Evangelism - Coming Soon to a Neighbourhood Near You!
Okay. Now that I have your attention, please don't run away screaming! I know that evangelism can be a scary word to some of us in mainline Christian denominations. Some of us have remained relatively silent while those in other denominations have had far less trouble (or fear) talking about their faith in public, sharing their faith with their neighbours.
We have had our excuses. "Faith is a private thing" we've said. "I show my faith through my actions, not my words" we've said. "I don't want to seem pushy" we've said. And when we've been honest, we've said "talking about my faith scares me to death!"
That fear of sharing our faith has not served us well at all. We have erred on the side of caution for so long that we have forgotten that sharing the good news with others is one of the key directives of Jesus to his followers. Even while we've poured our energy (and faith) into some very important alternatives, like social justice work, we can't ignore the fact that Jesus never asked us to keep silent about what we believe and why we do what we do. Remember the words of that children's hymn from long ago - "Hide it under a bushel, NO! I'm gonna let it shine".
The scripture passage that it was based on comes from Matthew 5:15-16 - "No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
Most of us in mainline Christian denominations grew up singing that song loud and clear for all to hear (as long as we were safely inside the walls of our church sanctuary, or tucked safely away in a Sunday School classroom). That didn't translate into any kind of evangelism that went beyond the doors of our churches. And we kind of liked it that way.
Well, it's time for a change. More and more I've heard people in mainline denominations, both ministers and lay people, talking about wanting to become more welcoming, more open, more demonstrative in how they share their faith with those around them, and I sense that there is a change coming. We're not quite there yet - notice I said I've heard people "talking" about it. Talking about things is what we excel at. Turning those talking points into action is sometimes another story.
At Spirit Path, we've dabbled in evangelism. We've kind of been forced to, as we started out with a church population of zero - we didn't have much choice but to try to spread the word! We've tried a number of different ways of advertising, through print, postcard mail drops, radio and TV advertising, and more. But we've had the most impact, it seems, when we've met people face to face, told them about our ministry, and invited them to come and join us. Some of that even happened while walking the neighbourhoods of southwest Winnipeg, actually knocking on people's doors.
We've done that each summer since the ministry began and, perhaps surprisingly, we've had some very positive responses. Perhaps even more surprisingly, none of us have ever had a negative experience or a door slammed in our face. Sure, there have been people who haven't been interested, many many of those actually. But they've always been very gracious, and even encouraging, glad to see that there are people who are trying to start something positive in their neighbourhood, even if that something positive is a faith group different from their own. We've had some wonderful conversations with people from other faiths and with other Christians who are committed to their own denominations. And we've had some people join our Spirit Path ministry, a few of whom have become some of our core members.
As the weather starts to improve, some of us will be back out on the streets, walking the neighbourhoods of southwest Winnipeg, knocking on doors, hoping to have conversations about our ministry, our faith, and the needs of the communities we hope to serve. I'm sure that the idea of knocking on a stranger's door and talking about your faith might still seem frightening to some, but it quickly becomes life-giving and energizing, believe me! I'm looking forward to hitting the streets again this year, taking the light of Christ out from its hiding place, and sharing it with the world (and at the same time learning about the faith and traditions of others - that's part of building a faithful community too!)
Evangelism doesn't have to be a fear-inducing thing. It has become that for some people, but it really shouldn't be. It's actually still what we are called to do, not in a way that forces our own views and our own faith onto other people, but in a way that respects others and is offered with an openness to hear another's experience of faith at the same time.
I'd love to hear your comments about how you share your faith, whether you share your faith, how others have shared their faith with you, and evangelism in general. Maybe some of you would even like to join me in walking the neighbourhood this year! Don't be afraid! Let it shine! Let it shine! Let in shine!
See you this summer!