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Monday, August 27, 2007

The E-word

If "reaching new people" is one of the gospel imperatives that Jesus gave us (in the Great Commission) and which we as Minnesota United Methodists are specifically called to focus on, it means that we're going to have to face, discuss, and even (gulp!) do the E-word!

This summer I read a great book which I commend to you: Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism by Martha Grace Reese. Conservative, liberal, not sure of one's theological orientation--you will find yourself in it and I believe some practical direction in how to get your mind and heart around the E-word. I think it would make a great study in our churches.

Reese says that there are people who are "evangelism lovers"--can't help but share their faith, it just flows right out of them--and "evangelism-cautious"--hence, the E-word we can't bring ourselves to say, much less do.

Evangelism-lovers are contagious in their enthusiasm; the downside is they can get too zealous and turn people off. Evangelism-cautious persons may be better listeners, but don't always come to the point in their relationship and conversation with another person to share what one believes, invite another to a deeper relationship with God, and/or even invite another person to church.

Reese has some good perspectives on evangelism. As I have always maintained, good evangelism begins with good listening, not just talking; getting to know people, not button-holing them; but also not being afraid or unable to articulate what you believe.

One of the questions that Reese suggests we all ask ourselves is, "What do you think (and I would add, feel) when you hear the word evangelism?"

WDYT: what has made you an evangelism-lover or an evangelism-cautious?

8 comments:

Rev. John L. Roberts said...

Last May I preached a sermon titled "The E Word" and talked about how evangelism makes us so uncomfortable we don't even want to say the word.

I lifted a challenge to the congregation to reach people in new and innovative ways. To do this I called for the formation of an "E-Team" made up of planners and doers. (Planners need doers to get them to move from planning and doers need planners to give them direction.) I asked for volunteers, which can be risky, but within two weeks we had a team of eight amazing people ready to get started. Most of this group were people I would not have guessed would be interested. One is a business owner with strategic planning skills. Another is a school district superintendent. One is a very shy guy, who came up to me a week later and simply said, "I think I am supposed to help with this."

So, I've learned that there are people who are ready, even eager, to reach people in new ways for Jesus Christ. Already we have held a community wide event we called "Onefest" that included music, free food and games one evening at the fairgrounds. Over 250 people attended, at least half were NOT from our church.

I am thrilled with this start. I can hardly wait until we get really innovative.

Amy Jo said...

When I hear "the e-word" now, I feel excited and energized, but it hasn't always been that way for me, so I comment a bit on my journey.

Early in seminary, when I took an interest survey in different areas of ministry, evangelism came in last of all my interests. A mentor suggested that it might be the word that was scaring me and that she experienced me as a natural evangelist. She encouraged me to take an evangelism class to help me discover more about my vocation, which was very helpful.

I had two major revelations in this class:
1) I'd never met an United Methoidst evangelist, and when I heard the word "evangelist" what came to mind was a parody of an ethically questionable televangelist. Meeting United Methodist evangelists during class gave me an entirely different understanding about who evangelists are and what they do. In fact, I LIKED and RESPECTED these people!
2) I mistakenly believed that evangelists worked solely through preaching revival-style sermons, ignoring all other parts of ministry. Scripture consistently shows us texts where Christ evangelizes through word, deed, and sign (the loaves and fishes are a great example of this.) I quickly realized that my commitment to issues of social justice and social holiness were an important part of evangelism, not something that I would have to "give up" in order to work in evangelism.

In fact, my mentor was right. I am a natural evangelist-- I just hadn't known what an evangelist was. I love to live my faith and to tell people how God brings new life, hope, healing, and salvation.

Rev. Amy Jo Bur
St. Peter new church start

Rob Gamble said...

For several years when men and women claiming the name "Evangelicals" became more vocal, I became irritated and stopped using the E-words. Then I decided I was going to claim the traditional understanding, just as I was reclaiming "born again" and other traditional words that had meaning for me and others within and some alienated from the church.

Sometimes I have told people that I am not an "Evangelical" but I do evangelism (tell the Good News) when I tell what my experience of God/Christ has been in my life. I was born again in the sense of John 3 when I believed in Jesus. Several years later when I was determined to commit suicide, I was born again when Jesus claimed that I was his and later was astounded when I was called into ordained ministry. I was born again through Jesus Christ into a new and fuller life after I retired. I pray that there will be at least one other new birth in the spiritual life of the resurrection. Some may say there was only one new birth, I won't protest, but they were distinct events. How can I not love Jesus Christ and tell of what God has done? Since I retired it is safer for me to tell some of the more interesting parts of my experience in God's love.

I have never been afraid to be known as a Christian wherever I was: in seminary during the 1960s when many were advocating hiding the fact, the steel mill in South Chicago, Random House customer service in New York, through my volunteer work in the Twin Cities or at the MWBLGTA College Conferences in Sioux Falls, SD, Minneapolis, and if my workshop proposal is accepted in 2008, Champaign, IL.

I have had many conversations about Christ in restaurants in the communities I served in Minnesota, or when I was living or visiting in New York, Los Angeles, Ft. Meyers, Chicago, Winnepeg and now Maple Grove and Minneapolis. The conversations usually began because I had a book about some aspect of the Christian life with me. If one listens we discover there is a lot of "faith" and "spiritual" conversation in restaurants.

