Me, An Evangelist?!? – #1: Do I Have What It Takes

SCRIPTURE – Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

SERMON
#1 – Do I Have What It Takes?
Me, An Evangelist? Sermon Series
Aug. 8, 2010

Evangelism. No, I didn’t just cuss in the pulpit, but some people might think so. Why is evangelism a dirty word in so many churches today? After all, as one of my Facebook friends pointed out, it has the word “angel” in it, but we treat “evangelism” as if its profanity or some ugly skin disease. “What’s the preacher talking about today?” (In low voice, after looking around furtively): “Evangelism.” “Oh my.”

The concept of evangelism has biblical roots, but it’s one of those Christian words that has been co-opted by our culture and redefined in less-than-favorable terms. I asked people on Facebook what they thought of when they heard the word “evangelist,” and here are some of the responses:
• TV scam artist trying to get you to send money
• Jehovah’s Witnesses showing up at my door
• Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, the 700 Club and their ilk
• Someone who might think they are a better Christian than you
• Wacky people (maybe the most honest and straightforward answer)
With these negative images in people’s mind, it’s no wonder that the idea of evangelism has gotten a bad name.

But let’s back up to the origins of the word to get a better understanding of it. The word “evangelism” comes from the Greek word “evangelia”, which means “good news.” The Greeks used the word to denote the report that was delivered to the folks back home when their troops had won a battle. So an evangelist is simply someone who shares good news. One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, defines an evangelist as “a preacher of good news, a bearer of glad tidings, a practitioner of gospel medicine.” If evangelism is sharing the good news about Jesus, then an evangelist is one who does the sharing.

That’s the dictionary definition. But the cultural definition is much less benign. It has been desecrated by the exploits of TV evangelists or pushy, forceful people who knock on your door and interrupt your dinner to force-feed you the gospel. I don’t doubt their intentions, but I do question their methodology. These kinds of experiences have turned us off from talking about evangelism and its place in the church.

That’s truly a tragedy, because being an evangelist should not carry such baggage. Being someone who shares the good news should be good news! I don’t like guerilla evangelists, but I’m a firm believer that offensive and holier-than-thou evangelism tactics are no excuse to give up all together. It’s time to take back that word, to reclaim it for what it is supposed to be, and to put it to use in the church. And the best place to start our redefinition is with God’s word about evangelism. In Today’s passage from Matthew, Jesus uses this great metaphor to describe you and me. He calls us the salt of the earth. I really like how the Bible translation The Message puts it: “You are here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”

As Christians, we are called to give the world its flavor, which is interesting, because down through the years Christianity has gotten a bad rap as being bland and boring. Christians have become known for what they aren’t allowed to do, which was usually all the fun things like dancing and watching R-rated movies. Is this right? Are you bland and boring? Am I bland and boring? I don’t experience this church or any of you as bland and boring; this is exciting, God is doing great things through us. I don’t know that salt is the best modern metaphor for us. Maybe today Jesus would say, “You are the smoking hot Jalapeño pepper of the earth!” or “You are the gooey, scrumptious chocolate chip cookie of the earth!” We bring out the God-flavors.

Jesus also calls us the light of the world. This is the highest praise, because in John’s gospel Jesus calls himself the same thing: “I am the light of the world.” By transferring that title to us, he is equipping us to do his work. But our light is not self-lit; we have been lit by the light that has come into the world, so that we may shine for all to see. We are windows through which people see God’s love and God’s work. People may not be able to see God, but they can see us, and God’s love shining through us. We’re like lighthouses; we are the beacon that helps people find their way to God. And if we hide that light, people may not find their way.

In this passage, Jesus isn’t telling us to try harder to be salt and light. He’s saying we already are those things; we just have to recognize them within ourselves and to let them out. We were created to be salt and light. Because we believe in him, we have a role to play, the role of good-news sharer, and how we conduct our lives, whether or not we live like we are salt and light, can influence how people experience God and how they form their opinions about the church and how they choose to pay attention to their faith. The way we live in others’ presence can have a tremendous influence on how brightly God’s light shines in their lives.

So if that’s who we’re called to be, if we are called to be good-news sharers, if we are called to be salt and light, what keeps us from sharing the good news? Maybe it’s the fear of being thought of us a Jesus freak, which is at its heart a fear of being rejected. No one likes rejection. No one likes the thought of being turned down. Which is why evangelism should be easy. It has a 100% success rate. I guarantee you that if you take the chance to invite someone to church, then you have succeeded. Now, whether they come or not is up to them, right? It’s not up to you to make them come to church. Evangelism is about the process, not the results. It’s not up to you. We plant the seeds but only God can make them grow. It is not our job to convert people; it is not our job to give them faith.

Then, what IS the job description of an evangelist? You’ll be glad to know that it’s not too lengthy; in fact, there’s only one bullet point, one requirement to be an evangelist, and that is to be yourself. If you choose not to fulfill this requirement and insist on being someone else, then I can’t in good conscience endorse your work as an evangelist for God’s church. But if you’re willing to be yourself, to be the person God created you to be, then you have what it takes to be an evangelist.

In my conversations with people who visit Crestwood or come to our Crash Course I hear very clearly that people looking for a church don’t want anything phony, fake, or fabricated. They want real: real people, real stories, real warmth. They are not looking to see if we have the Bible memorized or have a sound theology. They want to know that we are human and make mistakes, they want to know that we can empathize with their search, they want to know that we also have questions and doubts sometimes. They want to know they are not alone as they walk their journey of faith. They want to know we care about them. We share the good news most effectively when we live it out, loving and caring and listening and being present and offering hope to others.

If we are willing to risk being real with people, if we are willing to open up our lives to their questions, their longings, their hope, then we are capable of sharing the good news of Christ with them. Because in the midst of their struggles, we are able from our own experience to say, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve had those struggles, too. I’ve asked those same questions.” And when they know they are not alone, they are willing to listen to a fellow traveler share some good news with them.

I’ll talk more next week about the people with whom we can share the good news, and in two weeks we’ll talk about what you would actually say to them. But I want to close today with a story. I want to tell you the story of Albert McMacon. Now, my guess is that none of you know who Albert McMacon is, and yet he is one of the most influential people in Christianity in the 20th century. Because of Albert, literally millions of people have heard the good news of Christ all across the world.

In 1934, in Charlotte, NC, there was a 17-year-old boy who’d been invited to a local revival by a friend of his. This boy resisted invitation after invitation, and finally agreed to attend, but only if his friend would like him drive his friend’s new truck. The friend agreed, so this boy drove the truck to the next meeting. When he got there, he hung in the back of the revival tent, listening to what the preacher was saying. And he was spellbound. Night after night, he went back to that revival and listened, until the last night, when that 17-year-old boy decided to give his life to serving Christ. That boy went on to speak in person to over 2 hundred million people about what Christ had done in his life.

That 17-year-old boy was Billy Graham. Ever heard of him? But who’s heard of Albert McMacon? Well, Albert was the friend who extended invitation after invitation to Billy Graham, and let Billy drive his truck, so that Billy could hear God’s word for the first time. If it hadn’t been for Albert’s persistence, patience, and generosity with the car keys, Billy Graham may have never become a Christian.

We can’t all be Billy Graham. But we can all be Albert McMacon. Isn’t it true that most of us arrived at our faith because someone told someone who told someone who told us? That’s the way it’s been working for 2000 years, and we are now bearers of the light who pass it on to others. That’s evangelism, plain and simple. And we all have what it takes to be evangelists.

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