Today, I decided to make a bunch of flyers for our Vacation Bible School program and distribute them in the surrounding area around the church. Tai & Bronwyn were especially excited about this little adventure, and agreed to tag along. This was their first lesson in evangelism.
We started in the car, and drove around a few places, with co-pilot Molly tagging mailboxes as we went. We did that until we ran out of flyers. The kids came with me to the church to make more. They love coming to “work” with me in the church. Their work consists of asking me what a paper cutter is and announcing that the printer spit out a piece of paper at the top of their lungs. That makes “work” more fun, doesn’t it?
When we got home, we kept our shoes on and started walking around our little town. It wasn’t the best time to do this, being about 1:00pm on a July afternoon. We taped flyers on mailboxes, doors, and even on a garbage can in the Spectrum, because they won’t allow us to put any on the windows.
Very quickly, the kids tired out and were ready to go home. Their little faces were red. So I hurried them home for some water. Then, I decided to finish up what I started by getting on my bike and riding around. This was highly successful until I slid on some loose gravel and gashed my shin on the pedal. But I met a few people in the community, told them about VBS, and invited them to join us. Surprisingly, everyone was extremely pleasant.
As I was riding home, I realized I hadn’t “watered up” like I should have and was starting to feel a little queasy. But when I got home, I felt pretty accomplished. Even if only one family comes to VBS as a result, I’d say it was worth it.
I understand the reluctance to “evangelize” that many Christians feel. I wasn’t really looking forward to this task, and in fact, had put it off a time or two. We associate evangelism with forced conversion, pushy narrow-mindedness, and sanctimonious guilt. We know that has turned us off in the past, so why inflict that on others? We’ve had the door-to-door salesman routine and have read the bad theology in the tracts. Why would we want to go around our own neighborhoods on foot, bike, or automobile in the heat of the summer passing around flyers until we’re sick? I wouldn’t recommend it.
Evangelism at it’s core is about gossip. Non-derogatory gossip, that is. Back in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two to share the radical message he himself was proclaiming. He told them to take very little with them, and spread the rumors of the amazing things he was doing and saying. Jesus didn’t sugar-coat it for them either. “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves,” he said. He knew that some might be receptive, but most probably wouldn’t be. In those cases, Jesus instructs that it’s better for them just to keep walking. He knew it was going to be hot, and tiresome, and uncomfortable.
I use the term “gossip,” because it’s one that everybody is pretty good at. How much quicker does bad news travel than good news? How much quicker does untrue or second-hand news travel than first-hand reports? With the exception of our Harris County Journal, how many newspapers are full of the warm, fuzzy, life-changing, incredible, Kingdom-bringing type of news? Not many. What if we were to spread the wonderful things that God has done with us and through us as quickly as the rumors we hear about the negative and unconfirmed things we hear? We can, you know, if we want to.
I have a dear friend who’s a priest in the Diocese of Georgia. He planted a church in Southeast Georgia about the same time that St. Nicholas was started. Do you know what he did to start that church? He, along with a group of people who wanted to see a church in their county, went and knocked on doors. Yes, they were Episcopalians! However, when the doors were opened, they didn’t say, “Hey, join our church!” They asked the question, “What could an Episcopal church do in this community?” They took those answers and built their mission and eventually their church around them.
That’s a much more intriguing way to engage in evangelism. What if, in our workplaces, in our homes, and in our communities, we started engage that similar question of “What could St. Nicholas do for Harris County?” Imagine the dreams and wishes that could come out of such a conversation! Maybe we wouldn’t even have to ask the question, but could set ourselves to intent listening to hear what the needs of our community are.
Sure, the good-gossip system could work too, as could the door-to-door flyers. But if we are called to bring hints of the Kingdom of God to our world, perhaps the best way we can do that is to make ourselves known in the community and ask folks what St. Nicholas can do for them.
Unless you want to feel sick, don’t forget to take some water.