This week’s post is a guest post and comes from City Square Church member, Claire Brown.
A series of events the last few days have taken me back to my thoughts on the topic of evangelism. They came off of a very high moment thinking about the next liturgical season coming up, Pentecost. In sharing a preview with some young people I spend my Sunday mornings with, I reflected on how exciting the energy around Pentecost can be and how I’ve never made that connection. Maybe it was the contrast of how underwhelmed 11 year old girls can be but it hit me like a wave. We at City Square are being equipped in many ways to excite others in growing our faith community and I feel very energized.
Then the events at the Boston Marathon happened bringing another wave of emotion; Sadness, hopelessness. I can easily name these familiar feelings after the fresh traumas of the loss in Aurora, Newtown, Sanford, Tucson and other cities… Intense excitement rooted in pain and fear that seems to keep repeating.
In many ways, the word evangelism tap dances on that emotional button of pain and fear, too. It was never clearly defined by my church growing up, allowing for other experiences from peers at school or by watching TV define it for me. I learned that ‘evangelism’ is a forceful and uncomfortable word that can be un-affirming, shaming and sometimes threatening. It’s not defined in the Bible clearly either. I recently learned, from a lecture, presented by Claremont School of Theology’s professor of evangelism, Dr. Jack Jackson, that the word was used maybe 10 times by John Wesley, though he seemed to be walking the walk and talking the talk.
Dr. Jackson also invited us to think about the Protestant church and its history as it is becoming a thing of the past. Our post-modern lives are not satisfied with ‘church’ as we know it. Where are going wrong? Is being a church just about membership and who’s sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning? Is it because of the decline of the ‘franchise’ church (the standardization of the protestant religious experience: pews, choirs, power points, praise bands, 20 min sermon packed into an hour of God a week) the reason for total chaos unfolding around us? The un-churched are outnumbering the churched so we must evangelize – sinners be damned! Is that the evangelical message of the 21st century?
Dr. Jackson’s lecture reminded me that religion manifests in human relationships. If this is true then we as a church are missing the point. So much so that Methodists (and Protestants generally) have created a culture of unauthentic experiences of God that we are running scared away from the truths that come from being connected deeply with one another. The church and our history cannot survive if we do not own ‘evangelism’ as a part of our own story. We need to name it and define its power as the Holy Spirit – a power that comforts and rests. That uplifts and empowers. This requires us to move out of our comfort zones and own our faith as a collective truth so that others may connect to God’s unconditional love through us.
If you’re wondering what the definition is, here is how I define it: Evangelism is a calling and gift to share unconditionally. To share the Good News of one very inspirational human story of the life of Christ. To share and grow with others so that they may know what kind of message is truly out there together – not in a teacher/student way but in a student/student way that is dynamic and meaningful, something more authentic than what there is offered on a Sunday morning in any congregation. Yes, we know where to congregate but do we know how to talk to one another?
We are called to show up to what is real and happening in a time of personal and national chaos whether it be as joyous and challenging as spending time with 11 year old girls or as horrifying as terrorism on a steady rotation. Evangelism is not comfortable but it can affirm, nurture and heal if we enter relationships with our neighbors and friends who might not trust what’s happening within the familiar four walls under a steeple and cross. In fact, John Wesley modeled evangelism by spending years with people before they called themselves Christians one-on-one. Wesley showed his community what it means to be purposeful Christians by providing relationship opportunities – opportunities to share doubts and receive affirmations from one another. ??Hate is not authentic Good News – do not be fooled. But joy is authentic. Peace is comforting when it’s authentic and love is real. We as City Square Church, as a movement, are being called to reach out with authentic intentions to transform ourselves and the community. To accept the gift(s) the Holy Spirit brings us so that we become a testament to hope for others to share infinitely.