What is Evangelism?
Rob Haynes and Kim Reisman discuss the foundations for faith-sharing in the modern world.
Rob Haynes 0:05
What is the role of evangelism today? What is the difference between evangelism and conversion? What does the Bible have to say about the Christian’s responsibility to share one’s faith? Welcome to World Methodist Evangelism’s Real Faith Real World podcast, where we connect the faith within us with the world around us. Our mission at World Methodist Evangelism is to provide resources and events to strengthen discipleship and equip Christ’s followers to share their faith and Jesus Christ. My name is Rob Haynes and I’m Kim Reisman of World Methodist Evangelism. Today, Kim and I are going to discuss the role of evangelism in a Christian’s life in a modern context. What do we mean when we say evangelism? This is a term that has been given some negative connotations recently and we want to explore just what we mean when we say evangelism here at World Methodist Evangelism. Before we get into today’s interview, may we ask a favor? We would appreciate your five star rating and subscribing to this podcast, that helps us get the word out to you and to others about these important resources that we offer. We also want to express our appreciation to Christ Church Global in Memphis, Tennessee, their generosity makes this podcast possible. So Kim, you have done a little bit of writing and a little bit of thinking about evangelism over the years, holding a PhD in that topic. So what is evangelism? How do we even define evangelism?
Kim Reisman 1:49
Well that’s the big question that everybody in seminary is trying to get out of seminary. It’s not completely been fully fleshed out really, people have a lot of different opinions on it. And I think that points to the fact that it’s a bigger thing than just talking, it’s a bigger thing than just preaching. It really is kind of a holistic endeavor that is a process, an ongoing process. At times it may involve what we say, at other times, it may involve what we do and whether or not what we do is consistent with what we say. And at other times, actually, all of the time, it’s going to involve the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is the only power that can initiate change. So what evangelism is NOT is conversion; it’s not the same thing as conversion because only the Holy Spirit is responsible for changing people. Evangelism is all the things that go into the process where someone is able to experience Christ and is able to come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. So it’s kind of got a broad definition because it involves a lot of things. It’s not just one thing.
Rob Haynes 3:24
I think you bring up some really interesting terms and topics in there too. You said it is about change, but not conversion. So a lot of times people will tell stories about their conversion experience, or the way in which they were converted, or even name the day and the time that they were converted. So explain that a bit more. What do you mean about a change and not a conversion?
Kim Reisman 3:53
Well, I think one of the reasons that people have trouble with evangelism and why it’s become almost a dirty word in our culture, or at least in American culture, and possibly in other places, too. It’s because people are confusing evangelism with conversion. And so when they think of evangelism, they think of things. They think of manipulation and they think of people trying to do things in order to make other people change. That’s one of the problems that we have when we try to talk about evangelism. But what evangelism really is, is simply showing and sharing the love of Jesus. We do that by being honest about the things that have happened in our own life and how we have experienced faith; and so it may be telling the story, like you said. People can remember their conversion experience, date and time and everything else. Well, if that’s part of your story, well then part of evangelism is maybe sharing that story with someone that you’re in a relationship with, that trusts you and you’re sharing deep things about yourselves with the other person. But the conversion experience itself is not evangelism, because that’s something that has happened because of the power of the Holy Spirit. One of the things that I think is important when we think about evangelism is we have to let go of feeling like we’re responsible for making another person change, we have to give up the idea that because of what we say or do, another person is suddenly going to be converted, because that’s just not the way it works. The Holy Spirit is the only one that converts, the Holy Spirit is the only power, only force, that has the ability to transform someone else. All we can do is share about what we’ve experienced in our own lives, share about we’ve come to learn and know, but we can’t force or manipulate or do anything else in the life of another person. We just kind of need to give that up and just focus on our sharing.
Rob Haynes 6:11
I think what you bring up there is really important, it is the Holy Spirit who’s the One who actually does any conversion, but the Christian has some responsibility to be there as a part of that.
Kim Reisman 6:26
Absolutely, because the Holy Spirit works through us and through lots of different means, but frequently through people. The Holy Spirit works through one person into the life another of another person and the Holy Spirit works in the relationship between people. So evangelism is this whole process of becoming open to relationships with others and being open in a way that allows the movement of the Holy Spirit so that the Holy Spirit can work for change and for transformation.