It is absolutely essential that we listen to what others say before we launch into telling people that they need to accept Jesus. I do some volunteer work with the Dignity Center at Hennepin Ave. UMC. There are those who say we must formally "evangelize those poor and homeless people". Some of those "poor and homeless" that I meet have experiences of their own with God. Many know they must trust God more than most of us who are middle-class do. Perhaps some are putting me on because we are in a church, but I am impressed by the number who say "God has blessed me." when they have just walked from the shelter or slept under a bridge the night before. Our evangelism is centered on building a relationship first in which my name, Rob, is known and used and I know and use the name of the client. We both know that they are poor or homeless but now we are individuals who have something to share with each other.

Throughout the years of my ministry and even more so now, I encounter men and women who have been spiritually abused by the organized church or sexually abused by Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. Most of them are able to separate the abuse by the church or clergy from their relationship with God/Christ but they don't trust the organized church. Most continue to live with deep pain and hurt. Sometimes the most evangelical word we have to offer these men and women is to say, "I am sorry; God is sorry for what happened. I pray for continued healing and I am impressed with your continuing faith as one of God's wounded. Perhaps you are one of God's wounded healers."

I use labels too often but know that they are inadequate. I have no idea how to describe myself as a part of the Christian faith other than I am a male knowing the love of Jesus Christ sharing (evangelizing) stories about Jesus Christ along with the ancient and modern faith stories. I was born into a family of "old line liberal", "rationality oriented" Methodists and have always been a part of that tradition in the Methodist or United Methodist Church. My spiritual advisor has told me that I am a mystic while some Pentecostal acqaintances have said I am Pentecostal although I would be a heretic to many in the Pentecostal movement. I am a part of an Evangelical organization but have clashed with the leader because I agree with part of what Bishop Spong and Marcus Borg have to say. There are many labels that people and sometimes I try to box me in with but none of them comes close. So I return to being a male who has a very personal relationship with God/Jesus Christ who enjoys sharing (evangelizing) the Good News of that love.

If I resist the labels for myself then I need to resist labeling others with nouns and adjectives to allow the wonderful diversity of God's revelation within the men, women, youth and children we meet. Doors are opened for the Spirit to work changing lives - our own and those we share time and love with. My experience in real evangelization is that I am evangelized as much as I evangelize.

Jeff Ozanne said...

I really identify with what Amy Jo shared about my preconceived notions around Evangelism. I was also converted by my experiences at seminary which gave me an increased passion for sharing my story. I would certainly put myself in the role of being cautious rather than passionate, but this something I want to change. Not because I want to stop listening, but because I want to find a way to listen better and to create more situations for people to share their faith and to grow by that sharing. My experiences in college showed the ill effects of poor evangelism, where I encountered many intellectuals who experiences of the church had been tainted by bad experiences with a church that talked at them rather than too them. These were people who felt judged, demeaned, or otherwise turned off to faith because of how it was presented. To me this just shows the need that each of us has to considered how we reach out, the good we can do as well as the harm and to look at what are new ways we can reach people. I appreciate the Bishop's continued efforts to help us grow and develop around this.

Victoria Rebeck said...

I want to echo something Rob said about his experience at the Dignity Center. While helping serve Saturday meals at Wesley Church (Mpls) and also leading Bible study there, I learned that many of our guests, while very poor in material goods, where quite rich in faith. They were not ashamed to speak of their relationship with God. And their compassionate actions proved their words. They truly are E-word doers who serve as models for me.--

greg at trinity said...

Bishop Sally--Thanks for the rx on the Reese book. Where do you find the time to read all these books? I try but end up falling asleep after 8-10 pages--maybe it's an age thing (I'll be 63 soon)...

As for the "E Word", maybe I'm also maturing in a good way: the word doesn't raise my hackles like it used to.

When I invite another into a deeper relationship with GOD (not "Christ"), I'm (re)inviting myself, as well. It's a form of hospitality, isn't it?

Yet for me, God isn't something I "have" (!) that I'm "willing to share" (!)--God is already IN everyone I meet. I deepen my relationship with God when I choose to help point that out to someone. I find the best way to do THAT is to share what God's up to in MY life (NOT what God could do for the other person if only they'd wise up).

Guess I do still have some residual bias about the "E-word"--maybe because I've been "witnessed to" in ways I found presumptuous and condescending.

In evangelisim as in life, we all take our own trips in our own time, by the grace of God. Say Amen, somebody...

Pat Dunning said...

I just finished John H. Wigger's book "Taking Heaven by Storm" an account of the Methodist circuit riders' courageous and effective evangelism efforts on the east coast, the eventual installation of the itinerant preachers into parsonages, the failure of leadership to continue public camp meetings, weekly class meetings of the faithful, etc. and the consequential loss of the ability to bring new people to the Lord and foster faith growth in converts.
We have learned here in TRF over the years that the best way to 'feed the sheep' is in small group study. Only here will people feel free to participate and here will they feel responsible to the group to grow.
The question remains, where is the push to get churches to organize into the small study groups? It used to be mandatory with Wesley and Asbury.

Anonymous said...

A group from Aurora/Hoyt Lakes Parish recently finished the Unbinding the Gospel study. WOW!!! "The E-word" really makes me think. I agree with Rev. John I. Roberts with feeling uncomfortable about evangelism. Hopefully, as I reread the book I will understand it better and utilize what has been provided to us. I also fall asleep after reading 10-15 pages. And I am a mite younger than Greg. Although my job consists of alot of reading so by the time I get home from work reading is one of the last things I like to do--even though I know I need too.