Evangelism is sometimes a struggle for mainline Christians. Evangelism may invoke images of street corner preachers shouting judgment, condemnation and the fast approaching end. The word may bring to mind unwanted visitors in white shirts, black ties and backpacks filled with tracts bicycling up our drive. Evangelism may conjure up images of bejeweled, silver-haired TV preachers promising blessings for donations. The “E word” has gathered a lot of baggage lately.
On page 93 of the A Disciples Path workbook James Harnish writes, “As United Methodists, we share the gospel without cramming it down people’s throats, hitting people over the heads with contrived clichés, or shouting condemnation from the street corners. We share the gospel in the spirit of love and grace… there are many ways in which we bear witness to our faith…”
Religious faith is personal. Ours is personal to us and the faith of another is personal to them. Sometimes it is hard to put into words what our faith means to us. Sharing our deepest beliefs and commitments can be misunderstood as an attempt to convert someone. Sharing faith might also be misunderstood as attempting to invalidate the beliefs of someone else. Sharing our faith should always be done with sensitivity and respect toward others. It is best done after we have established a meaningful relationship with someone. Hit and run faith sharing with strangers is rarely effective.
When we formally become a part of a United Methodist congregation we pledge to support our church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. Our witness, though, is not very effective if we are only sharing our faith with one another. We don’t want to cram anything down anyone’s throats. Nor do we condemn other or shout contrived clichés. We can, though, when the time is right, share our personal stories, and the role that our faith plays in our stories, with other people. Simply sharing our own personal stories honestly and authentically is the best witness we can offer. Our faith story may be a means of grace for someone we know who needs to hear a word of good news.