I sometimes struggle with the concept of evangelism training. Growing up, I have seen many evangelism talks in various churches. Many people were excited, they knew the techniques and argued over the techniques. But while there may have been a growing interest in the concept of evangelism, there was not always growth in evangelism or a love for people. The students who came and did hands on work at the various church plants and the people who simply reached out to their neighbours in established churches seemed to learn a lot more than the people at these training lectures. The people who immersed themselves in the culture of the various church-plants seemed to learn more than those who attended a conferences. The people who just did something in their community were 10 steps ahead. Think about it: evangelism isn’t so much a technique but a way of life.
I want to suggest that the early Christians were not so concerned with evangelism, but in following Christ, and they wanted to see that good news that Jesus is Lord capture people’s hearts. This vision was evangelistic in nature. Michael Green writes in his book Evangelism in the Early Church: “Unless there is a transformation of contemporary church life so that once again the task of evangelism is something which is seen as incumbent on every baptized Christian, and is backed up by a quality of living which outshines the best that unbelief can muster, we are unlikely to make much headway through techniques of evangelism.”
Now, this way of life is a difficult point to get too. You make mistakes along the way. You face intense and harsh criticism. Not only from unbelievers, but also from Christian brothers and sisters and sometimes most intensely from Reformed and Presbyterian leaders. Many want to lead in evangelism, but not many want to do the dirty work of making mistakes, being laughed at, and facing what sometimes seems to be failure. Many want to be the leader in evangelism, but not many are willing to suffer for the Name of Christ. But the problem with this is that triumph only happens through trial, victories only happen through suffering. Jesus rebuked Peter for not understanding this in Matt. 16:21-23. This is the pattern of Jesus Christ Himself and we are called to imitate it: see I Peter 3:13-22.
So how should we proceed? Well, under the banner of Christ, in repentance and faith, in love and charity, in truth and love. But how? The Bible doesn’t really outline methods and tactics. We can look at examples: such as the methods of the Deacon Phillip (Acts 8), the methods of Paul (Acts 17), and look at the commands of Paul such as in his letter to the Church in Colossae: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col. 4:6) There are many more examples, but the common theme is that the glory of the Triune God has been revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, all the leaders are completely and utterly infatuated with Christ and what Christ is doing. I always appreciate these words from Remi Brague: “What interested them was Christ, and the reverberations of his coming on the whole of human existence.” So let us stop talking about evangelism and start talking about Christ.
I’ll admit, there are a lot of useful tactics and a lot of useful how-too books. But nothing is more useful than making a friend and truly being a friend. There is nothing more useful than loving God first and your neighbour in that perspective. Nothing is more useful than speaking the truth and maintaining a loving composure no matter how hot and thick the scorn and hatred of those in the church and the culture rains down upon you. Nothing is more useful than sticking as close as possible to the Word of God and following in the path of Jesus Christ.
Do I have a hope? Have I made the Lord Jesus Christ holy within me? Then the conferences and books will be a little more useful. Do I seek to be always as ready as possible to explain that hope? Tactics are good, but there are also people. You can make fun of the fact that Reformed Christians dress well for Church, but people matter more. People who are hurting, people who have experienced deep pain. There are people made in the image of God, and yearn for Him even though they run from Him. Just read Augustine’s Confessions. Does the depth of my hope in Jesus Christ run deeper than all the pain in the world? Then I will be ready to roll with the punches, to face the challenges of adapting to new scenarios and quickly changing situations.
This is the reason I desire to enter ordained ministry. I want to share a vision of Jesus Christ with the world around me. This is a vision that comes from the Word. I have had to wrestle with the pain and heartache I see in the world and in the Church. I still do. I grew up in a cross-over setting between the mission field and the established Church. My family worked with our Dad and Mom and a handful of Punjabi and Dutch Christians to establish a church plant in North-West Toronto. It has always struck me that this is the Church. It is the Church to sing both Punjabi and English songs and to always be reaching out to those who need Jesus Christ. It is the Church to face criticism and mockery and apathy, and to fight back with a vision of Jesus Christ that is able to save everyone. It is the Church to wrestle with internal struggles and be captured by a vision of Christ who saves and transforms. No Church is ever truly established until we find ourselves in perfection in heaven. Yes, it extends from generation to generation, but its arms are always reaching out into the world. I have never seen the point of a false dichotomy between raising covenant children and sharing the gospel. The two always support each other. The task of the church has many arms.
I still find terms such as established church and mission church are strange, and while I believe that the leaders in the New Testament times were strongly covenantal, they were also strongly missional. Acts 2: 38-39 brings these two things together in the call to believe in Jesus Christ. The Church is the Church and its task is to raise up young people in the fear of the Lord, but that task also has implications. If young people fear the Lord, that will blow a crater of light into a dark world. This light is not supposed to be a light under a bushel, but a light set on a hill. Their knowledge of Jesus Christ is supposed to have an impact on the world around them. The doctrine of the covenant is inherently and forever evangelistic because both are focused on Jesus Christ.
I used to make fun of the song “Shine Jesus, Shine” as a sappy contemporary ditty. I repent. I really want Jesus to shine: “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” (Mal. 4:2) I long for Him to fill this land with the Father’s glory. I want the Spirit to make our hearts blaze within us, as the nations flood with grace and mercy. I want Jesus to set us free by the truth He brings us. There is a lot of pain, and I want Jesus to break through that pain with the glorious salve of His mercy and grace. There is a lot of hatred, and I want Jesus to wage war on that hatred with the peace that comes at the cross.
I long for the Church to have a growing vision of Christ that all those around us are captured and transformed by.