Rob Haynes 7:04
Sometimes when we think about evangelism there’s this image of a preacher who’s come to town for a little while, or maybe it’s just a Sunday morning, or it’s the scheduled revival that happens in the summertime. And people will be motivated by preaching and come forward at the end of the sermon and change their lives. While that is one way in which the Holy Spirit has worked in people’s lives in the past, we’re thinking about that a little bit differently in certain parts of the Western world now. There’s an activity or a part of every Christian that is being recognized more and more to be a part of evangelism.
Kim Reisman 7:53
That’s right, that’s right. And those things are not bad things in and of themselves. Those are still very valid ways in which the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit works a lot in preaching and revivals are wonderful things. But we can’t narrow evangelism down so that we think that’s the only thing, because more often than not, the Holy Spirit’s going to be working in our lives and in the lives of the people that we come in contact with, in order to move them to the point where something like a sermon preached might have it make a difference. It’s not only that sermon, it’s all the relationship that led up to that experience, that is just as important and just as powerful as the sermon or the revival or whatever we might might be talking about. If there’s any context for evangelism, it would be the context of relationship. That’s how evangelism happens. That’s how we show and share the love of Jesus is through our relationships.
Rob Haynes 9:07
I think it’s really important to note that yes, it was relationships are very important so that we can be in contact with people, but it’s more than just being around someone who is not yet a Christian but never talking about your own faith if you are a Christian. So you may spend time with people going to athletic events or going to concerts or hanging out in coffee shops or whatever that you like to do together, but there is a part where every Christian is called upon to share faith with those who maybe not yet Christians or nominal Christians or are on the road and seeking as well.
Kim Reisman 9:47
Yeah, that’s true and you’re right, because it’s not just hanging out with people and not doing anything else. I mean, there’s all kinds of relationships that are really, really good, but that doesn’t mean that evangelism is happening. It is about, again, the sharing part. The showing part has to be consistent with the sharing part. I mean, if we’re talking about certain things, but not living them out, we’re talking about the love of Jesus for other people, but we’re not living in a way that shows that love of Christ to other people then our words are going to ring hollow. If we’re only in relationship with people and never talk about our faith at all, then we’re falling short there as well. The key for me is balance and in these relationships that we have, we develop trust and we develop caring in the context of these relationships. When people come to know that we care about them, they’re going to want to know all kinds of things about our life and we’re going to want to know all kinds of things about their life. It’s this reciprocal sharing of deep things in our lives that provides some of the context for the most powerful evangelism and the most powerful sharing, because a common ground of trust and caring exists and that’s crucial.
Rob Haynes 11:20
So, oftentimes, when people talk about evangelism, people who are Christians, and they express some sort of motivation for evangelism or a reason why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’ll frequently go to a verse in Matthew, you know, “Go into all the world and make disciples and baptizing them.”
Kim Reisman 11:41
Yep, that’s the main one.
Rob Haynes 11:43
Yeah but that’s not the only one. Well, there’s a couple of thoughts about that, but that’s not the only place where people have seen an instruction for evangelism in the Scriptures.
Kim Reisman 11:55
Well, from my perspective, the whole story of Scripture is the story of God creating space for us, so that we can be in relationship with God. That’s what God desires. In my mind, that’s what God desires more than anything else, is to be in a relationship of wholeness with all of creation, so with human beings, with nature, with basically the entire universe, really. So all of Scripture in some form or another points, the whole arc of Scripture I should say, points to that desire of God to be in relationship with us. And obviously the coming of Jesus Christ culminates the depth of God’s love for us and the extent to which God would go, in order to be in relationship. If you look at the crucifixion of Jesus, God will go to great lengths in order to be in relationship with us. It’s not just one or two verses of Scripture, in my mind, it’s the whole arc of the story, the whole arc of salvation, if you will, that points to God’s desire for human beings and all of creation to be in relationship. I think we can look at Scripture too and see kind of the model for that, we can see how God has related to others, and how God relates to creation. Even in the Genesis accounts of God kind of making space within God’s own self to create something new, which was creation, and then to be in relationship with it. That’s at the core of God’s nature so that’s part of our message, but it’s also kind of the model for our message, to make space and to be in relationship with other people.
Rob Haynes 13:56
The Genesis story is the beginning and we see that again in Revelation.
Kim Reisman 14:01
Rob Haynes 14:02
When all of that is made new and the tree that was given in Genesis is there in the New Heaven and the New Earth, all things restored.
Kim Reisman 14:11
And God’s city descends to Earth so God clearly is heavily invested in this physical creation of ours in a big way.
