Some of you reading this humble little post will remember a time when evangelism seemed easier to understand, and possibly easier to do. Not only was there a greater knowledge and acceptance of God in broader society, much of evangelism was an event driven exercise within the church walls or outside in evangelism crusades. For many laypeople evangelism was limited to giving an invitation to attend something where someone else would preach the gospel and call people to repentance and faith in Christ. Some of you may indeed be fruit of that kind of ministry, and wonder why we don’t see as much of that today. Is it a sign of a weak and pathetic (or perhaps apathetic) church? I have been thinking about this particularly this week as we head into the long weekend and reflecting upon our upcoming Canada Day celebration on Monday that will see hundreds of people from outside the church celebrating with us on our property. What is the objective of our event, and more generally, how does evangelism relate to the church?
I believe it is critically important to understand that biblical evangelism points people to God, not the church. Paul exhorted the Christians in Corinth to be “ambassadors for Christ” recognizing that God gives us a “ministry of reconciliation” and “entrusting us with the message of reconciliation”. God makes his appeal through us and the thrust of the whole appeal may be simply summarized as “be reconciled to God” (all quotes from 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). The Good News is not primarily “be reconciled to other people”, a wonderful by-product of the gospel, but rather how God chooses to reconcile the world to himself. God is therefore the focus of evangelism.
Evangelism is, however, the work of the church – done by you and me. If you are a follower of Christ you are an evangelist. Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Mark 1:17).” Given that evangelism is a work of the church it stands to reason that one of our jobs as leaders is to equip the church for this work (cf: Ephesians 4:12). Over the past nine months we have done this through Life Group training, seminars, weekly e-bulletins, and Sunday morning preaching as we model proclaiming the gospel with clarity, conviction, and creativity.
This is not to say, “don’t invite people to church”. A non-Christian who comes to our church on any given Sunday will be evangelized if they listen to what is sung, hear the words of scripture, attend to the preaching ministry, or observe a communion service. They will also (I hope!) see the impact of the gospel by the love we have for each other and them (John 13:35). That being said, generally the most effective evangelism happens through our natural relationships outside the church.
Which brings me to our Canada Day activities at the church. Our objective is to celebrate God’s gifts to us as Canadians in a way that also shows love and care for our community. Although we don’t preach a sermon or collectively call people to repentance, we do have an opportunity to love and serve our community in such a way that draws attention to God’s good gifts to us. We are often asked, “how can you do this for free?” or “isn’t there something I can pay to help with the cost”? This is a chance for us to say, “it is our pleasure to give, because God has given so much to us.” Even though we won’t have explicit evangelism through a message, it is a connection opportunity for all of us. Do you see a neighbour or shop owner you know? What a great chance to chat and create a follow up hospitality opportunity. Instead of parking your family picnic blanket next to your favourite church family, why not meet somebody new? Canada Day is one way we create connection opportunities into our community whilst also serving them. I hope to see you there Monday!