Evangelism and Church Working Paper (2000)

Note: I am adding posts of documents I have written or found helpful in my search for a way to communicate the Gospel that makes a difference in people’s lives that is observable in time. I welcome comment. JWS

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Over the past four years I have mentored an Education for Ministry group.[1]  As an experiment I formed an all men’s group.   There are now thirteen men in all four years studying Old and New Testaments, Church History and Theology.   Relationships have formed and deepened as the groups met weekly for thirty-five weeks per year in three-hour seminars.  I have observed that several of these men have developed into evangelists.  They “rush”, as they call it, people inviting them to church but also into conversation about faith.   Often the invitation comes because people notice how much these guys care about one another and enjoy each other’s company.  The question is asked, “How do you all know each other?”  When the answer comes, “we are in a church group together,” people are intrigued.

 Being in relationship outside the group is powerful but the consistent gathering as community for fellowship, worship, reflection and study has a powerful impact on the maturing of each member.   One of the group in Year One said, “I’ve been in the group six months and already I feel more comfortable suggesting grace before meals and leading it myself.  I would not have done that before.”  The work of evangelism has become a conscious part of these men’s life as they interact with friends and co-workers.  Recently I inquired as to how this had happened.   The consensus was that being together regularly and studying the Christian tradition gave them growing confidence in where they stood and in speaking a good word about the good news of God in Christ.

 Marks of Evangelism:[2]

  •  Evangelism will arise out of the community, which out the message of God’s grace.  “The church does not aim at solving all the world’s problems, it is not the community of those who are perfect. It does need to exist as a community of people who have found a key to a wholeness the world does not have. It lives as a community of people who are a unifying force in the world.”
  •  Evangelism involves proclamation and celebration.  Evangelism means communicating the gospel in act and also in word.  The first task of all the baptized: lay, bishop, deacons and priests is to “re-present” Christ in the world.”

The story is told of the man who wanted to witness by his actions rather than his words to his next-door neighbor.  He did just that and one day the man and his neighbor were talking.  The neighbor said he had observed that there was something in the man’s life that made him happier and healthier than the neighbor and would it be all right if he as him a personal question?  The man was thrilled thinking to himself, “here it comes the pay-off for my witness.”  “Yes,” he said, “ask away.”  “Well, here goes,” said the neighbor.  “Tell me, are you a vegetarian?”  Evangelism requires both act and word!

  •  Evangelism is specific, not general.
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“It is impossible either to love or to educate anyone whom one has not taken the trouble to know and understand.”[3]   Evangelism is concretely related to the needs of those to whom it is addressed.  The matrix of evangelism is relationship.  Elton Trueblood once said to me that he believed in what he called the “principle of inequality” – the further in the Gospels one reads the more time Jesus spent with the twelve and less time he spent with the multitude.  The work of evangelism has always been done one at a time.

  Evangelism is oriented toward the kingdom of God.

“Evangelism is oriented not toward the past or toward some golden age of religion that once was. It is oriented toward the future.  It is the encounter with the grace of God NOW that points us to the unfolding lordship of Christ over all of life.  Evangelism is good news, not of the soul retreating from the world, but of the transformation of this world.”[4] Fundamentalism is looking for a past that never existed except in the wishful thinking of those who long for life to be simple without contradiction or mystery.  Such thinking makes those who think differently intolerable.  “Contrary to the dominant asceticism of the past few thousand years, Christianity is a world-loving religion, and not one based on dismissing, fleeing, or distancing itself from the world.   A church which claims to be opposed to the world is fundamentally alienating itself from God’s prodigious creativity at the heart of creation.  Little wonder that many people today are abandoning the church.”[5]

People are interested in knowing that there is a God and that God cares about them.

 “One striking trait, found in a number of different Gospel sources, is that Jesus seizes the initiative in calling people to follow him.  Three clear examples are given by the Marcan tradition: the call of the first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) in Mark 1:16-20; the call of Levi the Toll collector in 2:14; and the (unsuccessful) call of the rich man in Mark 1-: 17-22.  In each case, Jesus issues a peremptory call to follow him, a call addressed to people who have not taken the imitative of asking to follow him.”[6]

 Following the spirit of Jesus we invite people not to follow us but to join us in following him.  My suspicion is that we are sitting comfortably (more or less) in our pews waiting for people to come to us when they are waiting for a call that in many cases never comes.

 “Every child, and the child in every one of us, is ready to plead: Tell me a story.  For the role of stories is to explain life, and the good stories, in their very substance and in the structure of their language, become revelation.”  — Andrew M. Greeley

Being and Doing

 The EfM group spends time together in study, fellowship, reflection and worship but they also spend time doing.   Most of the group serves as ushers.   Four of the groups are vergers.  Five are lay Eucharistic ministers.   They also serve on the also unique parish organization the gravediggers guild.

 The Chapel of the Cross has an ongoing churchyard where members can be buried.  Almost a decade ago I began the practice of digging the graves by hand.  This has grown into a powerful “formational tool; no one could hire these men to dig a hole in the ground.  But what they could not be paid to do they choose to give as a gift.  It is a formational tool because it cuts through much of the cultural denial about death.  It is difficult to be in denial about your mortality standing knee deep in someone’s grave.  It is always good when the work of the church points people toward the eternal issues of life and existence.

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[1] A theological education for laity administered by the Program of the St. Luke’s Seminary,

Sewanee, Tennessee

[2] Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass

[3] Can Christians Be Educated Morton Kelsey, ed. Harold Burgess p. 12

[4] Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass

[5]Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

By Diarmuid O’Murchu [p. 75]

[6] A Marginal Jew Vol. III: Companions and Competitors    by John P. Meier, p. 50

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