Rob Haynes 14:22
What amazes me is that God calls upon the Christians to be a part of that, where He doesn’t have to have the Christians involved in this.
Kim Reisman 14:33
Right, right. God doesn’t need us to do it but God desires us to do it.
Rob Haynes 14:38
But chooses to involve us and it just amazes me, just amazes me.
Kim Reisman 14:42
Rob Haynes 14:43
To your point about how that’s done, again, many people do point to what many have called the Great Commission there in Matthew, but what amazes me about that is everything in Matthew leads up to that. “Go therefore” and so you have to look back to everything that Matthew has written about and that’s the message he’s trying to say: the miracles that Jesus did, the teachings, the reconciliation, the healing, all of the things that happened, lead up to the fact that we’re to be a witness in that. It’s not just a, I need to get in a plane and go overseas or I need to cross the street, but there is a posture and a lifestyle of that.
Kim Reisman 15:30
Right. Exactly. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Rob Haynes 15:35
And it’s not just in the Gospels that we see that the early church understood evangelism as a necessity as well.
Kim Reisman 15:41
Right, absolutely. I think one of the problems for us now is that things have become so siloed out in the way we understand Christian faith. So we have evangelism in one little column and we have discipleship in another column and you know, whatever. And we don’t realize that all of these elements of faith are intertwined. It’s a holistic understanding of the way we live out our faith. So you can’t parse out evangelism from discipleship or evangelism from other ministries of the church. You can’t parse out, you have evangelism and then you have feeding the poor. I mean, you can’t divide these things up. I think that the early church knew that, the early church had a much more holistic understanding of how these things worked. And so they evangelized in the midst of feeding the hungry and tending to the sick, and as they moved from town to town they talked about the Gospel and what had happened to them. That’s how the gospel was shared. So, to me, it’s an unfortunate deal that we’re so kind of siloed in our understanding of all these different elements of faith, I think that’s just a frustrating thing for me, really.
Rob Haynes 17:15
Because there’s not a point in which someone is evangelized and then all of a sudden they jump over a certain hurdle and now they’re being discipled.
Kim Reisman 17:22
Rob Haynes 17:23
And now that they have been discipled enough they can jump over another hurdle and be a Christian.
Kim Reisman 17:28
Yeah, because the whole goal of evangelism really is that people’s roots grow deep enough down that they can then begin this lifelong journey of faith. That means that evangelism is a process. It’s going to be hard to tell when evangelism ends and discipleship begins, because you’re trying to grow those roots. And if you haven’t grown those roots deep enough to where they can begin this lifelong journey of faith, well then, your evangelism efforts have ended too soon, because they’ve got to grow strong. And then obviously, discipleship is part of the way that we grow the roots of our faith and strengthen the roots of our faith. Where one stops and the other starts is often kind of a blurred line and it’s probably useless to try to figure out where that line exists because it is there and they are so intertwined.
Rob Haynes 18:30
That’s really important because I think so many times and when I’ve pastored in a local church, the discussions have been more of how many people were converted this year, how many people proclaim this or that? But rarely do we talk about what’s the depth of discipleship of our people and how are they then discipling others? Because it’s easy to deal with numbers, particularly Westerners love their numbers and everything is measured by those numbers.
Kim Reisman 19:06
Rob Haynes 19:08
But a lifestyle of evangelism and of discipleship is much too messy to fit on a ledger like that.
Kim Reisman 19:18
That’s right, that’s exactly right and then part of the evangelistic process sometimes is the process of deepening our own faith so that we can get a better handle on it in order to share it with others. So the processes are so intertwined it’s really difficult to separate them out. You’re right, it’s definitely too messy for the bookkeepers, that’s for sure.
Rob Haynes 19:47
I think that brings up an important point about who we are as Wesleyans, as Methodists, in terms of evangelism, because since its inception in the mid-1700s as a movement coming out of the Anglican Church in England. Methodism led by John Wesley saw that sharing faith with somebody else was much more than just getting someone in the door of the church.
Kim Reisman 20:18
Rob Haynes 20:19
It was a radical change of life.
