i never was much of an evangelist. i have re-dedicated my life to Christ more times than i can count, but 1990 is when my walk with God got more intense and i think i actually stopped raising my hand when they did the altar call. i more clearly and offically became an evangelical christian and learned a lot about the Bible, discipleship, and the christian life. over the years i have been part of a handful of a few honest true conversion experiences, and of course the beauty of that always lasts–when something deep in someone’s heart shifts and the love of Christ seeps into the cracks and opens up a new world of hope. but because they were so few and far between, i always felt like i definitely didn’t do too great in the “evangelism” department. honestly, though, for many years most everyone in my circle of friends that i regularly saw and connected with were already committed christians and the topic of conversation was mainly about how to become a better one in our own little world.
in the past few years, though, something has seriously shifted. i am not around neat and tidy christians anymore who are concerned about the next women’s bible study or frantic about making sure their kids have the word hidden in their heart. some of the people i am around have some serious gripes with God and sometimes with God’s church. they are lost. sad. lonely. tired. confused. scared. is there a place for me in Christ’s church? is God mad at me? if Jesus loves me why don’t his people? how come i don’t feel hope, help, peace when i’m crying out for it? am i only my addiction, my struggles? i used to be so sure and now i have no idea what i even believe anymore?
one of the definitions of evangelism is “zealous preaching and advocacy of the gospel.” gulp, yes, it’s that zealous preaching word that freaks us all out.
but i think i saw it in a different way (i can always twist words & scriptures to work the way i need them to!) i guess i am really fairly zealous, passionate, crazy-even, about the true gospel. not the gospel of rules and regulations and right beliefs. not the gospel of “going to church”, saying the right words, and having the right friends. not the gospel of cleaning it up so God won’t be mad at you. not the gospel of no-asking-questions-because-that-means-you-aren’t-believing-properly. but the true gospel, the good news. the good news that Jesus came to heal the broken hearted, to set the captives free. to bring hope and peace into this dark world and our scared hearts. to level the playing field and take away the commodities of money, status, power, and all of the other things that the world uses to measure the worth of a person. to stir in our hearts a desire to love, be loved, give, help, care even when it hurts.
so i made up a new word last night. after i got home from an intense conversation with someone i’ve journeyed with for years who is so lost, alone, scared and just needs to know she’s worth fighting for, i jokingly told the kids that maybe i’m a “re-evangelist.”
i wasn’t so good at the first conversion, but maybe the second, third, fifth, or even tenth wind in the course of the spiritual journey is what really lights my fire. there are so many people out there who have been “evangelized” over the years and are pretty much done, tired, beat up, feeling like they no longer belong to the club. boy do i know the feeling. i am a christ-follower, a pastor for goodness sake, and yet i often feel like an outsider, too.
maybe our little contribution to the kingdom is to remind people who are struggling with God, the church, the whole kit and kaboodle, that their struggle is a part of the journey and to not lose hope. that the real Gospel can handle it. that their doubts, their fears, their shaky ground are not too much for God. that a little crack in our hearts is enough. that who we are in our worst moments is not who we really are. that healing, restoration, change is dirty brutal work that doesn’t always “look” like we want it to or be easily quantified but that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t doing something really beautiful and amazing in the midst. that the church doesn’t have to be mean and unsafe. that we really do need each other to pull off life on this earth and that going it alone just won’t cut it. that beauty and ugliness will always both be present in us and it will do our souls good if we can just accept it as the reality of living in this broken world.
the conversations i have each week with questioners, doubters, strugglers, wrestlers, worn-out-but-still-longing-for-hope-ers have reenergized my faith. not faith in the traditional institutional church. not in the false thought that right around the corner all the warm fuzzy feelings they used to have will re-appear. but faith that the ways of Jesus aren’t just good ideas that we talk about once a week for an hour. that the Spirit is alive and well and moves through people. that we need each other desperately even though so many of us have been taught that it’s only about a “personal. intimate relationship with God.” that true community is worth pursuing because it reflects Jesus more than anything else. that the wildness & mystery of God can never be tamed or fully understood no matter how hard everyone tries to do it.
re-evangelism. with all the shifts happening in the foundations of american christianity right now, i wonder if this is at least one piece of what’s desperately needed for those on the fringe. i know it’s what i have needed, in more ways than i can say. a safe, powerful re-infiltration of the real Gospel. a re-introduction to the real Good News one relationship at a time, one community at a time. a re-infusion of hope.