Guest contributor: Ed Trego
What do you think of when you think of an evangelist? Many would think of Billy Graham, one of the most famous of modern day evangelists. Bishop Fulton Sheen might come to mind. Many might consider Gandhi an evangelist. There are many faithful, dedicated evangelists who have spent their lives furthering the Word of God.
Some might think “televangelists”; those who promise salvation and, in some cases, healing through their television ministry. I remember one who actually said he could heal a listener who simply placed their hands on the TV and prayed with him.
Then there were the tent evangelists. They traveled from place to place, setting up their tents and inviting all in the area to come hear the word of God preached. Neil Diamond sang a song about them; “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”. Their arrival was a major event in many towns during their day.
Is that what it takes to be an evangelist? A TV show or a stage or a tent? The apostles of Jesus had none of those things, yet they were evangelists. They spread the word of God far and wide. From their beginnings, the Christian faith has traveled throughout the world. For over 2000 years people have been listening to their words read on Sunday and have heard an untold number of sermons about them and their lives.
These were common men who were chosen by Jesus to build his church on earth. They had no special abilities or attributes other than a love and devotion to God and Jesus. Their only source of strength came in the form of the Holy Spirit sent to help and guide them in their mission. Jesus told them, “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20). With these words, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go and spread the good news throughout the world. To evangelize and to represent him to all they came in contact with.
When you look in the mirror do you see an evangelist? You should. That is what we are to be, evangelists. In the scripture passage above Jesus tasks the apostles to “make disciples” of all nations. We are to be disciples, not followers. Being a follower is a reactive form of Christianity; I will follow were he leads. That is certainly a worthy path to choose, but I think Jesus wants us to practice our faith proactively. We should not just follow, we should evangelize. We should live our lives so that others see Jesus in us.
How are we to evangelize today? In an environment that has taken on a decidedly anti-Christian attitude. It seems that today, Christians are the one, and perhaps only, group that can be slandered, derided, ridiculed and made fun of with no fear of retribution. We are told that we can’t have a manger scene at Christmas. In fact, in many places they are trying to replace “Christmas”, with “Winter Holiday”. I doubt those pushing this change realize that “holiday” is actually derived from “Holy Day”. Otherwise I’m sure they would come up with a different name. I’d like for someone to explain to me what is being celebrated during the “Winter Holiday” if it isn’t the birth of Christ. What are we celebrating? Are gifts still allowed? After all, gift giving at Christmas harkens back to the wise men and the gifts they brought the infant Jesus. So do we have to take away the gifts as well? If we have to strip the holiday of all meaning and sense, then why bother. If it’s just an excuse to take time off from work and school it becomes nothing more than a waste of time and money. It becomes the only holiday without a purpose.
There have been efforts to remove “In God We Trust” from our money. Some want to remove “one nation, under God” from the pledge of allegiance. We aren’t supposed to say prayers at ball games and high school graduations, even though the U.S. Congress opens every session with a prayer. Odd, isn’t it, that some of the same people who are trying to push God out of our lives and our country, have a prayer to begin work. Everywhere we turn there is someone who claims to be offended by any reference to God in any part of life.
If we are to be evangelists, we must follow St. Francis of Assisi’s teaching. He told his brothers, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” His message was to live life in a manner that reflects the Gospel in everything you do. A difficult task perhaps, but one of the only ways the average Christian can effectively be an evangelist in today’s world.
If someone asked the people you work with for a one word description of you, would that word be “Christian”? If it were a crime to be Christian, would those who know you call the police or would they not be aware of your Christianity? I once had a co-worker tell me that, as a Christian, it was my job to push him into Christianity. How sad to think that we must push someone to accept eternal salvation. I told him that I could not push him into Christianity; I could only push him away. My job, as he put it, is to live my life in such a way that he would, of his own choosing, want to be a Christian. I believe that to be true. I do not think anyone can convert a person to Christianity by pushing or force. Those who knock on doors trying to push their particular brand of Christianity on whoever happens to open the door have most likely turned as many people from Christ as to him. My intent here is not to offend anyone. I absolutely respect the faith and intentions of those door-to-door evangelists but I have serious doubts about their success.
Simply living our lives as witness to our faith is a very powerful means of Christian evangelization. Have you noticed when someone in a restaurant pauses to say grace before a meal, most of those who notice will quiet themselves as well? True, there are those who will make some derogatory comment but the majority of people will respect this form of evangelization.
The same applies at work. If you are one of those people who others tend to exclude from their sexual or bawdy humor, don’t feel left out, feel satisfied that your example has convinced them that you would not be interested in participating in that type of humor. You’ve done well in your evangelization.
For several years I have displayed a crucifix on my desk, even though it is technically against the rules of the company. I can’t recall a single time anyone expressed discomfort or offense at this display of my Christianity. Yet, officially, this was prohibited. I would like to think that most everyone who knew me was aware of my faith and believe most were. Though I was never put in the position to have to choose, I would like to believe that I would have refused to remove my crucifix even if it meant losing my job.
As Christians in the United States we have a responsibility to make sure everyone is aware that the first amendment to the U.S. constitution does not say “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” That phrase is not followed with a period but with a comma. The phrase actually reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” (emphasis mine). The concern being considered in the first clause was that of a national or state enforced religion in which citizens would be required to participate. The second clause of that statement, which is usually ignored, is to ensure we have the right to practice our religion without government interference.
If we are to be disciples of Jesus, rather than just followers, we must be aware of our rights to also be evangelists. We must strive to protect those rights from those who would misstate and misinterpret our constitution and our responsibility as Christians. We must also be willing to practice those rights, to “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” St. Francis was a wise man. We must live our life as an evangelist in all that we do. Perhaps someone will notice and change their life for the better because of our example.
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) Unless we, as Christians, rise to the challenge of becoming evangelists we will have no part of encouraging the sinner to repent. We must be willing to reach out to others in faith and love. We must live our lives as a Christian example that others will want to emulate.
If we ask, God will help us to follow the words of Jesus to his disciples. He will give us the strength to spread the good news, the Gospel. He will give us the courage to confront those who would take this right and obligation from us. All we need to do is ask and be willing to walk the path he chooses for us.