This is what (good) evangelism looks like

We evangelize all the time.
Here’s a short list of things that, just over the past week, I’ve enthusiastically shared with others, or received as recommendations:

  • The book Superbetter by Jane McGonigal,
  • Instacart,
  • Instapot (multiple times this past week),
  • Stranger Things,
  • Bishop Steven Charleston’s facebook posts,
  • Summer Infant 2-in-1 Toilet Trainer,
  • Apps for managing email and scheduling,
  • Mindfulness meditation,
  • and the podcast I’m about to extoll below.

When there’s a product or service or book that makes my life better, I love telling people about it, sometimes to the extent that I tell someone about it more than once. It’s not complicated: Let me tell you about this thing that saved me five minutes, saved me five dollars, saved me from anxiety, etc. The more social media penetrates our consciousness, the more we relate to others in the form of ‘likes’ and ‘shares.’ Same thing.

And yet, talking clearly and humbly about who Jesus is, and why we are people following the way of Jesus, is not exactly the most obvious strength of most Episcopalians.

There are good reasons for this, not least the large number of folks in our faith communities who have fled faith traditions that teach that ‘good news’ is this: God is so loving that He’ll make you suffer eternally if you don’t subscribe to a specific list of ideas. That does not sound like good news to me.

Blessedly, our Episcopal tradition offers a robust and orthodox set of theological conversations around questions about who Jesus is, and what the Good News is, and how we are called to live. There is room for debate and difference and growth, trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of individuals and communities to know God in new ways, and encouragement to interpret Christian practices in your contexts, seeking the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught us to pursue.

Last week I listened to Stephen Colbert’s recent interview with Oprah Winfrey on the SuperSoul Conversations podcast. The title was ‘Stephen Colbert: Finding Your Stride.’ I thought it would be about the adjustment of going from headlining The Colbert Report to The Late Show. I was cleaning the bathroom, hoping to distract myself with something relatively light and not as heartbreaking or terrifying as most of the news has been lately.

So it surprised me to hear Colbert articulate, clearly and humbly, how he rediscovered his faith. And then he kept going – he spoke in everyday language about how Jesus’ call to love our enemies has infused all his work with CBS’ The Late Show. He talked about  Jesus’ ‘harrowing challenge’ to love our neighbor, and how it has shaped his vision of his show’s capacity can create community, and even love. ColbertSSS

You might not agree with Colbert’s politics or even his theology. But, my fellow Episcopalians, I challenge you to listen to this podcast with an eye to evangelism – sharing good news. Our Presiding Bishop has been speaking about the ‘way of Jesus,’ and calling all of us to the work of evangelism. Colbert’s conversation with Oprah is one image of what that can look like: not proselytizing (trying to get someone to convert to your religion), not shaming, not shy. Rather, evangelism can be clear, concise talk about why we are followers of the way of Jesus, pointing with humility to how we’ve tried to follow that way in a beautiful, perilous, complex world.

Want a how-to?

  1. Start here: Your real experience is enough. It’s not rocket science and it shouldn’t take a theological degree: we consider ourselves Christians because something about the experience is nourishing us, or healing us, or inspiring our courage. You don’t need an M.Div. or a special certification to be able to share how you’ve experienced the holy. You might, however, need to do some talking. Our cousins in other denominations call this ‘testimony,’ and in 12-step meetings, people call it ‘sharing your story.’
  2. Then draw the connections. Is there a passage in Scripture that speaks to that experience? How are you different because of it? Why is the Jesus you see in that experience Good News in your world? How are you living differently because of it? There you go–that’s evangelism of the best kind, the kind that is grounded in your real life and isn’t ashamed to be shared with a neighbor.
  3. Not required but you won’t regret it:  Lean in to your own theological education. Ask your fellow Episcopalians what books have shaped their faith lately. Check out the School for Formation’s courses, Education for Ministry, and Deepening Roots. Pray. Lean in to some Christian practices. Speak with a spiritual director. Consider how your work is already a holy calling.

This is evangelism: Speaking clearly about why Jesus is good news, about your experience of faith, and – perhaps most importantly – about how you live because of it. AND: If you’re a person who helps others with their spiritual journey — a leader in your faith community, a clergyperson — consider joining us for the Adult Faith Formation Workshop 2018: Ministry Practices for Hopeful, Courageous Christian Lives, where we’ll spend a lot of time imagining how our faith communities can support people as they seek to experience Good News, and share it.

And, check out the recently released Evangelism Toolkit from The Episcopal Church.

Peace,

Susan