Why don’t we talk about evangelism?

From Our Leaders

August 11, 2021 | Opinion | Volume 25 Issue 17
Doug Klassen | Mennonite Church Canada
(Image by Alexandre Bricio/Pixabay)

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.

Read more From Our Leaders columns:
Hearing from God
‘It is so good to connect!’
What makes you happy?
A pastor's struggle
Courageous stories

(Image by Alexandre Bricio/Pixabay)

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Doug Klassen has asked a very interesting question. He gave various answers which reflect the experience, understanding and practice of many in the Mennonite Church.

The topic of evangelism is often confused with church growth and filling pews and meeting budgets. There are people with the gift of evangelism. We need to encourage them, to give them time and space in our worship services. They have been empowered with the gift of evangelism. May we learn from them.

Unfortunately, many of the programs/methods for evangelism that are taught in our churches follow a plan that is rather adversarial and argumentive. The program requires that the student memorize several Bible verses and is given instruction on how to convince people that these verses prove that Christianity is right and the other person's beliefs are wrong. Indeed, Christ must be central in our conversation, but the question remains: How do I dialogue with people/strangers about spiritual issues?

I have learned that until I understand who I am talking with and what they believe, I am wasting my time. Rushing in with several pointed questions usually offends the other person severely and cuts off all further conversation.

We need to learn how to listen and ask good questions that invite dialogue related to spiritual issues. We need to learn how to share our own personal testimony of why Christ (not the Mennonite Church ) is central in our lives. We need to discern the other person's sincerity in our conversation.

Evangelism is a skill, a good habit to develop and a very rewarding experience that honours Christ and He, in turn, honours us.

Do we have a meaningful Christain experience to share? Do we believe that it is worth learning a few important steps to improve our ability to fulfill the last instruction that Christ gave his disciples ("Go and make disciples...")?

David...God bless you. These are exactly the questions and perspectives that I hope we can talk about in the regions and on the MC Canada nationwide scene.

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