Recently, I've been rethinking evangelism from the lens of a missional perspective. It seems that a lot of people are simply importing their previously established patterns of evangelism and then slapping "missional" on top. On of the better resources on this topic is The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution. While I am not Lutheran, this book has helped me think through my assumptions about evangelism. It roots evangelism in theology and causes us to rethink our practices from those roots. The authors write:
"Whenever we think about God, we need to add the words, 'the mission of the Triune God within all of creation." Whenever we talk about the gospel, we need to add the words, 'for the sake of the world.' Whenever we discuss the church, we need to add the words 'sent into the world to participate fully in God's mission.' Our view of God is not complete without having the world in view, with God in relationship to it as both Creator and Redeemer. The gospel is not fully the gospel if it does not have the whole of creation as its horizon. The church is not fully the church if it does not seek to bring redemption to bear on every dimension of life." (51)
A lot of talk about evangelism today is about the relationship between personal conversion and social justice. And while this topic is important, most often the focus lies on what we are supposed to do as the church. We assume that the subject of evangelistic action is us. But is that really the case? What's often left out is the invitation to see what God is doing. God is the active subject of evangelism. He is relentless lover who will not stop until his love is spread throughout all creation. We want to jump straight to what we can do as the church. We want a list of things that we can do to be missional. Small group leaders want options that will get them active. Pastors want to see impact, the kind of impact that you can report on Sunday mornings.
While I believe we need to be practical and that we need to have impact, we also need to start at the starting point. We can do a lot of good things in the name of the gospel—all the while thinking that we are bearers of God's Kingdom—but we need to first of all attain the eyes and ears to see what God is doing all around us. Needs will always cry out to us. Hurts, pain, despair are the reality of this age. We cannot base our mission on all the needs out there. We need to develop the disciplines of discerning what God is doing and get involved with that. The authors of The Evangelizing Church put it this way:
"There is no exact formula or perfect plan for congregations to use in being called and sent by God for the sake of the world. However, an evangelizing culture can be, and must be, nurtured. This requires that a congregation and its members listen, discern, speak, and act from a deep awareness of the privilege God has given them to announce the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. The gift is the call. This awareness is best developed through an intentional prayer life, one that seeks to say yes to God and to God's mission in the world."(73)
We pray to be shaped by the Spirit so that we can participate with God in his action in the world. Do we talk about evangelism this way? I hope that more of us begin to do so.