“2023: The Year of Evangelism”
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
“How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
About midway through this past year, the Latino members of our Board of Elders began to ask the session about evangelism at FPCSA. They felt the members of the Hispanic Ministry were unprepared and ill-equipped to share the gospel. The non-Hispanic members of session nodded their heads in agreement. These feelings were not limited to our Latino friends. After some discussion, the session voted to prioritize evangelism in the coming year.
Now, I know, the word “evangelism” conjures up many bad feelings among Presbyterians. One of my favorite sermon titles was, “Evangelism Isn’t a Four-Letter Word.” In fact, the Preamble of the PCUSA’s recent publication, “8 Habits of Evangelism,” begins with these comments: “It is interesting to me that evangelism, the very word that means to declare good news and glad tidings, has become a dirty word. When an essential ministry of the church is distorted by religious zealots and used to judge others to determine who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’ of the community of faith, the message of glad tidings is turned into judgment and exclusion – a dirty word.”
Evangelism is at the core of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ and what we are called to do. It is how Jesus begins His Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19a). It is encapsulated in the favorite verse of many: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It is detailed throughout Paul’s writings in the New Testament, perhaps best outlined in 1 Corinthians 15:1-6.
The Presbyterian Church sets evangelism as its first goal in its mission statement: “The Great Ends of the Church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind…” The congregation of which I was under care many years ago started each service with the following mission statement: “We are here to lead children, men and women to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, to nurture them in their faith, and to deploy them in servant ministries both here and throughout the world.” In fact, FPCSA’s vision statement is clear: “In Santa Ana, we strive to see people from every culture and from every generation connect with Jesus Christ and with one another.” In order for people to connect with Jesus Christ, they must know who Jesus Christ is. And they cannot know who Jesus Christ is unless someone tells them. And that’s what evangelism is all about.
But, as the members of the Hispanic Ministry pointed out, we often don’t know how to share the good news in a meaningful or effective way. We are fearful, timid or too concerned about offending others.
So that is what 2023 is going to be about. We’ll go through three phases. First, we’ll go through the Presbyterian Church USA’s study: “8 Habits of Evangelism.” The purpose of this phase is to establish habits that attract others to Jesus, whether in our lives personally or in the life of the church. We must be sure that when we invite people to join our fellowship, it is a fellowship worth joining. These 8 Habits of Evangelism should change and shape us to know the heart of God and to better exhibit and share God’s love with the world.
Secondly, we’ll look at what some other churches are doing to share the good news. We’ll take a look at congregations that are thriving and ask what they are doing to help communicate God’s good news. If there are churches that have caught your attention (no matter where), please recommend them to me so that I might include them in our study.
Finally, we’ll learn some practical tools in sharing our faith. Several months ago, I had a moment of de ja vu when someone at a Santa Ana Kingdom Group lunch said SAKG was sponsoring Evangelism Explosion to come lead workshops in Santa Ana. Evangelism Explosion?!? My goodness!!! I remember Evangelism Explosion from when I was an adolescent in Los Gatos, CA. In fact, I still have my parents’ old copy of the original James Kennedy book in my library. In this training, we will learn biblically based, practical methods of sharing our faith.
Before I finish this article, I need to clarify one thing. If we study and practice the tools of evangelism to grow the church, then we are missing the point. If this is the case, then our motivation is skewed. And we are no different than local businesses. In Acts 8, there’s the story of a man named Simon who started following the apostles and offered them money to receive the Holy Spirit; he was doing it to increase his business. Peter condemned this Simon. We don’t want to be like Simon.
However, if our motivation is to share the love of God and to build His kingdom here on earth and to know friends and loved ones will spend eternity with our LORD, then our hearts are in the right place. A natural consequence of healthy evangelism might be church growth. But even if it is not, we will be following Jesus’ instruction to us and we will be living as ambassadors of our LORD.
I’m excited for 2023. Evangelism can be an uncomfortable topic. But in the end, it is vital for each and every one of us. And it is vital for the health of our church family. Please join me in this Year of Evangelism.
I remain yours in Christ’s Love and Service,