “the word … on your lips and in your heart” (Romans 10:8) will have a chance to connect, at just the right time.
Chip Hardwick is interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois.
- What personal faith story could you share with others?
- Who in your circle of friends, family or work colleagues could you share this story with?
- What is your biggest reason for hesitancy or fear when it comes to sharing your faith?
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