By: Christa Meland
Even the word “evangelism” has a way of making us uncomfortable, and yet, it’s something we know we’re called to do. But our fears are based on the assumption that evangelism is a tactical activity: We think we need to act a certain way or follow a specific script.
That’s not the case, said Rev. Dr. Mark Teasdale, E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor of Evangelism at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary and author of the book “Evangelism for Non-Evangelists.” He gave two inspiring teaching sessions on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Evangelism is primarily about formation—it’s about those of us who are Christians being formed fully as Christians and allowing the goodness of God, the goodness of Jesus Christ that we’ve already experienced, to be shared with others,” he said.
So then, where do we begin? With our experience of Christ at work in our lives, said Teasdale. “If we’re going to evangelize effectively, we must start with what gets us excited about God.”
The woman at the well as told in John 4 was excited to share with others because she had met Jesus. She had something deeply personal and meaningful to share.
Teasdale asked: What have you experienced that makes you still want to be related to Jesus today? Why are you a Christian? What is that good thing you won’t let go of?
Maybe you have a sense of personal peace when you walk through tragedy because there’s assurance that God is with you. Perhaps God has given you a strong sense of purpose for your life. Maybe you have deep gratitude knowing that you are forgiven. Being a Christian gives you a lens through which to interpret your own life story and the way the world works.
“Jesus has been good to you; just share that,” said Teasdale. “When we evangelize, we say to others: ‘What does it look like to interpret your life with the music of Jesus in the background?’”
Another key to evangelism is being faithful to the teachings of the Christian tradition. Whatever our theological perspective, we need to know where we point people if they say “yes” to our evangelism. We need to be clear about where we think revelation comes from and how we interpret that revelation.
“All of our practices of evangelism call people to life,” said Teasdale. “Evangelism is about the good news of abundant life through Jesus Christ.”
To be good evangelists, we also must be contextually aware, said Teasdale. Evangelism done well is about listening to those around us to find out how God is already at work in their lives and to make sure what we’re sharing is meaningful to them. If we listen well enough, we might not only get a glimpse of the holy in that person, but we might be personally transformed in the process.
Just as there is not one right way to do evangelism, there isn’t one style of evangelism. Some of us are more verbal; some are more action-oriented. Teasdale identified four primary styles of evangelism: proclamation, process, presence, and events. Different people will approach the task of evangelism based largely on which of these resonates most with them.
The church is full of people who have different passions for how to share salvation and different evangelism styles. This makes a fuller witness for the whole church, Teasdale said.
The bottom line: Whatever your experience of the goodness of God, whatever your evangelism style, you can be an effective evangelist.
“You are someone that offers the good news because God made you to do it,” Teasdale said. “You can do the work of evangelism and the Holy Spirit is right there beside you to transform the lives of those God puts before you.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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