From cringe to technique
I used to screw up my face and clench my fists every time I heard the word evangelism. It conjured up images of angry preachers condemning students at Speaker’s Circle, and streetcorners packed with men in their sunday best, handing out tracts and avoiding eye contact. Evangelism appalled my personal sensibilities. Anything associated with the word seemed unloving and borderline immoral. I preferred words like “relational ministry” and “personal ministry,” because they sounded so much less obtrusive. So when, at a Younglife retreat my sophomore year, the speaker called relational ministry evangelism I was flabbergasted.
After that my definition of evangelism changed. I used it in a pragmatic sense, to describe techniques and methods. I celebrated any ministry that “worked”, and thought that head counts rated the quality of evangelism, chastising myself for small turn-outs. When I encountered hardship in evangelism, I took the advice of authors who boasted great success in today’s culture, primarily from the emergent church. In my personal life, I primarily sought insight from leaders with larger meetings. I found myself unwittingly obsessed with the techniques practiced by these leaders, and attempted to emulate them as best as I could. My main criticism of the street evangelism quickly became its ineffectiveness. Inevitably, evangelism became a discouraging exercise in vain, man-powered, method-driven outreach. I soon abandoned this form of evangelism, burnt-out, exhausted, and no closer to understanding evangelism.
This summer I interned for Veritas, and evangelism once again snuck into my mind. A single question dominated my thoughts: what is is the great purpose of evangelism?
Why God evangelizes
In the book of Exodus,God commands countless, remarkable miracles. He curses Egypt with ten plagues, leads Israel with pillars of fire and cloud, rains food from the sky, makes rocks burst springs of water, and splits an entire body of water in half! Why? God explains his reason countless times:
“The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt . . . for this purpose I have raised you [Moses] up, to show my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the Earth . . . I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD . . . Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt . . . You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt’ . . . the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD . . . and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD . . . Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD” (Ex. 7:5, 9:16, 10:2, 11:9, 13:8, 14:4, 18, 31 emphasis added)
Do you see the pattern? Every plague and blessing were meant to evangelize! Each miracle cried out–‘know who the Lord is! know that the Lord is all powerful!’ know that the Lord rules the entire universe!’ Return to Exodus 9:16, when God explained his purpose for Moses, “…I have raised you up, to show my power, that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” God chose Moses to be his evangelist to the world. Why? To proclaim his glory and power, that the Lord might be glorified.
Glorify, glorify, glorify
When Christ came on his rescue mission to save mankind, his chief purpose, as well, was glory. Christ prayed just before his crucifixion, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:1-5) Glorify, glorify, glorify. This is why Christ came. Is it your mission?
When you think of evangelism what comes to mind? Do you think of techniques or methods? Or do you think of proclaiming his name to the world in word and deed? Do you cringe at the word evangelism? Or do you think of Christ’s prayer? Glorify, glorify, glorify. Do you ask, will this method of evangelism be effective? Or do you ask, does this strategy glorify, glorify, glorify? Do you find yourself equating the quality of ministry to attendance? Or do you wonder if your teaching and relationships glorify, glorify, glorify?
Paul put our mission like this–“what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, [. . .] For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:2).That our hearts would leap for joy at Paul’s words! It is not as though we should condemn planning and critically thinking about evangelism. Instead, we must continually remember to subordinate all ideas to Christ’s great mission: glory!