Evangelism. Evangelist. Evangelize. Who knew that a word with an etymology relating to good news could become such bad news in our world?
We all know that evangelism has fallen on hard times. What is central to Jesus’ mission for us has become secondary to many Christians. Not only does this one word evoke strong emotion (on either side), but it has become increasingly polarizing among evangelicals.
There are few words that consistently cause such varied reactions globally. Some love it and engage in healthy evangelism, some are neutral and prefer to remain unengaged. Yet, others dislike what it entails and some are even unsure about its relevance.
One thing is for sure: evangelism is not going anywhere, and more than ever, we need to reengage in conversation and dialogue around evangelism. Perhaps more than this, we need to embrace and unleash the power and gift of evangelism in our post-everything world.
More than ever, Christians need to reaffirm their commitment to evangelism as a priority in their faith.
We seem to vacillate in popular opinion regarding the role and importance of evangelism in our faith. There are times when the evangelist is welcomed and there are times when evangelism becomes anathema to Christians—which seems ironic, I know.
Irrespective of our feelings regarding the word itself, sharing one’s faith is an important aspect of the Christian faith. Evangelism is not a side activity for a busy church. Evangelism is not an optional extra. Evangelism is biblical. Evangelism is natural. Evangelism is necessary for Christ-centred, Spirit-filled, and Bible-believing Christians.
John Stott states, “We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behaviour.” Sharing the Good News is good practise for Christians who care deeply about their neighbour, city, and the world.
Evangelism is love
One may even argue that evangelism is good for the world, and that sharing your faith is the most loving step you can take in every relationship. Where (healthy and holistic) evangelism is a priority, Christianity is good for the world, and Christians enjoy the favour of all people.
In an article in American Political Science Review from May 2012, Robert Woodberry, associate professor of Sociology at National University of Singapore, writes that “conversionary Protestants (CPs) heavily inuenced the rise and spread of stable democracy around the world.” According to Woodberry, CPs were a crucial catalyst in “initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, and colonial reforms, thereby creating the conditions that made stable democracy more likely.”
A world without a priority on evangelism from Christians is a world of hopelessness, darkness, and depravity. Whenever we lose ground on holistic and biblical evangelism, the vacuum is filled with spiritual poverty, shallow commitment and the church Jesus started is reduced to an ecclesial ghetto. If we love our neighbour, then we need to think clearly about our commitment to evangelism.
Evangelism is priority
There are a number of reasons why our fervour for evangelism is ebbing. I’m guessing you weren’t surprised by research by the Barna Group that shows that many Millennials are unsure about the actual practise of evangelism.
According to this research commissioned by Alpha USA,
Almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. This is compared to a little over one-quarter of Gen X (27%), and one in five Boomers (19%) and Elders (20%).
What does this look like globally? Perhaps that’s another article in itself. I’m privileged to work for an evangelistic organization based in Portland that has been in existence for over a half a century and continues to impact millions around the globe with the gospel.
Despite our culture’s feelings toward evangelism, we are more excited than ever about what God is doing globally to accelerate evangelism. Lausanne recently reported on a meeting between Kevin Palau (my boss at the Luis Palau Association) and Emmanuel Kwizera (International Director of African Enterprise) in Wittenberg, Germany, on the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation (2017).
An outworking of their meeting led to the formation of the Global Network of Evangelists which seeks to accelerate evangelism, advance the gospel, and admonish the evangelist globally. This article alludes to an encouraging development that has given birth to this column on The Exchange, where we hope to elevate evangelism because it is central to God’s plan in this world.
The truth is, evangelism is not plan B and it is not a word we need to retire from our vocabulary or practise. In an article on CNN entitled ‘Why do Christians keep inviting you to church?’ Ed Stetzer reminded us that Christianity is a missionary faith because of the life and teachings of Jesus. He argued that sharing our faith at Easter and Christmas is expected by non-believers and is the most caring thing we could do:
Admittedly, some Christians have been intolerant at times throughout history, seeking conversions through unethical means. However, sharing our faith itself is not intolerant, but in fact is something that shows we really believe what Jesus said and we care about those around us.
Evangelism is the most loving act we could consider and it is a gift of Good News that’s worth sharing.
Let’s be a strategic part of reimagining evangelism worldwide in fresh ways as we together seek to break the mould that has held us captive in the imaginations of our secular world. Surround yourself with those who are passionate about evangelism in our milieu. That’s why I’m going to Amplify: The Wheaton Evangelism Leadership Conference this June and invite you to do likewise.