At the beginning of the week this week, I began listening to a new podcast being produced by The Episcopal Church. For the last several years, The Episcopal Church has hosted a conference called Evangelism Matters. The conference brought together lay and clergy leaders from across the church to learn in community with one another and to create new ideas for how to go about the business of sharing God’s love with the world in our local contexts.
Of course, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the organizers of the conference had to figure out how to do things differently. In 2020, they had the benefit of hosting the conference before the pandemic hit full force in the United States. Now that we have all had over a year’s worth of Zoom calls on almost a daily if not hourly basis, the organizers of the retreat decided to do something innovative: they went old school. And as the Old Guys in the Balcony from the muppets like to say, “There’s no school like the old school!”
I guess it is not really old school since they are still using an internet-based technology, but it does have the benefit of not being one more video conference meeting that people are asked to sit through. Instead, they opted to publish a podcast over a number of weeks. Each week, the podcast features a handful of speakers reflecting on the nature and practice of evangelism as a practice of a deeply rooted faith in the risen Christ. It is not about getting more people into the seats at church (which we can’t do now anyway!) nor is it about getting more money flowing through the church coffers (which is not the ultimate solution to being a vibrant parish). Instead, it is about sharing faith, hope, and love with others in our context. It is about being vulnerable in our faith with friends and with strangers. It is about finding small ways to consistently share our faith as we move about our lives.
It seems that faith sharing practices, which we call evangelism, are things that need to come out of the space in which we meet Jesus regularly. To put it another way, the way we share our faith is by tapping into the very charisma (the Greek word for gift) through which we first came to know the love of our Savior Jesus Christ. It is through the places for which we have passion – the place we are willing to go to the ends of the earth – for our Savior that we are most easily able to share faith with another. Thus, evangelism is not about a vapid invitation done in order to get more people into the church on a Sunday. It is not about helping people to live a “good” life. Evangelism is about inviting people to know the love of God that transforms the whole of life. It is about how we share the ways that we have experienced the faith, hope, and love of Christ in the life being lived now. It is about the ways that faith, hope, and love are the practical tools for moving through the day – even in the days that are hardest.
Today, we are launching a new invitation within our parish called Belong. Engage. Believe. It is an invitation for you to find the one ministry for which you share in the passion of Christ. It is the ministry to which you know Christ has called you, and it might be the ministry through which you first encountered the deep, abiding love of Christ. It is the ministry that you cannot stop yourself from doing no matter how hard you try, and it is the ministry in which you are willing to lend your charisma/gift for the building up of God’s kingdom.
Perhaps it is important to understand that giving time and talent is not something that is a replacement for the gift of treasure. Instead, we are invited to give all three – time, talent, and treasure – every single year as part of our own stewardship of God’s gifts into our lives. It is an act of discernment – prayerfully considering where Jesus is inviting us to give of ourselves – that leads us deeper into our relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are not making a pledge of time and talent to be better people or to be fixed or to fix others. We make gifts of time and talent precisely because it is part of following in the way of the cross and living the cruciform life of faith, hope, and love.
Our individual evangelism is most faithful when it is rooted in the ways that we enter into the arms of Jesus that were opened wide on the cross for the sake of the whole world. From the place that we experience faith, hope, and love, we are able to move out into the world with real, joy-filled, compassionate, and holy invitations to others.
Where did you first meet the real Jesus – the one that loves you to depth of your being? Where is Jesus calling you now in passion and ministry?