September 2018

After a particularly joyful Eucharist in late July, a member of the congregation said to me, “Bishop, I heard you preach a few weeks ago, and I want you to know how excited I am about your new focus on evangelism for the diocese.” I learned she was not kidding; she had gotten so charged up about inviting others to church she had already asked three people to join her. She said, “Bishop, your idea is just fantastic. It works!

Her enthusiasm for invitational evangelism was infectious, but I had to confess something to her right away: inviting folks to church was not my idea. I heard it from somebody else, who borrowed it from someone else, and so on. Faithful Christians have swapped this idea for centuries. We all learned from the same source: Jesus Christ.

Inviting someone to church is one form of evangelism — sharing the good news that we know of God so that others might know it, too. Christian evangelism is over 2,000 years old, rooted in Jesus’ instructions to his followers to ‘make disciples’ from all across the world, not only by baptizing them but also by teaching them what he commanded (Matt. 28:16–20). And, Jesus had been very clear on what he commanded: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Inviting someone to a welcoming church is an open-ended, openhearted way of sharing, the transformative, all-powerful love of Jesus Christ, in one small yet impactful way.

My point that July afternoon was not to dampen my Episcopalian friend’s zeal for invitation. What I wanted her to understand, and all of us to see, is that this focus on evangelism is not a new idea or a passing phase. It is not a flashy program from the new bishop to get everyone’s attention and energy up. It is not a special project to fill up our pews.

Our focus on evangelism is about doing what Jesus told us to do, plain and simple. It is like outreach. We clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless because Jesus told us to. Outreach is just what Christians do. It is who we are.

Think of evangelism in the same way: it is just what Christians do. If it feels like a new idea, it is only because we have forgotten our history and our roots. Plain and simple, we all are evangelists, and we have breathtakingly good news to share.

 

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