Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

Steps of Discipleship: Evangelism (It’s not a dirty word)

Sunday, October 8, 2006

 

 

Acts 2: 41-47
Romans 10: 10-14


Rev. Dean Snyder

 

Evangelism.

 

I once heard somebody say that both church people and non-church people have this common – they both dislike evangelism.

 

Evangelism is often not a popular concept, not only outside the church but within.

 

A number of years ago George Hunter[1] decided to do some informal research about church people’s attitudes about evangelism. For several years he asked active church people – lay and clergy – who signed up for his evangelism seminars to answer four questions in advance:

 

  1. Describe the types of people who do evangelism.
  2. Describe the feelings you think the receivers of evangelistic efforts experience.
  3. Describe what you think evangelists say.
  4. Describe what you think evangelists do.

 

Here are the answers he got.

 

  1. When active church people were asked to list the adjectives they associated with people who do evangelism, here is the list he got: aggressive, pushy, dogmatic, narrow-minded, hypocritical, overbearing, judgmental, fanatic, boastful, manipulative, ignorant, silver-tongued, moralistic, bombastic, arrogant, naďve, emotional, critical, insensitive, imposing, doctrinaire, close-minded.

 

This isn’t the list from the people outside the church. This is the list active church-people like us came up with!

 

  1. When these same active church members were asked to list the feelings they thought those who are the recipients of evangelistic efforts felt, this is the list he got: guilty, fearful, afraid, anxious, condemned, damned, inadequate, angry, hostile, inferior, uncomfortable, unworthy, cornered, trapped, pressured, turned off.

 

  1. When they were asked what they thought people doing evangelism said, they answered that they thought most people doing evangelism shared an authoritarian message that claims to be the only way to see things.

 

  1. When they were asked what they though those who do evangelism actually do, they answered that they thought the conversation would be one-way, a monologue, and that the other person would be treated as though he or she did not already know or believe anything worthwhile, and that he or she would be pressured for a premature decision.

 

All in all, not a pretty picture. Even church people do not have a very positive perception of evangelism.

 

Then George Hunter tried another experiment. For several years when he led seminars in the United States and around the world for church people, he would ask them to write down the name of the person most responsible for their involvement in the church.

 

Then he asked them: 1) to list the adjectives they would use to describe this person, 2) to describe how this person made them feel, 3) to describe what they said, and 4) to describe what they did.

 

  1. Here is the list of adjectives he most often got: caring, loving, encouraging, concerned, accepting, understanding, supporting, warm, affirming, sensitive, kind, committed, believable, patient, happy, fulfilled, honest, alive, friendly, humble, consistent, reasonable, authentic, stable, Christ-like, positive, reliable, faithful.

 

Remember the other list I read?

 

  1. How did they actually feel as they were being evangelized into the church? Here’s the list: accepted, important, special, loved, wanted, needed, valued, supported, comfortable, included, free, liberated, having self-respect.

 

  1. What did the true evangelists say? Half the people could not remember any specific thing, other than that they felt accepted and welcomed. Many said the true evangelists mostly listened.

    Those who could remember words spoken, mentioned being told things like: You are a child of God, created in God’s image; God accepts and loves you just as you are; God has given you unique gifts; or There’s a place for you; There is a purpose for you; You have a light, let it shine; You are part of God’s family; or Church has made a difference in my life, (and my favorite), You know, a Christian doesn’t need to be weird.

 

  1. What did the true evangelists do? Here are the kinds of answers Hunter got: She was there when I needed her; She listened to me when I needed to talk it out; He asked me to help in a ministry; They invited me to their home as well as to church; He loaned me a book and we discussed it; They didn’t run away from my disability; He accepted me as I was; She encouraged me when I was down; He helped me to laugh again.

 

Those were the kinds of things true evangelists did.

 

Given what George Hunter discovered when he asked church people who had really been successful at reaching them, what an honor it would be to be called an evangelist! Evangelism is not a dirty word.

 

****

 

Based on Acts 2, there are five components of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Acts 2 disciples worship, connect in fellowship with others, and learn or grow, and then they serve in ministries of justice and mercy and they share their faith and invite others into the community of faith. Worship, education, koinonia fellowship, mission and evangelism.

 

The stereotypes that the word “evangelism” brings to our minds make this the hardest part of the Acts 2 adventure for many of us, but it is essential.

 

Romans 10:14 asks: “How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?”

 

There are three things I want to suggest flows from this rhetorical biblical question:

 

First, true evangelism is an act of caring. If we don’t talk about our own spiritual journeys with others outside the church, how will they ever have the opportunity to consider whether and how they want to grow spiritually in their lives?

 

If our worship, study, fellowship and service has enriched our lives and given our lives greater meaning and purpose, why would we not want to care for others who are searching for meaning and purpose by sharing with them that which has enriched us?

 

Not sharing, because we don’t want to be thought of negatively or characterized as “one of those weird Christians” is stingy.

 

To listen to another who is seeking and then share our faith journey with him or her is as missionally important as sharing our food with those who are physically hungry, and may be harder to do.

 

The late D.T. Niles, head of the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka, used to define evangelism as one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

 

Evangelism is an act of caring. By sharing our spiritual journeys with all their twists and turns and dead ends but advancements and discoveries as well, we trust others with a deep part of ourselves. We honor them and care for them. True evangelism is caring.

 

Second, “how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?” True evangelism develops our own faith. What we don’t talk about becomes less real in our lives, and it becomes less real in the world.

 

We need to hear ourselves talk about the spiritual dimension of life if the spiritual is to be real for us. How are we ourselves to believe in what we don’t hear ourselves talk about?

 

Now, I remind you that the people who George Hunter interviewed said that those who made others feel welcome and included mostly listened. He said people estimated that those who shared with them listened 80 percent of the time and spoke only 20 percent of the time.

 

But that 20 percent is important. We discover our own faith when we share it with another.

 

Third, “how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?”  I love the phrase Lorenzo Taylor came up with last year for our witness at the Pride Parade. “Find yourself at Foundry.”

 

The word “believe” means much more than intellectual assent. Bill Coffin says the Latin word “credo,” “I believe,” really ought to be translated “I trust.”

 

“How are they to trust on one of whom they have never heard.”

 

We find ourselves when we come to trust in a God who loved the world so much as to give an only child so that everyone who believes – who trust – would not perish – would not live in self-destructive ways, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

 

We only truly find ourselves when we decide to trust in a divine love that transcends our own efforts to be good or bad or anything else.

 

Jesus had this Zen-like saying. It appears in some version in all few gospels. One of the few things that is consistent in all four gospels. It says: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

 

Those of us who try to find our lives in our attributes – our goodness – or in our successes or our popularity or our superiority or our whatever, actually lose our lives.

 

But those who believe – trust – the love of God as Jesus has revealed it find their life.

 

Find yourself at Foundry. “How will they ever trust in a love that no one has told them about…or demonstrated to them?”

 

You are God’s beloved. God loves you not because you are good, or because you are successful, or because you are winsome.

 

God loves you the way a good mother loves her child. Not because of anything, just because he or she is hers.

 

God loves us just because we belong to God.

 

And we are really lost to even our own selves until we let God’s love find us. Find yourself at Foundry.

 

Isn’t reconciliation really a matter of trust? Reconciling means the continual process of coming to trust God and one another.  

 

Who do you and I need – in one way or another – to share the love of God with this week? How will they trust in one of whom they have never heard because we didn’t tell them?

 

 

 

www.foundryumc.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] The material that follows is summarized from George G Hunter III’s very excellent book To Spread the Power: Church Growth in the Wesleyan Spirit, especially Chapter 4.