December 30, 2011

Episcopal Dirty Words

I love to do something that really is not typically Episcopal. In fact, in the Episcopal Church it is like a “dirty word.” A study taken ten years ago suggests that half of you will stop reading this article once the subject is revealed!

Evangelism! Are you still with me? It’s the great double edge sword of the Church: most of us want the Church to grow, and we all want people to come to God through Jesus Christ (although we have a hard time articulating it). The Bible is pretty clear we need to go out and do it (Matthew 28:19)! Evangelize. Yet, I find it hard to talk about faith with the people I really know and like, much less the grumpy neighbor across the street I try to avoid.

This is what I’ve tried: I’ve read 38 books on evangelism, I’ve helped hang 15,000 doorknob hangers, I’ve knocked on 5,000 doors in neighborhoods, and I’ve organized an evangelism revival (yes, as an Episcopalian!).

This is what my work has produced: Nothing.

Not one person has come to church from these evangelism actions. Not one “hit” from a doorknob hanger, not one visit on Sunday from a knocked on door, not one “lost” person at the evangelism revival.

You may be thinking, “Pshaw, what else is there to try?” (or you may be rereading about the revival in the Episcopal Church, in a cold sweat.) There is one thing I didn’t try: Being myself.

I think, looking back at my efforts, I was doing evangelism wrong. My efforts were like using the wrong tool for the job, like trying to use a Phillips head screwdriver for a flat head screw. I had the right idea (reaching out to others), but it just didn’t fit (I was reaching out in ways that weren’t authentic to my personality.) Don’t get me wrong, I think in some situations a doorknob hanger can build excitement for a great Church event and can connect people with events that can be life changing. It just didn’t happen that way for me. So I reconnected with two evangelism books that are vey well written: The Holy Bible by God and Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels. 

The Bible illustrates the importance of evangelism, the need to be who I am, and the drive that God is with me in everything I do. The Bible also teaches me that I can’t do it alone, that I do not have the gifts alone to be a successful evangelist: I must evangelize through a community. Hybels pointed out, among other things in his book, that there are many different patterns of evangelism illustrated through the different lives of the New Testament. Let me give you an example through three radically different lives: Paul, Dorcas, and Matthew.

Paul’s approach to evangelism is likely the best known. He used an “intellectual” approach found clearly in his work in Athens as described in Acts 17. Paul used logic and reason with the people of Athens to win people to Christ. He walked into Athens, looked around for a few days, then went right to the heart of the community and challenged them with a clearly reasoned argument.

If you are the inquisitive type who enjoys working with ideas and evidence (and you’re a little bold), you likely share Paul’s pattern for evangelism.

Dorcas had a different pattern: She is simply described in Acts 9:36 as, “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” So devoted, when she died, the people got together and sent a messenger to Peter asking for him to come and help them. Through Peter, Dorcas is brought back from the dead. Her life was one of service, she made robes and articles of clothing for the widows and needy of the community, and her witness, her evangelism, wasn’t her words, but her actions of service. If you have a hard time talking about your faith, but you can fix a car or make meals for people, you likely share Dorcas’ pattern for evangelism.

Let me add one more pattern: Levi the tax collector. I like Levi’s pattern because it’s the most unlikely in the Bible and it is one of the patterns I share. Levi, in Luke 5:27, is called by Christ to follow. What’s the next thing that happens? Levi invites Jesus to a “great banquet” where there is a “ large crowd.” Basically, Levi was well connected and had some resources, so after Jesus called him, he threw a party for all his friends and invited Jesus!

Do you like to party? (Come on, the schools here close for Mardi Gras, tell the truth!) Have you ever thought about inviting friends who are out of relationship with God to a cookout and also inviting people of faith? When you do, you share the pattern of Levi, the tax collector.

There are other patterns in the New Testament, but you have to buy Hybels’ book to learn about them! What I’m trying to illustrate is that you are an evangelist, every person reading this article, in your own way. Think about what you like to do in your life: garden, sing, party, argue, puzzles, bike riding, drinking coffee, meeting new people… these are all ways to evangelize, all ways to introduce people to the love of Jesus Christ as you experience the love in your life.

The two keys are to be yourself with what is comfortable for you and to do it! The Church, Jesus Christ, and the Kingdom of God are counting on you (no pressure or anything).

I love talking about this and hearing other people discover his or her patterns for evangelism. Contact me at - maybe you are a missing piece in my pattern of evangelism, maybe we are meant to work together for the Kingdom.

Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2011 issue of Churchwork, a publication of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana