Evangelism has in the past been parlayed as the action of proclaiming Christ to another person, and articulating a defense of the Gospel, with the goal of seeing this person come to a saving knowledge of Christ. The main difficulty with this narrow a definition of evangelism, is that it reduces the main reason and purpose of that very activity to a mere decision for Christ.
The New Testament reveals that God is the “God of relationship” revealed through the life, ministry, and sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus Himself stated, “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” Jesus prayed that we, his disciples, could be “one, just as the Father and I are one.” The whole basis of the coming of Christ was not only redemptive, but relationally redemptive. Jesus did not come to die and be resurrected to create another religion, but rather, he came to restore relationship to the Father through his own sacrifice of his life on our behalf. We were not only created for relationship, but intentionally created for relationship with God. The “fall” in the garden, was not simply the fall of one man and woman, but of humanity, and the resulting brokenness of relationship has permeated the human race since that time. It is through Jesus and his sacrifice that the brokenness is restored, to both God and to other members of the human race. It is vertical and horizontal in reach and scope. Evangelism is part of the process of bringing restoration to God. The working out of evangelism, is in how it impacts other human relationships.
The dividends of this restoration of relationship to God, causes us to reach out to others, so that they will not only receive the same, but that God’s grace, transforming power, will in turn restore our hearts to other human beings, in effect, renewing our sense of community. That “community” is both narrow and wide. It is narrow in the sense that when believers in Christ are in community with God and others of like kind, they become a “community of faith” centred on the person of Jesus Christ, and it is wide, in that the intention of God for communities of faith is to embrace and engage with the culture and society of which it is a part of, and to serve that community, thereby releasing the power of the Kingdom of God in that larger community.
Church planting in the New Testament reveals that evangelism, the supernatural communication of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and the person of Jesus, was the catalyst for creating communities of faith, that displayed the very character of Jesus amongst those who belonged to the community. It focused on love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), gentleness (kindness), goodness, faith (faithfulness), meekness, and temperance (self-control). All these fruit are the very essence of the life of Jesus in us. When Paul planted churches, the intent of the people who responded to Christ and were restored in relationship to the Father, the goal of evangelism, was in seeing these “redemptive communities of faith” AKA “churches” come into being as bonafide relational expressions of the Kingdom of God, where love, and grace ruled the lives of those who belonged to the community. This is where they were discipled and mentored, in the context of extended family, brotherhood and sisterhood. It was a lived out community of faith, empowered and energized by the Spirit, displaying the fruit of Christ in love, peace, and joy and all the other fruit. Should not this be the model for planting churches today?
I have seen very gifted people who have little difficulty in evangelizing people, and when the people respond in faith, the “evangelist” seems to think their “job” is over, and they can move on to the next “people project” to see them saved from “the fires of hell.” I am saddened by this very limited view of evangelism. I ask you a question and I ask you to consider it well, in light of the book of Acts, and the epistles of the New Testament. Where do you see this approach to the church, the gathering believers of the Kingdom of God? Do you not see the example of love, and sharing and community, where all those who came to Christ shared what they had, and “shared all things in common.” This became normative as church life. They shared personal wealth, property and belongings. Slave had the same status in the community as the trader in fine silks. There was no status, other than brotherhood and sisterhood under the headship of Christ. This was the epitome of egalitarianism and a complete contrast to Roman society.
I see people who evangelize with no difficulty. It is a joy for them to share Christ, and with them to Christ, but when it comes to welcoming them in community and discipling them on an intimate level, even in house church, these same gifted people, do not have time for them, to make them a part of their lives. This breaks my heart when I see the very ideal of community life in Christ being so dismissed as not important. I believe this hinders biblical community life, and the very essence of sharing Christ and life together.
The greater question is where are we on that today? How are we distinguished in our faith communities, and are we reflective of the values of the culture, or values of the Kingdom of God? I believe our “personal space” and the rugged individualism of Western culture gets in the way of become a Kingdom community. We see our homes as personal sanctuary from the onrushing madness of our helter skelter world, rather than a place of refuge and safety for an extended family of faith.
Evangelism is more than “friendship evangelism,” as Joe Aldrich coined the term. Evangelism is more than a lifestyle. Evangelism is the pulse of God in us to engage with and embrace and take in those who are coming
to faith in Christ. Evangelism is the “doorway” by which people come into the Kingdom of God, and find their place at the family table. Paul who had three extensive missionary journeys in the book of Acts, shows that as soon as people were evangelized, they participated in the “family” life of the church. People were discipled by living together and sharing things together. They experienced Christ together simply because they lived life together. Life in Christ was not limited to an hour on Sunday. It was and should be 24/7. I keep asking myself and the Lord, how can I become more like Paul, and view those people I impact as more than mere “people projects for salvation” and to view them as members of the community of faith that need to embrace life in Christ as life, and not religion with a weekly inoculation on Sundays.
Jesus told his disciples that he did not consider them to be servants, but friends. He calls us to be friends with him and with those he continues to reach to and redeem. Will we move beyond mere evangelism and to community life together? This is the essence of being the church, and this aspect of Kingdom living can and should impact the society in which we live.