December 13, 2012

Evangelism: Becoming Community

Note: This post is part of a series on the subject of "evangelism." The other posts in the series can be found here.

The gospel is not “come to church.”

And the gospel is “come to church.”

When I talk about evangelism with folks it frequently is implied that evangelism is equal to inviting someone to church. Inviting someone to church does not equal evangelism as I’ve talked about so far. But at the same time, it is part of evangelism.

My kids love spending the night at their grandparents’. There’s nothing like staying up late, watching as much T.V. as you want and consuming as much popcorn and ice cream as physically possible. My kids also love sleeping in. On one occasion when they had spent the night, they were reluctant to get out of bed on Sunday morning. My mother-in-law, urged them, “Come on, it’s time to go to church.” Still in a fog, my daughter replied, “People are ‘the church.’ You can’t go to church.” To which grandma quipped, “Well, then, get up! ‘Cause we’re going to see the people.”

It’s critical at this point in western Christianity that we re-capture an imagination for the original Christian use of the term “ecclesia.” “Ecclesia” is what we translate today as “church.” In its original meaning it was used to refer to those people called together by God. Have you ever noticed how a story breaks down when you begin to mix metaphors? In the same way, when we confuse the ecclesia with holy real estate we get easily confused.

When we invite a person to church it’s important to recognize that we are inviting them into a community of people called together by God. Just think about that. Why would God gather folks together? For what reason? If you read through the book of Acts, it seems as though the church believed it existed to reflect the reign of God, a glimpse into the world–into being human–as God intended it. Even today, most of our Christian practices are rooted in showing us another way to perceive of life’s most ordinary experiences, traditions and habits. Through this, we declare through our common life the good news of Jesus.

The local church is evangelism.

If that is the case, then our churches certainly ought to be communities in which we say to our neighbors, friends and co-workers, “Come and see!” But this hinges on one critical behavior: discipleship. By discipleship I mean something akin to the story of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In that story, Jesus translates the tradition for his contemporaries. In so doing, the disciples’ eyes are opened to the good news.

We can’t expect an increasingly un-churched population to understand, not only what, but why we do what we do. In order for that person to become “native” to the church, we have to interpret the faith in way that connects with their life. Yet, if how we answer the “why” doesn’t connect back to the idea that God is at work in the world–the good news–then I doubt we will get far. Sure, we should invite those we love to worship with us. But we also need to learn to unpack, in conversation, how our common practices shape how we live in the world. Then, the eyes of those we love might be opened to the good news of Jesus.

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