by Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC Conference Minister
What do you think of when you hear the word “evangelism?” The WDC Resource Commission is sponsoring a “Year of Evangelism” in 2018, and already there is a wide variety of response across WDC. Here are just a few samples of the kinds of comments and questions that I have been hearing from people in our conference:
– How do we define evangelism? What are the biblical and theological foundations for evangelism?
– I’m so glad that WDC is focusing on evangelism! I’m looking forward to learning better ways to share the good news of Jesus with my neighbors and friends.
– Why use the word “evangelism?” Why not use other words such as “proclamation,” “witness,” and “sharing faith” instead of “evangelism?”
– Evangelism is at the heart of Christian faith. The church would not exist if it were not for evangelism.
– Members of my congregation are turned off by the “e-word” because of its association with coercion, proselytization, colonialism and shallow definitions of salvation. It’s not right to force our beliefs or way of life on other people.
– Is evangelism just about saving souls from going to hell? Or does it have something to do with wholistic Anabaptist values such as discipleship, community, justice and peacemaking?
– In the current atmosphere of religious and political polarization, will the word “evangelism” be misunderstood because of its association with the term “evangelical?”
– I’m not ready to share my faith with others or invite people to church. I’m not even sure what I believe myself, or why a visitor would want to visit our congregation. And, I’m a little embarrassed at what they might see if they did!
– What is the difference (or similarity) between evangelism and other related concepts such as mission, church planting, church growth and congregational vitality?
– I have negative associations with evangelism, but am open to learning more.
– I wonder how the various ethnic, cultural and demographic groups in WDC might view evangelism differently?
– I’d love to see my congregation focus more on sharing the good news of Jesus, rather than be preoccupied with trivialities or self-preservation.
And that is just a sample…! You may have a different response. As we engage these important questions and concerns, we challenge ourselves to grow in faith, witness and spiritual maturity. The vision for WDC’s Year of Evangelism is to:
– Grow in willingness and capacity to share the gospel, which is the good news of God’s kingdom breaking into the world through Jesus (Matthew 4;23, Mark 16:15,20; Luke 4:18)
– Equip members with practical tools for sharing the gospel
– Reclaim an authentic Anabaptist-Mennonite vocabulary and practice of evangelism
– Renew our reliance on prayer as the energizing power for evangelism.
If you attended the recent Year of Evangelism kick-off event you may have already begun considering how to implement these practices in your congregation. You can also go to http://mennowdc.org/year-of-evangelism/ to listen to the keynote presentations from that event, where the speakers encouraged us to consider wholistic approaches to evangelism, rooted in authentic relationships and discipleship, humbly and joyfully joining God’s work in the world. The WDC website also lists upcoming activities that are part of the Year of Evangelism. Whatever your hopes, fears, questions or concerns, I invite you to join the conversation!