The word conjures up many different images for people. Sweaty palms and awkward looks. Bible-thumping, red-faced angry people. Something other people are supposed to do.
The word evangelism comes from the same word for gospel. It means Good News-ism. Evangelism is sharing the Good News, the gospel, with people. It is telling people that there is a God of love who deeply cares for them. It is sharing with people the reality that God gives us his own Spirit and power to overcome the sins in our lives that rob us of the fullness of life we feel, deep down inside, we ought to have. It is informing people that, in Christ, death itself has been destroyed and we have nothing to fear from it. It is a proclamation that creation is, as God stated in Genesis, “Good,” and it is to be stewarded. It is freedom from oppression, deliverance from sin, peace and justice, love and service. For children of the 60’s, it is even better than the Age of Aquarius, minus the “mystic crystal revelations.”
Evangelism is not sharing an encyclopedic knowledge of Christianity for the past 2000 years. Nor is it telling people how horrible they are. Every encounter Jesus had with sinful people who were on the outs with the religious establishment of the day showed Jesus speaking in a loving and compassionate way to them. He intentionally went to those who were the dregs of society and offered them the reality that they were worth something because they were created in the image and likeness of God. They could be reconciled to God and have a whole life because of God’s grace and love. To be sure, “Go and sin no more” is a part of the message, but it is always preceded by love and forgiveness.
The only times Jesus gets irate and speaks of judgment is when he is speaking to the religious folk who won’t see all people as God sees them. Jesus is outright condemnatory to the scribes and Pharisees who do not offer hope and love to those around them.
If anyone is a Christian, that person is an evangelist. We may not all have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but we are all evangelists nonetheless. This is because we are all missionaries. We live in a world that is still not fully and completely the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, we have work to do as missionaries.
Live lives in love towards others, no matter who they are. Be willing to sacrifice even your reputation to do so. But don’t leave your efforts at evangelism as simply “showing people Christ by how you act.” This is important, but it is not enough. We also have to be able to articulate our faith. We need to be able to talk about Jesus with people.
If we live Christian lives but never talk about Jesus, people will think we are nice. If we talk about Jesus but do not live Christian lives, people will think we are hypocrites. We need to be able to both live a Christian life of love and grace, and also be able to talk about our faith and who Jesus is. That’s when real evangelism happens.