Our vision as a church over the next couple of years is about connection. We want to learn to be more effective at connecting people to one another and to Christ. The opposite of connection is to remain insular - separate from one another and detached from the world that God calls us to love. In a polarized society, it’s tempting for us to each keep to our own business and to our familiar friends. Advent and Christmas remind us that God has chosen to reach out to us in the person of Jesus. ‘Though he was rich, yet he became poor’, the apostle Paul reminds us. The hope that Advent looks forward to and that Christmas inaugurates is of God reconciling the world to Himself. Each of us is called by God to play a part in His reconciling mission in the world. As Christ followers, we’re each a light in the world - heralds of costly connection over against the poverty of alienation.
When we think about reaching out beyond ourselves to those who are not yet a part of our church family we’re talking about being an open community - open to sharing God’s love with those who are not here. The classic word for this is ‘evangelism.’ It’s a word that’s fallen out of favor within the church, although secular companies have no problem with employing ‘product evangelists.’ It’s a word we might recover. It simply means the sharing of the good news that has changed our lives with others. Why would we keep the transforming power of Christ that changes our lives day by day to ourselves? We have the best product! Let’s be confident of it’s power, and proud to welcome others into the transforming community of the church.
My dad distinguishes between ‘go evangelists’ and ‘stay evangelists.’ The ‘go evangelist’ is Billy Graham, and those who are sent out as missionaries. There’s a role for ‘go evangelists’ in the church and without them, the gospel would never have got beyond Jerusalem. But most of us are not called ‘to go’ - we’re called to live out our lives faithfully where God has called us. In other words, we’re called ‘to stay.’ The power of the ‘stay evangelist’ is as salt and light within their community. It’s in a life well lived, and the demonstration of God’s power to change our lives and to shape the way in which we love our neighbors. He teaches some of the principles of this form of sharing our faith in a course he wrote called ‘Beautiful Lives.’ ‘Beautiful Lives’ is going to form the basis of our sermon series in Epiphany, as we think about sharing God’s light with all the world. We’ll also be offering ‘Beautiful Lives’ as a course for small groups to take up as well as offering the opportunity for new groups to form to take on this material. I hope that it will help us lose the idea that if we want to share our faith with our neighbors, we all need to be little Billy Grahams! Not at all - but each of us can learn to be open to the idea that God might use us, exactly where we are, to bring life and hope and Good News to those He calls us to.
In our five priorities of ‘Invite, Welcome, Connect, Networks, Leadership’ - we borrowed the first three words quite intentionally from Mary Palmer. Mary is an Episcopalian who is helping our church think about how to be effective in evangelism. Google ‘Invite Welcome Connect’ and you’ll find her website. The ideology of ‘Invite Welcome Connect’ is simply for us to absorb these basic principles as a part of who we are as Christians and who we are as a Church. There’s no training on her website for ‘go evangelists’ - no explanation of the gospel, no coaching in speaking or in defending the Christian faith. It’s simply a call for us to invite our neighbors to be a part of our church, and when they come to make sure they’re welcome and get connected. It’s ‘come and see’ not ‘go and tell.’ While ‘go and tell’ seems daunting and may end up making evangelism seem out of our reach, ‘come and see’ is a message that each one of us can share.