Evangelism. E-van-gel-ism. Let that word roll around in your mouth for a while. Does it bring into your mind an image that is warm, or cold?
To me, the word “church” brings to mind warm images – community, sharing, diversity… but when I sat down to start writing this blog, “evangelism” felt a lot more cold. Not in a bad way… it just brought to mind flyers and programs and difficult conversations with strangers. It felt individual. It didn’t feel as warm and familiar. Until I realised… evangelism had “been done” to me.
You see, I first came to Creek Road looking like a Christian, but still very much in need of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. And when I came to church, I wasn’t hearing the gospel for the first time, or being given a three-point plan to turn my life around – but the truth of Jesus was being held out to me in a way that persuaded me that I needed to live my life for God.
Isn’t that really what evangelism is? Bringing the truth of Jesus to people with the aim of drawing them to God.
And the picture of the New Testament church in Acts shows us that the church was really built around this premise – that they would devote their lives in all aspects to be a community that drew people into their community of believers.
EVANGELISM IN ACTS-ION
Excuse the pun. But in Acts we see evangelism in action – lived out by faithful people trying to work out what a community of believers was meant to look like. The teaching of God’s word was central – and in Acts 2 there is a vivid picture of the believers devoting themselves to prayer, fellowship, generosity and thankfulness. And people were drawn to this God who lived in them. In Acts 8, the church is scattered because of persecution, but the scattered believers continue to preach the word – and many people were drawn to God.
But even as the church in Jerusalem was scattered, more people came to know God, and so new churches were formed. Again we see in these churches a real heart for evangelism – to bring the truth of Jesus to people with the aim of drawing them to God. Even in the midst of persecution these new communities did not form inward-looking “clubs” just to feel safe for a while. In Acts 11 the church in Antioch began to bring the news of Jesus to Greeks, Barnabas was sent to encourage the believers to remain true to God, and the church sent gifts to help their brothers and sisters in Judea – all done with the praise of God in their hearts.
These were communities using whatever means and opportunities were in front of them to bring people into their community of believers.
IT’S NOT PERFECT
The early believers truly had passion for God – and verses telling us “all the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:44) can sound almost too dream-like. But the picture we are given is not of carefree community and blissful living. It was messy bringing people of different backgrounds into the church. In Acts 15 we read that certain people were coming into the church and teaching that non-Jewish people who had come to believe in Jesus should follow Jewish customs
such as circumcision. There was dispute and discussion as to whether this was necessary or at all helpful, but despite the difficulties that arose, there was no doubt that the challenges were worth it, in order to see these people come to know God and join in their community. All the believers were glad to hear of these Gentiles becoming Christians (Acts 15:3). In the end, they decided that it should not be made difficult for Gentiles to turn to God. They would not be required to follow Jewish traditions in order to be accepted. The church resolved to remove obstacles, and to seek to hold out the truth of Jesus with the aim of bringing many people to know God. In their increasingly diverse community, evangelism was still at their core.
HERE WE ARE
It’s still true now that church is a rare, strange place where very different people who would not otherwise spend time together somehow now share in community – and in something eternally significant. And that is something we should celebrate.
However, it’s also true that diversity brings with it challenges. Church would be a lot, lot easier if everyone you gathered with was just like you. It would be easier – but it wouldn’t be better. We perhaps don’t have the challenge of people asking us to follow Jewish practices like the church in Acts, but with each new person that joins our community, we may need to consider a new way to communicate, a new cultural background, or new pastoral care needs. Some may turn up to our church having known Jesus for years, and some may turn up who have never grasped the gospel. And in all of this, as a church, we are called to hold out the truth of Jesus with the aim of drawing people to God’s salvation – we are called to evangelism.
There are a million different ways evangelism could look in different churches and different communities… and we could look at a million different models or strategies for evangelism. But here we are. And this… this is the church we are in. This is the community we’re called to bring ourselves to, with our sleeves rolled up, and together live out this task God has called us to.
So let’s make evangelism warm – in the way we hold out the gospel as a community. Let’s not just see it as a task for individuals who happen to gather in a building on a Sunday. Let’s make every effort in the way we pray, in the way we interact and in the way we share God’s word, to come to church seeing each time we gather as an opportunity to have many more join us. Let’s bring warmth to the way we, when we meet, hold out the truth of the gospel with the aim of drawing people to God.
Serena Langenbruch – Connect Coordinator