Evangelism, the apparent traditional equivalent of what we now call “Radical Hospitality” closes out this series on the characteristics we try to build into the lives of disciples in our work of disciple making. This equation may be my least favorite item in our current lingo. It blurs the distinction between two important aspects of our life together as Christians. This blurring may not be so serious since “evangelism” itself has become blurred over the past century or so. Because of these blurrings and the resulting confusion (and conflict), I’d prefer to talk here about our work of helping people who are not followers of Jesus become followers of Jesus.
In ideal circumstances (sticking to the bible), becoming a follower of Jesus would happen at roughly the same time as becoming a part of the institution known as church. We lack those ideal circumstances today. Talking about “Radical Hospitality” seems to lend itself to the latter (becoming a part of the church) more than to the former (becoming a follower of Jesus). While having greeters, clean restrooms, plenty of parking, a tidy nursery, and plenty of signage are signs of hospitality and can be conducive to people sticking around long enough to hear the gospel and become followers of Jesus, they have no necessary connection to this goal. In other words, if all we have is a friendly, well directed, clean church (maybe even with coffee and donuts), we can fail to win a single person to Christ.
In another area of blurring, we can engage in “social action” all day long, every day of the year, and never win a single person to Christ. Jesus clearly calls us to live out his Kingdom reality. He clearly calls us to give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, to visit the infirm and imprisoned, and to heal the sick. But if we never call people to repentance and faith in Jesus, we’re missing something essential.
We aim to produce disciples who through their daily living demonstrate the reality and goodness of God in such a way that people will ask questions. These disciples when then boldly open their mouths and tell of Jesus and how to put faith in him.
- Disciples share a conviction that they have a central role in evangelism. Since many of us in the mainline church are mortally afraid to speak to others – unless the subject is anything but Jesus – we really wish God would just do the work without us. God almost never does the work without us. People will not come to faith in Jesus unless we obey God and go to them.
- Disciples have a passion to reach those who don’t know Jesus. Some of the people we connect with Jesus will be our friends and relatives. Others will begin as total strangers. Jesus’ passionate love for us brought him into the world – a world that usually wanted nothing to do with him, a world that, in the end, killed him. As followers of Jesus, we have that same passionate love for people. We’re not content to see them missing out on the life Jesus offers. While there are arguments for universalism – the notion that all will be saved regardless of their desire to be saved, their faith (or lack thereof), or anything else – we realize that when we act as if universalism is true we are not betting our lives (we’re already followers of Jesus, after all) but the lives of others. Universalism could be wrong.
- Disciples understand evangelism as the work of the church, not merely (or even primarily) of individuals. When we think of helping others become followers of Jesus we think of people like Billy Graham. We know we’re not Billy Graham. We then dismiss the possibility that we might have a role in the process. We aim to make disciples who recognize not only their essential role in the process, but also that no one can do the work alone. Because people are different and have different life stories, they will come to faith in different contexts. We need the whole body working together, demonstrating the grace and mercy of Jesus together, so that people might believe.
- Disciples want there to be ample opportunity for pre-Christians to see for themselves the power of Christ in our lives: transformed lives, healings (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual), quality of relationships, etc., so that when they hear the Gospel they can understand it in terms of what they’ve seen. Words are essential for people coming to faith in Christ. Words alone, however, are almost never enough. As we let God live in us and through us (individually and corporately), people see for themselves what God is like and what God has done. Our words are merely the captions for those pictures.
- Disciples want the church to be aware of the needs of the community God has set us in, and have a desire to glorify God by meeting those needs. Christianity gets part of the credit/blame for what we call modern individualism. Jesus calls us each to respond individually to him. But all of us are embedded in some community, usually a set of overlapping and interlocking communities. As messengers of the Good News, we seek to demonstrate God’s reality not only to individuals but to our communities: to families, neighborhoods, cities, towns, tribes and nations. One way we do that is by allowing God to meet their needs through us.