The 1990s were designated the Decade of Evangelism by the Lambeth Conference of 1988. The Anglican Communion was called to share the Good News of the gospel in every context. My memory of that time as a parish priest recalls the challenge of inviting Anglicans to move past the deep privacy of their faith into public sharing. We had assumed that our children would grow up into the church, and that was sufficient. Evangelism was counter-cultural to our deeply personal, private way of living the faith, and the “e” word was heard with trepidation, or even distaste and rejection. It conjured up images of TV evangelists or street preachers whose practices we certainly did not want to emulate. Most of the Decade of Evangelism seemed to be spent changing this prejudiced attitude toward evangelism rather than actually doing it!
Yet evangelism is essential to Christian life and practice. The word simply means “good news.” If the early disciples had not shared the good news they had learned from Jesus and the power of the resurrection, we would not be a people of faith today. Peter and the other disciples simply began to tell their story—what they had experienced and what it meant (Acts 2 and 3). Evangelism is the practice of telling what we know and have experienced of the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ. There is no “right” or “only” way to do that—only the way that is true to you: telling the story of how you have met God and been changed by your encounter with God’s forgiveness and love. There are no magic words you must use—only the language of your heart. The most powerful testimonies of faith are one person telling another where they have found hope and life!
During Lent one year I invited parishioners to offer a testimony of faith from their lives. The stories we heard were powerful moments of encounter with God and God’s love and grace. They were received with an attentiveness that my sermons rarely held and I am sure they were remembered long after.
I recently had occasion to revisit the story of the lives of John and Charles Wesley. We remember them in our calendar as Anglican priests who founded what became the Methodist church through their preaching and teaching. They were passionate about the need to combine the gifts of the sacramental tradition of the church with intentional discipleship through reading scripture, prayer and mutual fellowship combined with action for justice. John Wesley preached wherever he could—often outdoors to those on the fringes of society. Charles wrote poetry and hymns that resonate in our hearts to this day. They knew the power of telling God’s story! They were, of course, discomforting to other clergy and often crossed traditional boundaries, seeming too enthusiastic. Yet hundreds were drawn to hear their testimony and find life and hope. Their work revived faith for many.
Our baptismal covenant is clear: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” We have responded at our baptism and at every renewal of those vows, “I will, with God’s help.” Evangelism—telling the Good News—is not optional. How will you tell your story?