He discretely looked to the left, then to the right and said quietly, “Why don’t we talk about evangelism in this denomination?”
I grinned and replied, “Ever seen the movie A Thief in the Night?”
“No”, he said.
I briefly described the 1970s era Christian film depicting a rapture, tribulation and the second coming of Christ.
Puzzled, he looked at me and said, “So we don’t talk about evangelism because of a movie made 40 years ago?”
This conversation with a new Canadian pastor happened a while ago, but it has stuck with me. I told him about how many older people in our constituency were traumatized by fear-based, fundamentalist portrayals of the “end times” via movies or tent meetings that were designed to coerce a profession of faith.
Combine this with Mennonites’ historic “quiet in the land” disposition; a way of discipleship modelled primarily in deeds rather than words; and, currently, a growing level of guilt and shame over how the gospel was used to dominate, conquer and assimilate Indigenous people.
It might also be that we are so comfortable with our lives as they are now that we are out of practice when it comes to true biblical hospitality.
It could be any or all of these things that, as Sara Wenger Shenk puts it in her new book, Tongue Tied, point to a need for us to recover “the lost art of talking about faith.”
Is the gospel still good news? Has the good news become bad news in western culture? Shouldn’t the good news be good news for everyone at all times, if it is good news, if it is life-changing news? If it is hope for the world, why are we not sharing it?
When I have asked these questions in various settings across Mennonite Church Canada, responses come swiftly and passionately: “How dare we impose our beliefs on another person!” “I owe my life to the person who invited me to faith in Jesus.” “I can hardly say the word ‘evangelism,’ knowing the techniques used to manipulate people.” “I would love to be able to talk about my faith in ways that invite others . . . but I just don’t have the words.”
We need to have a nationwide conversation about evangelism—or witnessing, testifying or faith sharing—however it is we view communicating the good news. This is why I’m pleased that, from July 29 to Aug. 1, 2022, our next nationwide gathering, to be held in Edmonton, will examine this theme.
“We declare,” our title for Gathering 2022, comes from I John 1:1-4: “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us . . . .”
Not only do we declare the wonders we have seen and heard, but we also bear witness to the gospel of peace in tumultuous places and times. My prayer is that Gathering 2022 will embolden us to tell our stories as Christ followers, seeking justice and mercy from the One whom we love.
Doug Klassen is executive minister of MC Canada. For more information on Gathering 2022, visit mennonitechurch.ca.