Over early morning coffee the other day, a Christian friend and I were talking about evangelism.
The average Episcopalian shutters when the word evangelism comes up, as if he's just eaten a lemon, which is too bad, because it's a good, New Testament word. It sums up what was happening in the church of the apostles after Jesus' resurrection.
In its denotation, evangelism is sharing the good news of God's loving and saving presence among us in Jesus. Those first evangelists knew the risen Christ and his love, which changed their lives. Naturally, they wanted to share that life and love with others. As they did, the church grew and spread throughout the world.
And yet in its connotation, evangelism means a preacher standing on a street corner or in a studio in front of a TV camera, haranguing people about God, who'll hurl them into hell unless they repent.
My friend calls this "turn or burn" evangelism.
There's no good news in this message for me--nothing that would draw me to Christ if I didn't know him. Indeed, I'd flee from that preacher. I'd change the TV channel.
And that's exactly what many people are doing today and what they'll continue to do, unless we Christians understand what evangelism really is and how to practice it as part of our baptismal ministry.
At a conference last year, I heard the speaker talk about how the 23rd Psalm expressed the Good News of God's love in Jesus. He invited us to reflect on how the Lord had been our shepherd, how God had fed us and led us to water, how God had seen us through the valley of the shadow of the death.
When Christians know God's salvation directly in our lives--and I have known it again and again--then we know the Good News, and that's news worth sharing with others, because it's real and relevant to others who are seeking love, joy, hope, peace.
As the church moves from the Christmas celebration of Christ's birth, we Christians enter the season of Epiphany, which is that time of God's shining forth the light of his great love for all people in Jesus Christ.
I'm thinking about how I've met Christ's love in my life, how his light's saved me in my darkness, and I'm praying for opportunities to share this good news with others.
Not on a street corner or in front of a TV camera, but with someone over coffee or lunch or even in a column like this.