“Why don’t Mennonites believe in evangelism?” asked my breakfast partner. This was the question of the appointment. With small chat out of the way, the purpose of the invitation became clear.
This is not the first time I have been asked this question. It is usually asked by someone who has a heart for evangelism and is frustrated by what feels like a lack of support by their congregation.
I hesitate in responding to the question because it contains a false assumption. The question has an inherent conclusion that Mennonite congregations are opposed to evangelism. This is not true.
I don’t think people in Mennonite congregations are against sharing what it means to them to be a follower of Jesus. They may be timid, but not opposed.
Many people attending Mennonite congregations are not comfortable with simplistic equations that promise salvation to strangers. They twinge at the Four Spiritual Laws and the Sinners Prayer. But this does not mean they are opposed to evangelism. They just don’t want to reduce the work of the Holy Spirit to a few catch phrases or a particular three-part strategy.
Being a follower of Jesus is not a secured condition that follows a single prayer; rather, it is a lifelong commitment that follows a thoughtful, significant decision. That commitment will need ongoing affirmation through the various stages and challenges of life. New birth begins a process of growth and maturation, a process that does not end nor is it contained to a single act.
It is important for Mennonite congregations to enhance their interactive activity; not to only make converts but to initiate relationships. Within growing relationships, explaining what it means to be a follower of Jesus is an ongoing conversation of evangelical proportions, not a one-time encounter.
The story is told of an old Mennonite farmer who was asked by someone whether he was a Christian. The old man hesitated for a moment and then with a smile answered, “Well, for that question, I think you should be asking my neighbour.”
I like that response. It presumes strong relationships with our neighbours. But it also suggests a quality of relationship where a faith commitment is obvious. It isn’t something just talked about. It is something that reverberates throughout the relationship.
I pray that God will grant Mennonite congregations a renewed vision for the redemptive power of relationships. I pray that God will increase our yearning to build new relationships with our neighbours and co-workers, so that the people historically known as “the quiet in the land” will beam with the peaceful confidence of God’s passionate love to restore and redeem.
Willard Metzger is executive director of Mennonite Church Canada.
--Posted Sept. 24, 2014