The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church
Sourced from Outreach Magazine Website: HERE
By Michael Frost
What Exactly Is Evangelism?
The mission of God is far wider than the evangelistic enterprise. Indeed, evangelism is one of the aspects or functions of the missio Dei, but not the only one. We alert people to God’s reign through Christ in a variety of ways, one of which is the verbal announcement of that reign. We must see evangelism in this broader context. But having said that, we need to be careful not to assume that unexplained action is evangelistic. As it’s used in the New Testament, the term evangelism describes a verbal announcement. It is a declarative activity. Words are required. As David Bosch points out, “This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced by unexplained deeds.” But as Bosch also pointed out, there is no perfect set of words that captures the gospel, and it is ludicrous to think that we can train Christians to present the gospel as a five-minute sales pitch.
Part of the problem with evangelism is that many Christians feel they need to get the whole gospel out in one conversation. The reason for this is many Christians are only ever in a position to “evangelize” strangers because all their friends are Christians. When the only “evangelism” we do is with strangers on airplanes or at dinner parties or business conferences, we feel an understandable pressure to get all the bases covered, because this might be the only opportunity we (or they) get. Evangelizing friends and neighbors, gradually, relationally, over an extended time, means that the breadth and beauty of the gospel can be expressed slowly without the urgency of the one-off pitch.
When we understand what it is to be truly missional—incarnated deeply within a local host community—we will find that evangelism is best done slowly, deliberately, in the context of a loving community. It takes time and multiple engagements. It requires the unbeliever to observe our lifestyle, see our demonstrations of the reign of God, test our values, enjoy our hospitality. And it must occur as a communal activity, not only as a solo venture. Unbelievers must see the nature and quality of the embodied gospel in community. And all the while, conversations, questions, discussions and even debates occur wherein we can verbally express our devotion to the reign of God through Christ. No more billboards. No more television commercials. No more unsolicited mail. If evangelism is like a meal, think of it as being prepared in a slow cooker and served over a long night around a large table. It can’t be microwaved. It can’t be takeout.
In 1986, Italian chef and provedore Carlo Petrini founded the Slow Food movement which has since expanded globally to over 100,000 members in 132 countries. Slow Food exists to “counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable.”
Well, that’s what missional thinkers are attempting to do with evangelism—to slow it down, to counteract the abuses of fast evangelism, to place evangelism back into community, to rediscover both the pleasure and the responsibility of announcing the reign of God. It shouldn’t be a one-off, hit-or-miss presentation. As Bryan Stone from Boston University points out, it is as messy and organic and communal as life itself:
The practice of evangelism is a complex and multilayered process—a context of multiple activities that invite, herald, welcome and provoke and that has as its end the peaceable reign of God and the social holiness by which persons are oriented to that reign.
Part of the problem is that so many of our models for evangelism are itinerant evangelists and pastors. These people rarely tell stories about being deeply incarnated into a neighborhood or host community. Rather, their examples are all about "evangelizing” strangers on airplanes. They tell us about how they managed to fashion just the right line at the perfect time that broke their subject open and allowed them to present Christ to them. They make these presentations to people they will never see again and for whom they feel no sense of ongoing responsibility. It is the equivalent of fast-food evangelism, and it’s not the way it was meant to be.
So, how is it meant to be? What exactly is evangelism? David Bosch defines it:
Evangelism is that dimension and activity of the church’s mission which, by word and deed and in light of particular conditions and a particular context, offers every person and community, everywhere, a valid opportunity to be directly challenged to a radical reorientation of their lives.