I’m Not an Evangelist

Louise Essam

I almost didn’t apply to work for Church Army. I was fixated on the repeating thought: “I’m not an evangelist.” I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of approaching strangers in the street and telling them that Jesus loves them. I associated evangelism with archaic language, Billy Graham crusades and men with megaphones.

I was OK with the word ‘missionary’. To me it had a greater implication of practical help to people in need and less emphasis on proclamation of the gospel.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the gospel. I believe Jesus’ death bought us salvation and forgiveness for our sins. I believe that choosing to accept that will transform your life and that God desires all people to know Him. My point is that language can sometimes be unhelpful and ‘evangelism’ is a word which carries a bad reputation for many Christians.

I got over my insecurity about my own evangelistic prowess and applied to work in Church Army’s fundraising team and have since learned a lot about what evangelism is.

During midday prayers, recently, we talked about good examples of evangelism we’ve seen and while I was thinking reluctantly of all the megaphone evangelists I’ve seen, other people talked about evangelists who have moved into impoverished neighbourhoods and simply committed to joining the community wholeheartedly and about evangelists who served people with their time, money and skills.

Some of these evangelists have not actually seen people make a commitment to Jesus. Some of them haven’t even seen any change in behaviour in those they’re serving. Some have only seen fruit after decades of investment in people.

Mark Russell, Church Army’s CEO, provided a very helpful illustration. We can see people as falling somewhere on a scale. On this scale -10 represents someone who is out-and-out antagonistic to God and +10 represents the saintliest of saints. 0 represents the point at which someone chooses to accept Jesus.

My understanding had always been that evangelists got people to cross onto the + side of the scale, they were the harvesters, as far as I could tell. Evangelists were the people who could convince the most anti-God person to commit their life to following Him with a few well-chosen words. However, Mark said that helping to move someone from -8 to -7 on this scale is as much an evangelistic act as pushing them from -9 to + 1.

That made me think about my friend who is coming back to church. I haven’t said a lot to her about Jesus. I haven’t sweet talked her into re-committing her life, or shouted at her about repentance. I did talk to her about forgiveness of the people in church who hurt her. And I was her friend. Through conversations she’s had with other Christians as well as me she’s become interested in giving church a second chance, and I’ve offered to help her find a congregation. That’s all. Yet I can now comfortably call that evangelism. It wasn’t just me who has been part of her journey but I have been involved in helping her inch along the scale. No megaphone required.

How we use words, or what we associate with them can hugely impact our actions and thoughts. I’ve had to repent of a wrong understanding of evangelism and am learning to be comfortable with using the word again. Church Army is all about showing Christians that ‘evangelism’ isn’t a dirty word, it’s an invitation to partner with God’s dream of being in relationship with all people. You are invited.

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