by Kathy Neufeld Dunn, WDC Associate Conference Minister (Kansas-Based)
For many years, I’ve been one of those followers of Jesus who didn’t use the word “evangelism.” I had my reasons. It had been too long associated with images that made little or no sense in an Anabaptist-Mennonite faith context. I had visions of people button-holing strangers with, “Brother/Sister, are you saved?!” or of well-meaning strangers passing out religious tracts or pamphlets. I thought of very wealthy TV evangelists, as well as crusader knights, whose methods did not mesh well with the message of Jesus as I had come to know and treasure it.
If we’re honest, maybe it’s more than just distorted or hypocritical images of proclaiming the good news that get in our way. I owe some of the following thoughtful concerns to the work of Susan Nienaber. Some of Nienaber’s thoughts are worth pondering.
Some of us find it difficult or disconcerting to articulate our faith. If someone asked us why we love God or Jesus, some of us would struggle to answer. Is it easier if I frame this question based on 1 Peter 3.15? How would you “give the reason for the hope that you have?” Either way, how do we talk about our faith story or how God gives us hope when we’re given the opportunity?
Some of us confuse evangelism with increasing church membership numbers, and then we may feel inadequate or even ashamed if we compare ourselves to other congregations. Confusing evangelism with church growth may also lead to new folks thinking we’ve invited them to our congregation to help balance the church budget—important, but not an invitation to Divine encounter and discipleship.
Twenty-four years ago, I read an article called “The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision.” Already in the early ‘90s, Steve Dintaman articulated the tendency of some Anabaptist-Mennonites to separate service from spirituality and social justice from the message and relationship with Jesus. The Church is so much more than a service club.
Mennonites need to reclaim evangelism, so we can proclaim and practice a holistic Anabaptist witness that is missional, active, reconciling, and Christ-focused. May God give us the courage to engage the world God loves with this message.
Nienaber, Susan, “Getting Comfortable with the E-Word,” Congregational Consulting Group, http://www.congregationalconsulting.org/getting-comfortable-e-word/, 6/5/17.
Dintaman, Steve, “The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, 3/3/93, pp. 6-7.