Well look at that, I am returning to one of those words that really excites me: Evangelism! I blogged earlier this year about the ‘e-word’ and (throughout my musings) you can likely find a lot of content about the topic! I am revisiting this topic as a continuation – or reflection – of the recent blog, Lent|Lefty.
To recap, I was recently asked to be part of a Panel for the membership exploration at Westminster United Church. To say that this invitation was a real gift does not really convey how I felt (and feel) about this opportunity. To sit with men and women, Sisters & Brothers who are asking questions about faith and where it meets their own personal lives and the larger context of how we all live together is brilliant! During my introduction, I shared the VERY long title of my current role with The United Church of Canada: Minister of Evangelism, Mission and Church Development.
One of the things I did during this time was to share some of the stuff I do: help congregations vision, imagine new ministries that may be emerging in their midst, and to ask and wrestle with questions about where the Spirit might be guiding them. I also named quite clearly how passionately I believe that we are in a new/old place in the church: those who are seeking and exploring discipleship (membership) are one of the first generations in a VERY long time that get to choose to do so. The power of choice – or agency – can be both freeing and daunting. Making this choice, therefore, is full of import that literally affects lives. And – I feel – that’s a humbling recognition for me as I sat in their midst.
During the space for questions, I was asked about the e-word. As the person shared the context of their question, I was once more humbled and touched by the trust that can and does occur in faith-filled spaces. The challenge revolved around a context and experience where ‘evangelism’ was used to exclude and harm. And – I believe implicit in the experience’s challenge – how can we reclaim – maybe even celebrate – the word when we know that it has been experienced harmfully and (too often) in a life-devouring manner.
I do apologise if you have heard me say this before – the balance is the intent when someone evangelises their faith. What motivates us when we share the passion of our faith in an evangelical manner, in a way that shares our passion? I feel that the question and challenge raises the question: do we evangelise from a sense of ego or confidence? Do we share our belief knowing we have the answer or a desire to share our own experience? Do we believe that evangelising faith is about conversion or conversation?
These questions are important and I believe need to be addressed and spoken. There are many reason for this and I believe – for the sake of this blog – what I do hold up is the choice piece in which we now find ourselves. We have lived through millennia of Christendom and the inherent danger of orthodoxy when we assume everyone is like us and – if they are not – how do we ensure they will be?
We now are in a place of pluralism and inter-faith contexts where one truth might point to universal connexion, but which still have an integrity of their own. In this post-Christendom context, evangelism must and should change. And … one way to navigate this change is discern whether we are seeking dialogue or whether we carry an agenda.