“Reframing Evangelism”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
As has been announced, today at 3, Jason is going to facilitate a brainstorming session in Room 10 about evangelism. I intend to be there, and I would encourage everyone else here to attend as well.
This morning, though, I would like us to consider evangelism more generally, not just what we should do, but how we should think about it. I am sure that when at least some of you figured out what the sermon topic was going to be, you said to yourself “Oh, great. Evangelism,” and sank down a little deeper in the pew. For many Christians, evangelism sermons are guilt-trip sermons. Here is this commandment, and we’re not keeping it, so anything the preacher says about evangelism is going to make us feel bad and not change our behavior.
That’s not my intention this morning. I’m not here to beat anybody up. Instead, I want to help. Let me suggest that maybe part of our struggles with evangelism is the way that we think about it, that the same fear and guilt that all those evangelism sermons stir up is part of the problem. Today, then, let’s spend a few minutes reframing evangelism.
First, I think, we need to UNDERSTAND OUR SITUATION. Consider what Jesus has to say about the original context of the gospel in Matthew 24:4-14. In context, He is talking about the events that will lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and it is obvious that the road is going to be rough. There are going to be wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecution. However, in this span of 40 troubled years, the gospel is going to be preached to all the nations.
We know from the rest of the New Testament that during that time, the gospel saw great success. Now, it might seem strange that the gospel was so successful in such troubled times, but let me suggest to you this morning that the gospel was successful because the times were troubled. When everything else was falling apart, people were more disposed to turn to God.
Today, the times also are troubled. Many of our certainties about life have been upended. We don’t know what the future holds. People are afraid. Many are turning for answers to politics, just as many people did in the first century. However, I think those political answers will disappoint, or worse, just as they did 2000 years ago.
That leaves the field wide open for the gospel. In troubled times, God is the best and only answer. I admit that I’m uncertain about the future too, but ultimately, I’m not worried about it, because I know whom I have believed. God is going to take care of me, He is going to take care of all of us, and when others come to Him, He will take care of them too. We are the only people who can promise peace and security and guarantee that it will happen, and if you don’t think that’s powerfully appealing right now, you don’t understand people at all!
Second, let’s spend some time UNDERSTANDING OURSELVES. As an entrée into this topic, let’s look at Philippians 4:15-16. Here, we learn that of all the churches Paul established, the church in Philippi was the only one to support him during his second missionary journey. They were a generous church when others weren’t.
From this, I want to introduce an idea that is both a duh point and incredibly important. Churches are different. Just like people have different strengths and weaknesses, churches have different strengths and weaknesses too. In fact, it’s fair to say that churches have different personalities and identities too. Even if a church does pretty much the same thing on Sunday morning as another church, that different personality is going to shape the way it operates in a million tiny ways.
Since I came here, I’ve invested a lot of thought in figuring out the Jackson Heights church personality. Lauren can testify that when we were on vacation a couple weeks back, I spent hours trying to pin it down. I think the best way to sum it up is to say that the Jackson Heights church is a gracious church. As a whole, this church really likes helping people and being nice to them. That is our core identity.
Again, this shows up in a million tiny ways. It shows up in the way that we welcome visitors. It shows up in the way the members are so generous to people who come through the door wanting money. It shows up in the way we try to bring new members in and make them part of the group. And so on.
Now, I know that some of you long-time Jackson-Heightsians are listening to this and saying, “So?” Trust me when I say that other churches are not like this. Things this congregation takes for granted don’t happen everywhere else. They make us distinctive.
I say all of this for two reasons. First, it is a powerfully attractive personality to have. Who doesn’t want to be part of a gracious group of people that will treat them well and really likes helping others? Second, once we’ve identified our strengths, that will help us to play to our strengths and be as effective as possible.
With this in mind, let’s consider the interplay between THE GOSPEL AND MERCY. Here, look at the words of Jesus in Luke 10:36-37. This is the punchline of the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus’ message is clear. We choose who our neighbors are, and we choose by showing mercy to them.
The parable of the good Samaritan isn’t exactly a secret. I would imagine that there are many in this room who have helped a stranded stranger or a man who was down on his luck because they wanted to go and do likewise. I think that’s wonderful! I hope that those of you who have been doing this will continue to do so and that those who haven’t will start.
However, I think that the most important application of the parable is one that we perhaps haven’t thought about, and that’s evangelism. Feeding the hungry is an act of mercy. Caring for the sick is an act of mercy. How much more, then, is introducing the lost and hurting to Jesus also an act of mercy?
Yes, I know that proclaiming the gospel is a commandment, but maybe it will help us be more vocal if we don’t think of the commandment as our motivation. If the only reason we’re reaching out to people in the world is so that God won’t be mad at us, that can only make us self-centered and self-conscious. Really, that kind of evangelism is about us, not them.
By contrast, mercy is other-centered and not at all conscious of itself. We are merciful because we see the plight of others and respond. There are lots of people here who are great at seeing others’ needs and then helping, and that’s exactly what evangelism is.
Don’t go through life, then, with this little voice in the back of your head saying, “I have to tell others about Jesus, or I’m letting God down.” Go through life looking for people who need help: the neighbor who has lost their mom, the co-worker who is going through a divorce, the friend whose kids have gone off the rails.
Then, we. . . help them. We tell them that we’re hurting with them, but that we know a place where they can go where people will love and care for them, where they can find a spiritual family and a spiritual home. And if they think Christians are great, just wait until they get to know Christ!