Every United Methodist Should be an Evangelist
On several occasions I have preached a sermon on the Great Commission during which I look at the congregation, making as much eye contact as possible, and said “God has called you to be an evangelist.” I then pause waiting for that to sink in. Inevitably signs of discomfort become evident. People are thinking “That’s crazy” and “Who is this visiting preacher, anyway?”
I know that such a claim pushes people outside their normal self-understanding. Some are thinking of Billy Graham filling stadiums with eager listeners, and they think “I can’t do that.” Others think of manipulative TV evangelists and say to themselves, “I don’t want to do that.”
During my years of teaching evangelism I came to believe that we need to re-think what we mean by the evangelistic task so that each of us can understand our role in that part of God’s activity. It is, after all, God working as the Holy Spirit that saves people. But God has chosen human beings as instruments in this vital task.
I wrote The Evangelistic Love of God and Neighbor to help people think differently about evangelism. It was a scholarly book that helped me get tenure at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. It took me more than 100 pages before I stated my conclusion:
My proposal is that we can best improve our thinking about evangelism by construing it as that set of loving, intentional activities governed by the goal of initiating persons into Christian discipleship in response to the reign of God.
To put it more simply—evangelism is everything we do to help people start the Christian life. On my website I posted a document that describes how a local church does this. You can find it at http://extremecenter.com/documents/20-components-of-an-effectively-evangelistic-church.
Component 6 says that an evangelistically effective church empowers laity to witness verbally to their friends, relatives associates and neighbors. Witnessing can be as simple as inviting an unchurched person to attend worship or a small group meeting at your church.
In this way, every United Methodist Christian can be invitational. All you need to do is ask “Do you have a church home?” If the person answers “Yes,” then say “Praise the Lord!” But if they answer “No,” then say, “why don’t you come with me to my church this Sunday?” My experience is that such conversations are rarely seen as intrusive. They should never be held with people who are actively practicing their faith in another church. We are not in the business of proselytizing. We are not going to borrow a Baptist, purloin a Presbyterian or capture a Catholic. But there are plenty of people who are not actively involved in a church and who need exactly what our congregations have to offer.
That is how every United Methodist can and should be an evangelist.