Commentary: Wesley’s evangelism: ‘Save as many souls as you can’

Other Manual Translations: français
“Many Voices, One Faith” is a forum for sharing theological perspectives on topics of interest in The United Methodist Church. We are a global community rooted in the Wesleyan tradition, yet diverse in views and experiences. This 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.
Photo of the Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

The Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka.
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Evangelism is part of our Wesleyan heritage. It’s essential for The United Methodist Church to continue believing in its high tradition, which functions primarily in the service of character formation, faith development, missional engagement, and evangelization. It is crucial to living these core beliefs and even practice them. Our priorities as Methodists are to witness for Christ and invite people into a relationship with God.

Today in the 21st century, congregations are making a mistake in thinking that evangelism is a program of the church. Faith-sharing is not a program of the church. To the contrary, the church, when it is authentic, is a ministry of faith-sharing.

The role of evangelism is to tell the good news of God’s kingdom come in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we do not “evangelize” anyone other than Christ. Evangelism is heralding Christ. We may “evangelize” among a group of people, but we do not evangelize any one person. In other words, we do not convert anyone. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our task is to tell the good news story.

Our God is a seeking, saving and sending God. “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21, NRSV)

The call to bear witness, to evangelize the nations, is our ongoing response to God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. The congregation lives out its attitude toward unchurched persons every day in the communication it offers, in its involvement in the community, and in the unique way it expresses and practices hospitality.

As Methodists, we should understand that sharing faith or evangelism demands an openness to the Holy Spirit. John Wesley referred to these ways as the means of grace: prayer and fasting, study of Holy Scriptures, worship, regularly receiving the Lord’s Supper, and Christian conversation or conferencing. Evangelism is very important to Methodists when they reach out to others, welcoming them into fellowship, providing opportunities for them to grow in their relationship with God. Nurturing them in the Christian faith. Sending them out to serve the ends of the kingdom in the places where they live, work and play.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, the great commandment calls every Christian to a ministry of sharing the gospel and inviting others to seek God in Christ. In doing evangelism, people are requested and invited to experience the community of faith. We should remember that some are called to be evangelists, but all are called to be witnesses.

One of the mistakes people always make is to view evangelism as the pastor’s task alone. As children of God, we bear witness to Christ in our lives, based on the personal experiences we have of the encounter and receiving of Jesus as personal savior. We bear witness to God’s grace in our lives as we mature in our faith. While the congregation has ministries that enable the local church to fulfill an evangelistic function, it ultimately comes down to the individual who takes personal responsibility for sharing with others how God has worked in his or her life.

The early Methodist movement was to be an evangelistic movement. Above all else, they were to be concerned with preaching the gospel and the salvation of souls.  Wesley wrote to his preachers: “It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society, but to save as many souls as you can. To bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord.”

Today, we have to take our evangelism effort seriously because the world needs it more than before. The world is sick; we have to continue preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. As Methodists, we should not be limited to calling people to justifying faith alone, but to call people to holiness of heart and life.

The Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka is a United Methodist missionary in Côte d’Ivoire.

"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.

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