Let's play a word association game. When I use the word "evangelism" what comes to mind?
-A "Repent" sign?
-A pointed index finger (resulting in a flipped up middle finger)?
Too often, too many of us have negative views of the word evangelism. Sadly, the 2,000 year old practice of evangelism has 2,000 years worth of baggage that comes with it (i.e. the inquisition, burning heretics at the stake, Jim Jones, etc.) In the early church the baggage was merely carry-on. But today, there is so much baggage associated with evangelism that we are forced to check it and tempted to chuck it.
But we shouldn't. Jesus himself modeled the right brand of evangelism which was equal parts awkward and awesome, drenched both in love and boldness. He commissioned his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone. The baton of that responsibility has been passed from generation of believers to generation of believers and it is now firmly in our hands. It's our turn to run with it. But as we do we should do it with an eye toward changing people's perspective of evangelism from manipulative and obnoxious to patient, powerful and persuasive.
Here are five reasons why we need to rebrand evangelism:
1. Evangelism literally means "to bring Good News."
Christians are called to be the good news people not the bad news bears. When we evangelize we are to do it with a smile on our face and a twinkle in our eyes. It's like getting the privilege of telling a friend that the Lotto ticket they had purchased was the big winner or sharing with a cancer-ridden family member that scientists have discovered the cure. Biblical evangelism reeks of breathless excitement and joy, not judgmental, frowny-faced coersion.
2. It has been typecast for "the professionals."
Too often we think of Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Luis Palau and other evangelists as the most qualified Christians to do the work of evangelism. But the rebranding of evangelism begins when it moves from the professionals to the people. When the gospel begins to spread like a contagion is, not just when another evangelistic festival comes to town, but when the everyday Joes and Jolenes take the good news to their family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and classmates.
To rebrand evangelism we must put the work squarely in the hands of "the average Christian." In the words of Jim Groen, "The first reformation took place when the word of God got into the hands of the common people. The second reformation will take place when the work of God gets into the hands of the common people."
3. The gospel is ultimately a love story, not hate speech.
God kneels in the mud to breathe into Adam's nostrils the breath of life. The first thing Adam sees when he awakens is the smiling, muddy face of his Creator. God then performs surgery on Adam and transforms his rib into his bride. God got muddy and bloody to make Adam and Eve. Then humanity rebelled and broke God's heart while severing the relationship. But Jesus, the lover of our souls, would not be disuaded. He got dirty again to come to this earth and be born in a food trough for smelly barn animals. He got bloody again, but this time it was his own blood, not Adam's. Jesus died to restore the shattered relationship. This love story is one of romance (walking in the garden hand in hand in the cool of the day), break ups (getting expelled from the garden), sacrifice, surrender and, of course, the ultimate "and they lived happily ever after."
The rebranding of evangelism needs to happen because too often Christians have communicated a "gospel" that is really no gospel at all (See Galatians 1:6-9.) It's been more about what we are against than who is for us (Romans 8:31-38.) It's been more about rules than the possibility of a restored relationship through faith in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:5.)
4. This generation is looking for meaning and Biblical evangelism provides it.
The goal of Biblical evangelism is to engage the lost, not enrage them. It is the process of sharing the good news, asking questions, listening deeply and making "a case for Christ" with humility and love. This is what the Apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote to his young protege' in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, "And the Lordâ€™s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."In a way Paul was seeking to rebrand evangelism even in his day. He reminded Timothy that it wasn't about winning an argument but wooing a soul to Christ.
5. There is a real need.
We must rebrand evangelism because we are living in a world in desperate need of Jesus and evangelism is the portal through which we share the person of Jesus with others. Whether it be the angst of "cutting" or the desperation of suicidal thoughts or the cul-de-sac of American greed the gospel provides the solution to the deepest needs of the human soul. We must do what it takes to reframe evangelism as good news in a bad world, as light in the midst of darkness, as peace in a world of chaos.
Rebranding the word "evangelism" does not start with a campaign or a commercial. It starts with you and me, lovingly, gently, relationally and relentlessly sharing the good news with those within our reach.
Let's start rebranding today!