By Merv Budd
Over the last few weeks I’ve tried to argue that the approach to evangelism we have always know has been tied to an assumed Christendom framework. Now that the structure of having the Church at the centre of culture is quickly being torn down, we need to answer what evangelism must look like now, as we engage on the margins, following the mission of God in making known the Good News of the Kingdom and King to those for whom it is unknown.
I have suggested that the predominant model of evangelism has the following components:
- Evangelism is Proclamation
- Evangelism is Propositional
- Evangelism is Punctiliar
- Evangelism is Personal
Perhaps the most entrenched nuance of the Christendom model of evangelism is the notion that it is personal. By saying that evangelism is personal, we usually mean that it is done one-on-one. One person presents a personal invitation to faith in Christ to another. As with all of these modernist characteristics of evangelism, I am not at all saying they need to be abandoned, but I am arguing that they are incomplete. They have a wrong starting point.
Individualism in Ministry
It may not be that evangelism ceases to be personal for the one who is being evangelized, but what is so often the case, is that those who are evangelizing think of it as something to be done individually.
Evangelistic efforts are just another victim of Western individualism. We have not fully developed rhythms of corporate evangelistic engagement so that our individual efforts are multiplied. We have not equipped and trained each of those who are spiritually gifted with an outward orientation of those gifts (and not just the gift of evangelism) towards those who are turned away from God.
Individual evangelism can embed a dangerous narrative that the body of Christ can’t be trusted with my personal friend. It reinforces a false dichotomy that implies that evangelism happens outside of the church while discipleship happens inside. “First I’ll get them saved,” we think, “and then I’ll introduce them to church.”
The Flip Side
Now I think I just heard a sigh of relief from some, “O good, I must be better at evangelism than I thought because I invite my friends to church all the time.” Inviting people to a church service has become the substandard substitute for true evangelism and is not anywhere close to corporate evangelistic engagement. The gathered people of God need to scatter into the fabric and systems of the community and allow the light of their gifts to shine as those gifts are used.
As we see the needs of those we meet, we invite others who are spiritually gifted to meet those needs into the circle of relationship with us. In this way the whole body of Christ works to enflesh Christ to our neighbours. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each person reveals a different part until the image of Christ and the nature of the Kingdom become apparent.
Together the process of evangelism is engaged. Together we learn to accurately hear and converse. And together we intercede, love and celebrate the movements towards Christ that we all are working together to see.
It is as the body of Christ works together that an individual encounter with Jesus is made possible for the individual, so that our corporate witness allows for a personal evangelistic occasion.