I did not become a Christian because of a pastor, program or congregation. While each of these things eventually played an important role in my faith journey, I became a Christian because a high school friend invited me to a United Methodist Youth Fellowship meeting, shared about her relationship with Christ in a way that made sense to me, and then walked with me as I explored, questioned and dug deeper.
This is evangelism, and I doubt my friend had any idea at all that’s what she was doing. In fact, she probably would have denied it fervently if she had! It was real, relevant and filled with grace. It was personal – for her and me. And it helped me find what I did not have any idea I had been looking for all along.
At its heart, evangelism is simply Jesus’ followers caring enough about people to get to know them, love them and share their story about the difference Jesus makes in their lives. Evangelism must be grace-filled and grace-fueled. It has to acknowledge that Jesus’ disciples have to earn the right to share their story because they have first demonstrated how much they love. It must treat others as people precious to God and not objects to be converted. And perhaps most of all, evangelism must demonstrate the same love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. In fact, I am convinced this is the only type of evangelism that will be able to tear down the walls that have been created by a church characterized by prosperity gospel televangelists who manipulate the poor for their own gain, rocked by sexual abuse scandals and too easily mistaken as just another manifestation of the Republican or Democratic parties.
We human beings are created by God to thrive through living in relationship with God. If we don’t experience this kind of relationship, we struggle to survive. This is a relationship both God and human beings long for, even if we don’t always acknowledge it. God is so serious about this relationship that God took the initiative to send Jesus, his only Son, to do whatever it took to give us what we absolutely need but can never get on our own: salvation, healing, abundant life, hope and eternal life. Indeed, Jesus doesn’t just give us enough in this life to scrape by; Jesus gives us more than we can ever use.
This is why the best person to share this reality in real ways is someone who already has experienced it so deeply she or he can’t wait to share it with others. Quite simply, it is why Jesus calls his disciples to be the ones who make more disciples. As unbelievable as it may seem, Jesus is inviting you to join God’s mission in the world of helping others experience Jesus’ unconditional, invitational and transformational love.
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ who makes disciples begins with your relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It involves you taking the time to get to know someone and genuinely care about her or him. It continues as you share how Jesus has made a difference in your life. It includes walking with that person through her or his questions, concerns and deep reflections. It insists that you make room for the Holy Spirit to work.
Far too many church members refuse to be evangelists because they don’t feel worthy or able to handle such a huge undertaking. While this is understandable, it is also sad. It’s also why this is the time to work at unleashing a new culture in the church based on an entirely new assumption. Every Christian can share Jesus’ love in real life through real ways with real people.
—Bishop Gary E. Mueller leads the Arkansas Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church.
“Many Voices, One Faith” is a forum for sharing theological perspectives on topics of interest in The United Methodist Church. The forum is designed to put the voices of the church in conversation with one another and build understanding of what it means to be United Methodist today. Read more commentaries.