The third chapter of David Fitch’s “Seven Practices for the Church on Mission” is one that in some circles evokes a simultaneous “of course” and “yeah, but…”
Proclaiming the Gospel. Evangelism. Sharing the good news about Jesus.
It is the heart of why the church exists – to carry out this mission and embody it. And yet, if we’re honest – sometimes we seem embarrassed to do so. Or we say we’re ‘planting seeds’, but in such an obscure way that it would be hard to draw the line back to Jesus.
The problem with words
The words themselves: evangelical, evangelism, evangelist, have come to carry unfortunate connotations in many circles. To some, an evangelist is less about sharing the Gospel and more about a slick proclamation that hides a personal agenda for one’s own power or financial gain (think some televangelists or the personal empires of some well-known church leaders). Contrast that to Paul who wrote in 1 Cor 2:1-5 “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified….so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
To others, the word evangelical has narrowed further in the past 50 years to be identified with a partisan political affiliation and agenda. To be sure – that does not represent everyone who calls themselves an evangelical (see Roger Olson), but we need to acknowledge that this is how many see the label.
And evangelism itself has suffered from both a too restrictive narrowing of its scope and hope and an expansion of its meaning that renders the idea almost meaningless; that doing nice things for people is evangelism. I’m being a bit harsh here…both a concern about eternity and present acts of mercy are important facets of what the actual Gospel is — the question is whether we are actually as centered in the whole of the Gospel of Jesus as we might think we are.
Reclaiming the real mission
In other words – how do we rejoin the experience of the early church who prayed for boldness in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus (Acts 4:29, 28:31, 2 Cor. 3:12, Ephesians 6:19, etc) , while making sure that we are actually pointing to Jesus, and not our own political or theological preferences?
David Fitch pulls it together this way:
“The Gospel is that God has come in Christ, who has been made Lord, and a whole new world (the kingdom of God) has begun. In Christ, God has begun to make things right.
Proclaiming the gospel therefore is the art of announcing to our neighbors that this new world has begun in Christ”
There’s so much good stuff here in this chapter, but I don’t want to simply regurgitate or copy what he has written.
Instead, I just want to highlight a few images that I find helpful in re-centering us in what it means to proclaim the Gospel:
Proclamation is less about haranguing people, and more painting a picture — it is about describing what God has done and is doing in the world; what the kingdom of God is like, and inviting people into that world.
Proclaiming the Gospel can happen in many ways, but doesn’t rely on our skills and technique, but on what we have experienced of the power and presence of God in Jesus. We don’t have to have a perfect life to share Jesus (Paul didn’t!), and neither do we have to have some dramatic conversion story from a life of utter ruin (Peter didn’t), we just have to be real about the difference Jesus has made and makes in our lives today.
Proclaiming the Gospel includes us – but isn’t about us. We aren’t the focus – and it’s not about gaining followers/subscribers/likes, etc… it is about coming together in acknowledging Jesus as Lord, not with the person doing the proclaiming being in a position of power over the other, but an invitation to a shared journey. We’re not at the center of this, Jesus is. We’re not gatekeepers, but those called to share what we’ve received.
All of this invites us to some important questions: