Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who's afraid of Virginia Evangelism?

Below is the message I shared at Good Shepherd on Sunday.  It contains lessons learned on evangelism from the 'secular' world and a challenge to all of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ to share him with others.  The text for the message is 1Peter 2:2-10.  

Some of you may be familiar with a music website called Pandora.  The site asks you to tell it a favorite song or songs or a favorite artist and then plays songs for you that it thinks you will like.  It works with something called the ‘music genome project’ that breaks down music to base elements and figures out what you will like based on these elements. 
It is really a pretty neat thing and a great way to discover new music.  I have been using the site for a couple of years now. 
This week I received an email from the founder thanking me for my use of Pandora in the last year.  In reading the email I was struck by a paragraph found within it:
 First, a heartfelt thanks to all of you for continuing to be such engaged listeners and such wonderful evangelists. In 2010 we more than doubled our audience to over 75 million people! And that was mostly thanks to continued word of mouth. For that we are deeply appreciative.
Did you catch the word that caught my attention? 
He thanked me (and hundreds of thousands of others) for being ‘such wonderful evangelists’.  Saying that the growth and success of Pandora was due mostly to ‘continued word of mouth’ 
In a nutshell, the founder of this innovative website is saying that if the people that have already found it and love it didn’t share those feelings with others the website wouldn’t be a success. 
Of course evangelism and evangelists are traditionally associated with the church – even if today we tend to shy away from those terms. 
Evangelism is exactly what the last two verses of the passage from 1Peter are talking about.  Listen to those verses again, this time from the message translation:
 ‘But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God's instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted’
The word evangelism actually comes from three Greek words that literally mean ‘to bring Good News’.  Evangelism, could simply be defined as sharing with others the good news about what Christ has done in your life. 
However, in the church today we don’t really like to talk about evangelism. 
While we are blessed to live in a country that truly provides us religious freedom and as such we are free from any fear of physical danger in sharing our faith, there may be no more socially dangerous thing to do than to openly talk about your faith. 
Sharing your faith can be difficult: it can start fights, it can alienate you from those your work with or for, it can make you feel inadequate – like you don’t know enough.  It can make you feel uncomfortable - like you aren’t good enough to be ‘telling somebody what to do’. 
The bottom line is that, for most of us, evangelism is almost a dirty word that conjures up images of young men in short sleeved dress shirts and ties on bicycles or overbearing (even if well intended) coworkers.  Today, evangelism simply is not something most of us feel equipped for, interested in or able to do. 
But, as the email I received shows, not everybody, is shying away from the word evangelism.  Many organizations have co-oped the term evangelist and are in fact employing or trying to create evangelists for their products. 
The term ‘product evangelist’ is one that is just now becoming popular, but it has its roots, not surprisingly in a company that many people are passionate about - Apple.  Whether it be a Mac, an ipod, iphone,  or ipad.  Apple always seems to have a product that is in demand and that people are passionate about or ‘in love with’. 
Apple has actually employed at least one person with the title ‘product evangelist’ since the release of the first Mac computer in 1984. 
Apple may have been the first to use the terminology or take an evangelistic approach to sales and marketing, but today they certainly aren’t alone.  I went to SimplyHired, a online search engine for jobs, and looked for openings with the keyword “evangelist” in the job title or as a primary responsibility.  Amazingly, there were 1566 matches--and none were for churches or other religious organizations. It seems that “evangelist” is now a secular, mainstream job title.
One of the first Apple ‘evangelists’, a man by the name of Guy Kawasaki, is widely regarded as the most well known ‘evangelists’ and is credited with bringing ‘evangelistic’ methods into the sale and marketing of computers. Although no longer employed by Apple, he remains an influential thinker in both marketing and technology sectors.
Kawasaki wrote an online article about ‘evangelism’, entitled ‘The Art of Evangelism’.  As we look at some of Kawasaki’s thoughts I want us to keep in mind the words of 1Peter  : ‘But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God's instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted’
In describing the ‘art of evangelism’ Kawasaki lists 10 points.  A few of his points are strictly business or sales related, but several are informative as we ponder God’s call for us to be sharers of the good news in this world.
First, he says you must ‘Create a Cause’, A cause seizes the moral high ground. It is a product or service that improves the lives of people, ends bad things, or perpetuates good things.  This is the most important – and the most difficult – part.  Without this element you are simply a salesperson. 
The good news for us is that the work here has already been done for us – Christ is the moral high ground.  A relationship with Christ and the community of believers we call the church is ‘a product or service that improves the lives of people, ends bad things, or perpetuates good things. It is not simply an exchange of goods or services
The second point to the ‘Art of Evangelism’ is to Love the Cause.  “Evangelist” – or better for us, simply ‘Christian’- because the call to bring the good news to others is to all Christians - isn't just a job title. It's a way of life.
In the secular business sense this is the difference between the ‘evangelist’ and the sales person.  The evangelist loves and believes in the product he or she is selling. 
A love of the cause is the second most important determinant of the success of an evangelist--second only to the quality of the cause itself.
Kawasaki says that ‘No matter how great the person, if he doesn't love the cause, he cannot be a good evangelist for it.’  This highlights our role and responsibility in the process.  There is no doubt that Christ is the most important, the central thing.  It is Christ that must be proclaimed and it is Christ that others will see working in and through us through the power of the Holy Spirit. 
But the point about loving the cause is that how we live our lives matters.  We can know all the right things to say, but if we don’t match that with a life lived in joyful service to God many may not hear the news we have to share.  If we don’t live our lives in a manner which causes others to ask, ‘what makes him different?’ or ‘how does she manage to make it through?’  Those around us might not know we even have good news to share – and they might not be interested in hearing it unless we live our lives with Christ’s love at the center of all that we do and all that we are.  Because it maybe through us that someone first experiences Christ.
The next thing an Evangelist must be able to do is to give a demo. Again, what difference does Christ make in your life?  Can you answer that question?  1Peter talks about the night and day difference that Jesus Christ makes, I think being able to give a demo might simply mean being able to describe that difference between night and day in your life. 
The last two steps to the Art of Evangelism go hand in hand with each other.  In Kawasaki’s words you must ‘Invite people for a test drive’ and ‘provide a safe first step’.  This, can mean many things.  Maybe it is inviting someone to experience God through one of our regular worship services or a special service around Christmas or Easter.  It could be welcoming someone (and all their questions about God and faith) into an adult Bible Study or CYF.  Or maybe it is picking someone up to come and help with a mainspring lunch or another service opportunity. 
If we match up our scripture from 1Peter with Kawasaki’s points about evangelism we have a call to share Gods love with the world and also a blueprint about how to do it.  Like most things it is easier said then done.  To me the task of evangelism, of actually getting out ‘there’ and sharing what God has done in my life is still pretty daunting. 
But why is that?  Why is it that without even thinking about it or trying to become ‘evangelists’ for a product, website, song or movie we ‘love’, but when we read God calling us to share the real good news of Christ I am still a little less than excited?
It can be daunting and less than exciting because unlike any product, no matter how great, that you or I might ‘love’ it didn’t change who we are from the inside out.  To share what Christ has really done for me, I have to be vulnerable enough to share with the world or even just one other person the places in which Jesus has healed my wounds, entered into my brokenness and changed my life.  It is not easy and it takes courage, but what good news we have to share -because of Christ the difference is night and day.  Because of Christ we have gone from rejected to accepted!
The hard question for you and for me is, are we willing to respond appropriately?  Are we going to act like the holy people Christ has claimed us to be and allow God to use us as his instruments to do the work and speak out for God in this world? 
God has brought you and I from rejected to accepted, from the outside to the inside, from darkness to light, for death to life.  Because of Christ’s love and grace we have peace and joy, hope and love.  This, my friends is the good news for all of us.  Let us be used by God as his instruments and let us speak out into our world for him!

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