The biggest, baddest, most offensive swear word in the Mainline Church does not begin with an “S,” a “D” or even an “F.” It begins with an “E.” Progressive Christians avoid the word “Evangelism” far more than those other bad words more commonly associated with athletes, drunks, stand-up comedians and, of course, sailors.
At the National Church Leadership Institute, I attended a couple weeks ago, workshop presenter and worship consultant Cathy Townley (www.townleycoaching.com) put to words something I had been thinking for a long time. She said, “It cannot be overstated the disdain the church has for the ‘E’ word.” We continued talking about increasing worship attendance never once using the dreaded “E word“ and instead employing the word, “invitation.”
Progressive Christians have good reason for this disdain. Evangelism is often associated with pushy, zealous Christians knocking on doors or standing on street corners “saving” people and helping them to “know” Christ. These practices (among with many other things) has led the majority of young adults to think of Christians as judgmental, old-fashioned and hypocritical, according to Barna Group research published in the 2007 book, UnChristian by David Kinnaman.
Invitation may be a less “offensive” word, but it isn’t quite the same as evangelism. Inviting people to your church for a program or worship may be one way to live out evangelism, but it doesn’t really get at what Christians are charged to do. In the Great Commission Jesus says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28: 16-20, NRSV) Making an invitation, as challenging as it may be, doesn’t quite seem adequate to this task.
Putting aside the abstract and loaded language of this scripture, the charge of this scripture is really to let your life speak. How will more people begin to think of Christians as non-judgmental, open-minded and modern? By seeing them live a life that embodies love and kindness toward the outcast and marginalized, by seeing people stand up against the forces of oppression, by seeing people who align their life’s work with these values.
When our lives speak for our beliefs (rather than just speaking about our beliefs), I think the invitation part gets easier. We are inviting people to something that matters, something that is attempting to do good in the world. Who doesn’t want to be part of that?
What ways can you or do you let your values speak through your life?
For more information about living and sharing faith, learn more from the research of Martha Grace Reese through the Unbinding the Gospel Series, www.gracenet.info. You can find these resources and more on my Pinterest boards.