Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Evangelism and Guilt

Over the years I have wrestled with evangelism.  Not so much the doing of it, but the guilt of it, or better said, the guilt of not doing it.  Looking back in the history of my congregation as we prepare for our 125th anniversary, I noticed huge evangelism pushes back into the 1960's, and no doubt beyond.  It was "Church Growth" and "web evangelism"  and things of this sort by the 80's when my ministry started.  I remember going down to Ann Arbor to be trained in the Dialog Evangelism II program that had just been launched.  They took D.James Kennedy's work and reworked it again from Biesenthal's prior reworking, changing the "dialog questions" to reflect the new realities they observed in the population.  By the time I arrived out here in the country in 2000 Evangelism as a 'program' seemed much on the wane.  At any rate, one finds it difficult to carry out traditional door-to-door methods when your neighbors are mostly a half mile separated from each other, not to mention the fact that catching people home in the evening no longer is a given.  Nevertheless, St. Peter congregation has not ceased proclaiming the Gospel, and last Sunday I brought into membership a man who had spent much of his adult life outside the church.  This Sunday or maybe next I might bring in a couple who went through adult instruction and found our church as people who lived in the area and felt at home here since he was a Catholic and she was Nazarene. Both are educated with graduate degrees. People of all types  come to the faith and grow in the faith even when we don't go knocking on their doors every Wednesday, and despite the fact that we don't have an organized program. Amazing.  Along those lines I appreciated a recent piece posted by Pr. Weedon on his blog:
What I have come to rejoice in is this:  our Lord did not command, "Go, fish for men!" He rather promised, "Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men."  He did not say:  "Go, witness!" He promises, "Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high and you will be my the ends of the earth."  And He does make us so:  fishers and witnesses.  As we follow Him, as we seek to love Him and to love our neighbor, serving them and honoring them and opening our mouth whenever they ask us to account for the hope that is in us, the Lord actually has use of us in bringing others to faith.  But He solidly keeps His hands on the verbs for conversion.  Not only is it true that I cannot believe by myself; I cannot give faith to a single other person out there - no matter how clever I may be in my attempts.  But I can love them, serve them, rejoice in them, and whenever they ask an account - open my mouth to declare this great joy in which we live with our sins forgiven, our death destroyed, secure in the love of a Savior who loves them too and did all this for them as well.

Have you ever been in a conversation where you had the distinct impression that the other person asked a question of you, but really wasn't listening, wasn't interested, was only waiting to talk?  How frustrating that is?  And yet that's how we've made evangelism come off too often.  What a different critter it is when our witness to the Savior comes as a result of genuine inquiry.  And with no need to pressure the person - just to share with them the love that we have come to know and rejoice in and live from - and to assure them that it is for them as much as for us.  I see that as the Lord's keeping His gracious promise to us - to make us fishers, to make us witnesses.  Gift, not demand.  Promise, not burden.  Peace, not pressure. 

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