“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only…”
– James 1:22 (ESV)
This month we will begin a new series concentrating on evangelism. Evangelism is the urgent task of the church of which each of us has the responsibility of making Christ known in the world. Even with this responsibility upon us, many believers today feel that Gospel tract, sidewalk evangelism, street preachers with bullhorns seems like evangelistic efforts of yesteryear. If that is true, where does that leave the state of evangelism today? Is our faith sharing a fading practice, or does it simply look different in the 21st Century? Or has all of the innovative efforts to engage today’s culture have believers left with this ancient practice so integral to their faith behind?
The Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which was an overview of the Catholic Church’s teachings about humanity’s relationship to society, promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965 addressed this issue. It stated in part: “There cannot be a split between your faith and your work; the mentality that you check your faith at the door is among the serious errors of our age… Far too long we have accommodated everyone but neglected our own beliefs. You are messengers of the Gospel; therefore, you are called to know the Gospel and to live the Gospel in your daily lives.” In other words, when it comes to evangelism, there cannot be a dividing line between theory and practice.
When evangelism is actively practiced and is not merely theoretical, then believers will enthusiastically share the Good News of Jesus by becoming committed to telling others about Jesus. Most of us have taken comfort in the famous quote of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” But we also need to understand the right balance. In an era of blurred spiritual distinctions, words are not only necessary, but the believer must share their faith through their lifestyle. The church exists for Christian evangelism and discipleship. We are to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19a). As disciples, when we share the Good News, that allows Jesus’ ministry to be continued on earth through us.
However, the personal responsibility of each disciple has been usurped by a ministry model of corporate evangelism that is based in training and strategy. Two of the more popular models of evangelism are: Evangelism Explosion (EE) and Faith Evangelism. Evangelism Explosion was developed in 1962 by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy. EE trains people to share their faith and know how to bring people of unbelief to belief. Faith Evangelism trains participants to share their faith. This model is also based on training specialists in teams to canvass neighborhoods and ask key questions of salvation in one-on-one confrontation. While these models have their success stories, there are some weaknesses in them; they are based on a volunteer system of participation and encourage evangelism as an avocation and not a lifestyle. Secondly, these models encourage the church to see evangelism as an avocation, rather than the responsibility of every believer. Nevertheless, the biblical mandate (Matthew 28:19-20) is upon every disciple and that is to make disciples. The mandate cannot be delegated to a team of trained volunteers in the rhetoric of evangelism. Jesus is clear; each of us has a responsibility of sharing the Gospel in the natural context of daily living. (See John 13:34-35). It is from this perspective that I believe that we are to teach and practice lifestyle evangelism.
Next Week: Continuation
The writer does not assume responsibility in any way for readers’ efforts to apply or utilize information or recommendations made in these articles, as they may not be necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer. Rather, the objective is strictly informative and educational. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.