Recently, I competed in and completed my first Ironman (70.3 miles). To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I had been training for about ten months and believed that—at the very least—I would finish. After I finished, my wife and friends asked if I was a one-and-done triathlete. Once I caught my breath (after seven and a half hours plus of exercise), I said, “Absolutely not!”
Why would I continue? For starters, I love exercise. Second, I can push myself in this environment to better my time. But the third, and the one that hooked me to continue my training and compete in more events, was the community—the triathlon tribe I experienced.
As I participated, I witnessed the various tri-teams throughout the country who traveled to compete with one another. I witnessed such an encouraging spirit from others towards a rookie like me. There was indeed this spirit that we are in this together and together we can finish.
I share this experience because this is the same experience we are desiring for the Evangelism Leaders Fellowship (ELF). I know what you are thinking: Oh! I love that movie! or What in the world is ELF?
ELF stands for Evangelism Leaders Fellowship, and is an initiative of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. More specifically, ELF is a fellowship and a think-tank community for those who lead denominations, networks, ministries, and organizations around the study and practice of mission, evangelism, and outreach.
Over the last couple of years, ELF has convened a diverse group of high-capacity leaders from a host of denominations, networks, ministries, and organizations. Such a diverse group truly serves as an environment where iron can sharpen iron.
While the Evangelism Leaders Fellowship is evolving, the spirit of ELF embodies the same spirit that I witnessed during my triathalon—we are in this together and together we can finish. Now, we aren’t finishing a race, but we are—according to Hebrews—in a race of faith. Encompassing this race of faith is the Missio Dei, which houses the command and discipline of evangelism.
Over the past several decades, the practice of evangelism has been lacking in a majority of churches and believers. In addition, in recent days the practice of evangelism has even been under assault—something now seen as wrong by a large percentage of believers. With evangelism being in such a claustrophobic environment, we are committed to—borrowing a phrase from a recent Barna study produced in partnership with Alpha USA—reviving evangelism.
For instance, at one of our bi-annual meetings coming up June 24th we are exploring what it would look like for another great awakening to take place in North America. Historically, a spiritual awakening begins with the people of God being inflamed by the gospel and the Spirit of God. That flame, however, cannot stay contained within the church; instead, it must spread via an evangelistic fervor that not only changes the spiritual landscape of individual hearts but culturally shapes the larger society.
At our meeting at the end of this year (December 5–6, 2019), we will be exploring the theme “Evangelism and Local Church Culture: Problems and Solutions, Obstacles and Opportunities.” During this meeting, the majority of our time will be allocated to many of our members presenting (in a TED-style format) what they see as problems and solutions to evangelism or obstacles and opportunities for evangelism in our culture.
The aim for these meetings isn’t to convene only to network—although that is a large part—but to produce resources and publications for evangelicalism.
To put it in triathlon language, ELF is a group of evangelism leaders coming together to sharpen one another with regards to their training and practice of evangelism, and then to collective produce resources and publications to share with a wider audience how they can successfully participate in their own training and practice of evangelism. And by God’s grace, ELF can be a small catalyst for reviving evangelism in North America!
If you are a denomination, network, ministry, or organization leader involved in the realm of missions, outreach, and evangelism, we would love for you to consider joining ELF. To find out more, visit our website, elfellowship.org.
Josh Laxton currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Center and Lausanne North American Coordinator at Wheaton College. He has a Ph.D. in North American Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.