“Evangelism is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
This was a quote that I wrote down while attending an Episcopal workshop entitled “Evangelism: The Gentle Response.”
Coming from a multidecade background in the Baptist denomination, the idea of Evangelism is not as foreign to me as it might be to those who were raised in the Episcopal church. But it doesn’t have to be an intimidating command for any of us.
And make no mistake, it is a command from Christ. “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
And if the words of Christ Himself were not enough, Paul also tells us, “.…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…“ 1 Peter 3:15 (emphasis mine)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been the
victim recipient of some evangelism that was neither gentle, nor respectful, and you don’t have to look far to see the prevalence of that kind of evangelism and the toxic effect it has on the reputation of the church and Christians as a whole. And let’s just be honest, we live in a busy world. Who has time to really stop long enough to “evangelize”?
Well, that might be where this gets difficult. Because, as I recall, there were not disaimers on Christ’s command to us or Paul’s admonition regarding how difficult other people might make this process or how much free time we had to devote to it. If we’re serious about living as “children of light”, it is our duty to reach out to others in love to draw them into the faith. I also notice that Jesus nor Paul tell us why we should be doing this – they just tell us to do it. But I don’t think these Scriptures are there to give us a to-do list or to encourage us to build up church membership. As is the case with so many things that I’ve come to know about God over the last several years, I find that what I often look at as some sort of spiritual requirement or obligation many times ends up changing me in profound ways. Such is the case with evangelism.
As part of our workshop today, we had to tell a perfect stranger our story. And listen to theirs. Facebook and Twitter and email and texting are great, but real conversation is becoming a lost art and I found myself looking around the room this afternoon thinking, “I only heard a piece of one woman’s story today….a tiny piece. Look at all these people. They all have a story. Think about all those people outside these walls. They have a story. And it might be one that needs telling to someone who can tell THEM “the reason for this hope that you have“.
I have a good friend that shared a part of his current story with me this week. He’s in a rough place. A place I have been recently. And he has no hope. I listened to him. I told him I could say with all honesty that I really did understand. He’s visiting the Episcopal church tomorrow for the first time. After a year of mentioning my experiences in it to him and encouraging him to visit, he’s finally going to do it. That was evangelism. And I did it without even realizing that’s what I was doing. One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. I didn’t give him platitudes or cliché statements. I listened to his story, I have been gradually telling him mine, and I pointed him in the direction of the cross. Because that is, ultimately, all we can do for people of free will. They have to make their own decisions about what, if anything, their relationship with God is going to look like.
Evangelism, like many simple concepts, ideas, and even Scriptures, has been taken to the extreme by a lot of people and groups to the point it has soured many against church and Christianity.
So how do we combat that negativity? Well, Paul already told us: “…with gentleness and respect”. Those two things can go a long way in planting a seed that might lead someone to a relationship with God they might have otherwise never had.
I think, if we’re in tune with the Holy Spirit and truly “walking in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us”, evangelism will come fairly naturally. For me personally, it’s about slowing down long enough to pay real, not fleeting, attention to the other beggars that I encounter. Because, after all,
“We only have the moment to be Christ to another.”