Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Evangelism - Proclamation and Invitation

Evangelism – ultimately it’s the work of the local congregation and individuals in those congregations to do the work of inviting, welcoming and incorporating newcomers, whether the unchurched or those from other churches, into our church.

Equipping congregations and individuals to do the work of evangelism is both the work of the local church and the work of the hierarchical church, but it is not the same work at all levels. Talking about the work of evangelism without distinguishing between the work of the local church and individuals and the work of the hierarchical church leads to circuitous thinking and blaming, which is not only counterproductive but keeps us stuck at square one waiting for “direction” from somewhere beyond ourselves and our immediate communities of faith.

Development of curriculum and programs for evangelism training can ideally occur at hierarchical levels higher than the local congregation because of opportunities for shared and sharing resources. However, claiming ownership of curriculum and programs for evangelism training of individual congregants is the purview of congregations and dioceses. Tailoring curriculum and programs to work at the congregational level must be the work of the local congregation.

No one else can tell you what you need or what will work in your locale. They can only suggest in the broadest terms, and even then, you must figure out how your particular context fits into those broad terms. The best demographic information for your locale will not motivate congregants to evangelize the people in their communities if they don’t claim their personal responsibility to proclaim the Good News. Demographics, curriculum and programs are only tools, which require the hearts, minds and voices of individuals to use them fruitfully.

Foundational Christian formation education and training must be emphasized and delivered at the same time as curriculum and programs for evangelism, else individuals do not gain the understanding of their personal responsibility as baptized Christians to evangelize, to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, and do not step forward to claim that responsibility.

Doing excellent biblical exegesis, liturgy and worship music does not in and of itself equate to forming converted Christians who claim their personal responsibility to proclaim the Good News and to be good stewards of all God’s gifts. Good curriculum and good advertising including good identity messages do not cause metanoia, the personal transformation experience that causes an individual to turn from living in the world at large to living in the world of the Kingdom.

Personal transformation comes from personal experience of God at work in individuals in the world. Taking the steps to connect to a community of faith arises out of seeing the presence of God and imagining the presence of one’s self in that community of faith and being able to affirm that it would be good, a good fit.

Invitation is paramount and key. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden.” He said, “Follow me.” Jesus invited in clear, unambiguous language. “Come.” Evangelism is the pairing of proclaiming the Good News and invitation to become a part of the local community that lives into the Good News. Proclamation and invitation. Welcoming and incorporation are the mechanics that follow and flow from proclamation and invitation.

I became an Episcopalian, because an associate rector said to me, “We’re starting a Catechumenate class, and we want you to come try it out.” I became an EfM graduate and then mentor, because that same associate rector said to me, “We’re having a sample EfM class on Thursday night, and we want you to come check it out.” My Jewish husband became a Christian, because I invited him to a talk on the historicity of Christ, and he left that talk with questions that fueled ongoing conversations about my faith and his curiosity. Again, that same associate rector invited my husband to the Catechumenate, and the invitation, because it was personal, direct and concrete, was met with a “Yes, I’ll try it out.” We joined, because we were invited to join.

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