What is the most urgent priority for the church today? The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA may have nailed it in their “Pastoral Letter to KC2015 Delegates.”
No, I’m not referring to their calls for biblical discernment, mutual forbearance and unity—crucial as these are. Something else caught my attention. They announced a “commitment to make evangelism and church revitalization an urgent priority” and envisioned Mennonite Church USA as “a thriving evangelistic and missional church that births new congregations and ministries across the country and around the world.”
I can’t imagine anything more exciting—or urgent. If we don’t get serious about evangelism, most of our churches and institutions could be gone in a generation or two.
So how can we become a multiplying movement of good news communities? Here are six ways to make evangelism a top priority:
1. Recover the conviction that Jesus is good news.
Evangelism is about living and telling the good news that because of Jesus, the world is a different place. Daily headlines make that hard to believe. But the Resurrection proves that justice, peace and love are the ultimate shape of the universe. These kingdom values mean nothing, however, without the King who makes them possible. “Apart from me, “ Jesus says, “you can do nothing” (John 15:5). To paraphrase the great evangelist, E. Stanley Jones, do we believe in good views or good news?
2. Recapture the missional nature of discipleship.
When Jesus called his first disciples, he didn’t say, “Follow me, and I will make you really good people.” He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matthew 4:19). We’ve tended to collapse discipleship into right action: sharing our resources, promoting nonviolence, practicing creation care. Yes to all that. But discipleship is first of all right relationship. The Spirit invites and enables us to turn from sin and follow after the living Christ, who reconciles us to God, other people and the world. As we go, we invite others to join us (Matthew 28:19-20). Evangelism isn’t an afterthought. It’s inherent to being disciples.
3. Cultivate a heart of compassion for the lost.
Jesus said he came “to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Do we believe that all people, including us, are lost without Christ? That sin separates us from the abundant and eternal life God offers? A friend of mine asked students at a Mennonite high school whether human beings are essentially good. Over half said yes. Until we realize how lost we are in broken behaviors, relationships and systems, we won’t comprehend the depth of God’s love for us or be able to share it with others.
4. Befriend people who don’t know Jesus.
Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19). Do people say the same thing about us? I am tempted to surround myself with other Christians who share my values and way of life. A few years ago, I felt convicted by the fact that I didn’t even know the names of most of my neighbors. I began praying for them and looking for opportunities to get to know them. Over time, real relationship has emerged. We share tools, food, even pets. None of them has come to faith in Christ yet, but they know we follow Jesus and they still like us.
5. Do church in public.
By this, I don’t mean open air revival meetings (though that’s one option). I mean frequenting the places and activities of the community we live in. Instead of church league sports, one congregation I know routinely signs up for activities at the local rec center. They get outside the church bubble, and unchurched folks see Christian community up close. What about having Bible studies at the local coffee shop? Holding public potlucks at the park? Organizing neighborhood cleanup crews? Let’s get creative about how to let our light shine before others (Matthew 5:16).
6. Put your money where your mouth is.
As Alan Hirsch reminded us at KC2015, “A budget is a theological document.” How we spend our money—or rather, the money God has entrusted to us—reveals what we believe is important. How much of our household income goes to mission? How much of our church budget is devoted to outreach? How much of our denominational budget is designated for planting new churches? “Where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).
Nearly three decades ago, Ervin Stutzman and David Shenk closed their book, Creating Communities of the Kingdom, with a bold claim: “Surely, nothing is more significant to humanity than the multiplication of redeemed communities of people who love the Lord with all their mind, heart and strength, and who also love their neighbors.” Can this become our top priority?
Aaron Kauffman is president of Virginia Mennonite Missions. His email address is email@example.com.