I’ve been hearing a dirty word a great deal lately, in our church, even in the worship service. A word that makes many of us so uncomfortable we look down, away, maybe chuckle nervously, seek out our coffee, something to do with our hands. We don’t want to meet anyone’s eyes. I attend a wonderful Methodist church in a university town, the members are skewed towards the highly educated and self-aware. We have been looking at our personal gifts, what we have been given by God to share with the world to build His Kingdom and bring glory to His name. But this word is cropping up and we don’t really like it. We can give money, make food for potlucks, teach Sunday school, but seriously, please don’t ask a bunch of introverts to become EVANGELISTS. Yikes. Might as well be cussing.
The concept of evangelism has been taken over in my mind to include the pushy judgey Christians who leave a card telling how to find salvation instead of a tip for the waitress who brought them their Sunday lunch and 20 sweet tea refills. It conjures up the image of the men on street corners telling passersby they are going to hell if they don’t repent. It makes me think of the elders who interviewed a young couple to see if they were worthy of attending that church, elders who said no and left these two young people so hurt they didn’t attend church for many many years. Evangelism feels like hurting others. I would rather cook for the potluck.
What I am learning is that the word has been coopted by a movement, twisted, distorted, surely the devil’s hand is in this. What greater delight could Satan have than to take the very tool to bring believers to God and make it so ugly and distasteful that God’s people recoil? If I really dig into what it means to become an evangelist, I know that I am already fulfilling that role, I can’t escape it. My very life and actions are either bringing people to or away from God, my words can heal or do damage. This is not a choice, rather the very essence of every child of Christ. The fact that some push others away just makes my job more critical. I won’t be picking up any bullhorns, I am not printing up cards for restaurant distribution. I am becoming more aware of opportunities to invite others to meet my friends who worship with me, great people who are sinners and accept that there is room in the church for those who are struggling and seeking answers. We have space in my row for others who mess up every day and just keep trying.
While I have been inspired by the stories of John Wesley and the true evangelical nature of his faith, it is really a witness much closer to home that has convinced me to act. This week my Plum chose not to attend Sunday school, feeling shy again. He took up his place in the front row with me instead of working at the art table in the back. He declined my offer of one of the wonderful bags assembled for children full of coloring pages, books and crayons. He just wanted to fiddle with his Play-doh and hang out with gran. Pastor Joseph’s sermon on reaching out to our friends, inviting them to our church, didn’t fall on deaf ears.
A special event was held Sunday evening, Holy Halloween in which kids trick-or-treat to biblical characters. My plum had been returned to mama, we met up at church for the dinner before the fun stuff began. Once we began the tour of the rooms, mama pointed out a little girl from their apartment complex. I was surprised to see her there, they do not attend our church. When I asked how they knew of the event, she said Plum invited her. I leaned down and whispered in Plum’s ear that I was proud of him, it was so nice of him to invite his friend. He looked at me a bit oddly and replied, “Pastor Joseph said to do that.” It was just that simple.
Maybe I have too many years of negative connotations with this one word, maybe I can’t overcome the anxiety that builds as I imagine some door-to-door preaching. What I do know is I can follow the example of an almost 6 year old and simply INVITE. I don’t have to make it harder than it is. Listen to the Pastor, do it. So, umm, err, hey, what are you doing next Sunday? I have room in my row. Come as you are, I’ll meet you there, as will the love of Jesus.
Practice, I need practice. Like anything, the more I invest in this the better I will get at it. Hope to see you Sunday, any Sunday. Also, Jesus and little kids rock. Just ask my Plum.