Commentary: Thoughts on reclaiming evangelism in the UMC

By Heather Heinzman Lear, Special Contributor…

As a local church pastor, when meeting new people in the community, I rarely opened with, “Hi, I’m Heather and I am a pastor.” Over the years I discovered that statement usually did not help to break the ice, but rather immediately built new walls. Once people got to know me a bit and discovered that I was fairly “normal” and open, and some level of relationship and trust had been established, they were much more open to share their hearts and ask faith questions.

Heather Heinzman Lear

I definitely did not introduce myself as “The Reverend” when first meeting my police officer husband’s colleagues. As soon as they learned what I did for a living, I could see the imaginary wheels turning in their minds as they tried to think back through what they had said and done in my presence. Once these folks knew me and felt comfortable though, we were able to engage in fairly deep theological discussion and I was able to challenge their understanding of church and Christianity.

Now imagine the types of reactions I get when I tell people that I am the director of evangelism ministries at the General Board of Discipleship! I will admit that most people do not fully understand my wordy title and what it entails, but there is one word in that mouthful that stands out: evangelism.

Unfortunately, for many outside of the church, the word “evangelism” has come to conjure up images of people picketing at funerals chanting messages of hate, individuals yelling while standing on soapboxes in the middle of college campuses, and pushy people pressuring someone to say “The Jesus Prayer” so that they might avoid eternal damnation. In order to avoid being labeled in the category of the aforementioned individuals, I have even heard some of our United Methodist pastors and leaders say, “Evangelism? I don’t do that.”

But why? How did a word that means something so good (sharing the gospel or “Good News” of Jesus Christ) get so twisted? How did so many people’s understanding of Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God get watered down to scare tactics and fire insurance?

Our world is more than ready to offer us an identity, to encourage us to find meaning through our status and stuff, and to teach us that our lives are all about us, individually. As Christians and the church, we have the opportunity and responsibility to offer an alternative message.

God formed us in God’s image and called us “very good.” Despite our brokenness and the ways we have tainted that image, through our baptisms, we are made children of God. We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and are incorporated into a community that was created to support, encourage, and hold us accountable to becoming who God created us to be. God loved us so much that Jesus was sent in flesh and bone to show us God’s true character and what it looks like to truly love our neighbor, even if it meant dying on the cross. Each day we have the choice, with God’s grace and help, to learn more about and try to live a little more like Jesus than we did the day before. And one day Jesus will return to completely redeem humankind and this world that God created and loves.

Salvation is not merely adhering to a set of beliefs and religious duties that earn us a heavenly reward. Salvation is a gift from God that transforms and reorients every aspect of our life here and now. We can be forgiven from our pasts that enchain us, we can receive new life, and we can finally find true joy; that is very good news.

God is already working in the lives and situations of people in our communities. It is our task to help them see God’s presence and claim and accept God’s transformational power. Let us once again find our voice because we do have a message worth sharing.

The Rev. Lear, an ordained elder in the North Carolina Conference, is director of evangelism ministries for the UMC’s General Board of Discipleship.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
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3 Comments on "Commentary: Thoughts on reclaiming evangelism in the UMC"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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drw
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I'm coming to believe that any conscious attempt to evangelize is doomed to failure. People are won to Christ by witnessing and experiencing non-agenda-based love first hand. They are increasingly smart enough (and correct) to resist anything that has even the slightest motivation by the so-called lover to grow a church. What if we put all our efforts into teaching how to radically love our neighbor which includes a personal investment of time and energy? Any other programmed approach merely attempts a good thing without the necessary personal sacrifice. It is going to fail and it should.
JRivera
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wit·ness (wtns) n. 1. a. One who can give a firsthand account of something seen, heard, or experienced: a witness to the accident. b. One who furnishes evidence. 2. Something that serves as evidence; a sign. 3. Law a. One who is called on to testify before a court. b. One who is called on to be present at a transaction in order to attest to what takes place. c. One who signs one’s name to a document for the purpose of attesting to its authenticity. 4. An attestation to a fact, statement, or event; testimony. 5. a. One who… Read more »
j4981
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Great article … And you are so right …..

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