I once heard someone refer to evangelism as the e-word in the same kind of way people would avoid swearing by talking about the f-word. In their mind evangelism was something distasteful, perhaps even unhelpful in the modern world. This was clearly a reaction to a bad experience and I understand why they might feel like this. A lot of attempts at evangelism are done by people who are well meaning but lack the skills or maturity to do it in a culturally appropriate way. It often bears little fruit and then they say "it doesn't work here."
I have a vision to do something about this. What would it look like to train and equip evangelists to be skilled, sensitive and fruitful? What might it look like to raise up evangelists who function as Ephesians 4:11,12 suggests "to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."
The word evangelism or evangelist has a poor image. Consider the reaction Franklin Graham recently received from council officials in Glasgow and Liverpool. Their first impression is someone who is judgemental, hates certain kind of people and therefore unwelcome in our cities. I doubt that is the reality but it is how many people think.
Consider what the word evangelism literally means. The New Testament Greek word euangelistes means "bringer of good news" from eu- "good" and angellein "announce," from angelos "messenger" or angel. The evangelist is meant to be a messenger of good news.
Think about the birth of Christ in Luke 2:9-11. Angels appeared to the shepherds. The passage says "the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."
Angels (or messengers) came in the presence and glory of God, they brought good news designed to cause great joy for all people. That good news centres on the coming of a Messiah who is Lord, who turned out to be Jesus of Nazareth.
If evangelism is good news for all people why does it have such a bad reputation? I think there are two main answers:
1. The message is unpopular with those who are resistant to God (in the natural and spiritual world)
2. The message has been delivered in a way that is NOT good news to those who hear it.
Good communication is a skill and it has to be combined with good motivation (why are we telling the story, is it out of pressure or genuine conviction and love?)
Where do we learn to be culturally relevant and faithful to the good news message? This has always been the question asked by missionaries who go to different countries and cultures. They have to find language skills, word pictures, cultural references that makes sense to the people there. Good news is not good news if it doesn't make sense because it hits cultural barriers. I recently watched the Amazon series 'James May in Japan' and he highlighted how ignorance of cultural values can ruin our credibility. At one point he forgot to take his shoes off as a guest in someones house and this was taken as a great insult and his ability to connect with the people was damaged. What do we need to learn about building bridges with a culture that is very different from Christianity? Parts of the western world are actually unreached people groups, including Scotland where I live. Our cultures clash and we need to learn how to communicate better by finding points of connection.
This blog is a starting point. I would love to get your feedback, to receive your thoughts, ideas, frustrations and topics that you think we need to address. I am starting a series of videos to stimulate conversation and will release these regularly over the next few months. Get in touch. Thanks.