According to Archbishop Justin Welby, the best decision at any point in life, in any circumstance, whoever you may be is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.
In his article in the July edition of Christianity Justin paints a beautiful picture of what evangelism is. I use that word beautiful purposefully not because I’m expecting an invitation for tea at Lambeth palace anytime soon, but rather because so much of what is written about evangelism and how to engage with people is far from beautiful. It majors on separation and sin, rather than ‘made in the image of God’ characteristics. Evangelism has been ‘done’ in a judgmental, unkind and angry way. In other words, so much of what I see ‘on the streets’ as a street evangelist encountering other street evangelists has been far from the definition found in 1 Peter 3.15: giving the reason for the hope we have with ‘gentleness and respect.’
Justin paints another kind of evangelism. I haven’t read anything quite so clear and compelling in a long time as to what are the ingredients of what constitutes it and why each Christian is called to be a witness. Justin intertwines his definition through paralleles in Caravaggio’s painting ‘The Calling of Saint Matthew.’
1. “Evangelism is the good news of Jesus coming into a dark world.”
He describes this light as being for every person even those who might not seek him. He declares that he comes to all for all. The Light Project seeks to make sense of people’s experiences and spiritual encounters through making sense of Jesus to people who have yet to consider him. One of the most fascinating projects I have done recently was offering white feathers out to people in advent with a simple explanation of the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds. Time and time again people spoke of encounters of angels or finding feathers in obscure places. Most of these people were not ‘seeking’ but rather waiting for someone to make sense of spiritual encounters, not necessarily in their thinking equated with the christian faith.
2. Evangelism is about a call to follow Jesus.
He writes that it is that “Beautiful, wonderful moment when you realise that Jesus looks on you, and he doesn’t hate, doesn’t despise, is not indifferent, but utterly compelled and compelling in love. He says, ‘follow me.’
Often I have pointed people to that call of Jesus who declares ‘come, follow me.’ Instead of the call to make a personal or private prayer commitment after speaking at events I have often called people to join the adventure of following in the slipstream of Jesus and changing this world! This is a call to action, to loving people, to serving the poor and living a radical life for others, not for self. Justin makes his conviction clear that in Jesus Christ, God comes to call everyone he has made and that everyone is being summoned by him. Jesus involves us in his work of calling people to follow him, and the overflow of this work is called evangelism. This invitation done in partnership leads on to his third part of his definition:
3. Evangelism is a joyful proclamation of what has happened.
Justin writes that the news of Jesus Christ, his life breaking into this world, his death as the fount of redemption and resurrection as the hope for all, this news must be told! At The Light Project we spend a lot of time demonstrating and revealing the gospel through the arts, acts of kindness, prayer for people, listening and demonstrating the gospel to the detriment of proclamation. Only this past weekend we have been using music working with Epiphany music ensemble to do ‘sound portraits’ for people. Yes, people, asked us questions and we prayed with people and yes I agree that the good news can’t be a pitch, patter or presentation and is something that needs to be felt, experienced and participated in. Yet, Justin’s definition challenges me afresh that the words that I speak are words that can change people’s lives. Words of grace that people can know, as Justin writes, that they are “loved, accepted, forgiven, redeemed and chosen in Jesus.”
The next definition details what evaneglism isn’t:
4. Evangelism is not a growth strategy.
Justin outlines that what compels us to do evangelism is the love of Christ. While he states that of course we want to see churches full evaneglism is not about self-survival. This is a vital point to hold on to. Impure motives for sharing the most lavish news that this world has been graced with won’t produce disciples of Jesus. It will produce service attendees, who may become bored and disillusioned as to what Christianity is all about.
Justin quotes Missiologist Lesley Newbighin who states that “… A church that exists only for itself and its own enlargement is a witness against the gospel.” This needs to be a word for the church today, that good news must be demonstrated not for the sake of our survival, but rather for the sake of those we love enough to share the gospel with. In other words: do we love people because we want them to become Christians to join us, or do we want people to become Christians and join us because we love them?
For more information about Archbishop Justin Welby and a cracking interview by Nicky Gumble follow the link by clicking on the picture.