Kim Reisman 20:23
Absolutely, absolutely. It involved a lot of elements. I think one of the unique things about our movement that I value so, so deeply is that Wesley had a great way of describing God’s grace, he used the word prevenient grace to describe the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives before we even become aware that anything is happening in our lives. I like to think of it as that we may decide as a church, or as an individual, that we believe that a certain group of people needs to be reached, or we want to share the Gospel with a certain group of people and that’s all well and good, but chances are, God is already present with that group of people and the Holy Spirit has already been moving in their midst before we ever even get there. I think that’s one of the wonderful things about the Wesleyan movement, but also at least at World Evangelism’s understanding of evangelism itself is that we recognize how important that prevenient grace really is. We recognize that part of the evangelistic process is building relationships and making space for trust and care to develop and for the Holy Spirit to be able to move, because that’s what prevenient grace is all about, the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people before it becomes apparent. Then suddenly they realize that this is a meaningful thing in their lives and they’re ready at that point in time to then take more serious steps in their life of faith; whether that’s a commitment or just more exploration but it becomes more real for them. And then you move on to the other parts of grace, but that prevenient grace is very cool for me. I love that part.
Rob Haynes 22:33
And so absolutely, there is this recognition that the Christian is not taking the light to the darkest parts of the world but there is already before the Christian ever gets there the Spirit of God working in the lives of those people. I remember as a young Christian I had a chance to meet a Wycliffe Bible translator who served her life in a Pacific Island context and when they got to the part of explaining the Ten Commandments, the people there already knew seven of the Ten Commandments before she ever read that passage to them because the Spirit of God was moving in them. As she was trying to explain what sin was and all of that, they said, “Oh, yeah, we know all of that already” and listed seven of those commandments right off the bat. She said, “I knew right then that God was already there before I ever got there.” And the same applies to the person that lives across the street, or works in the office next to us, or that family member that we’re praying for even now to have faith in Jesus.
Kim Reisman 23:45
Absolutely, that’s definitely true.
Rob Haynes 23:48
One of the things that I think is also very rich about our Methodist heritage of evangelism is that it isn’t something that is just a one-off or a one-on-one sort of thing alone, there’s a recognition of community in that, there’s a recognition of discipleship in that. Again, God could by a divine finger snap and make all of this happen.
Kim Reisman 24:14
Rob Haynes 24:15
But instead, has decided to involve people in that process and so there’s this real affirmation of a holiness that is personal and social. That social holiness doesn’t mean just social justice, while there are some important issues in that, the idea of social holiness from a Western perspective comes from introduction to a hymnal in which John and Charles Wesley reminded the people that when you come together and you celebrate and you worship and you have interactions with one another you’re going to grow in that holiness that God has called you to do, and you can’t do that just alone, there is a community together in which that happens.
Kim Reisman 25:04
Yeah, but social holiness is the personal holiness that we live out together, then that’s how, by living it out together, that’s how it becomes social holiness. I think the other valuable thing in that regard is that Wesley had this great kind of way of describing, you had the prevenient grace, which is that beginning kind of grace that we don’t always completely recognize. And then we have justifying grace where we actually do recognize it and claim it for ourselves. And then we have sanctifying grace, which is the lifelong process of growing in love and grace and in our relationship with God. This whole thing of grace, everyone might be at a different spot, but when we are engaging in a walk together, when in social holiness, for instance, what one person’s sanctifying grace may be another person’s prevenient grace. As we engage each other and even people beyond the church, I mean, as I live out, my sanctifying grace, as I grow in sanctification as we would say in the Wesleyan family, as I grow in sanctification, I live my life in a particular way, I do it out of my love for Christ; I serve the needy and feed the hungry, etc. In doing that, my experience of sanctifying grace, may be another person’s experience of prevenient grace as they come in contact with the Spirit of God in the context of my relationship with Him as we serve. So there’s this wonderful overlap of all these different areas in which people find themselves. When we engage in that relationship and in that open kind of way, we’re setting the stage for the Holy Spirit to be able to move and for people to be transformed. That kind of holistic thing is just a wonderful thing for me, in terms of how we understand both evangelism and the entire walk of faith, really.
Rob Haynes 27:28
I think that’s so important to remember that it’s not a finite time, but it’s an ongoing thing that we do, right? And you talking about the prevenient grace, justifying, sanctifying grace, I love the image that Wesley used of the house.
Kim Reisman 27:45
Rob Haynes 27:46
You’re standing on the porch at prevenient grace and justifying grace is crossing over that threshold and then sanctifying grace is dwelling in those inner rooms and even deeper than that, if I come over to your house for the first time, you’re going to invite me maybe to the front entryway there, but it’s the best friends that sit around and have a cup of coffee in the kitchen. And that’s what that deeper discipleship is, continuing to grow in relationship with Christ and with others, in which you can dwell in those inner rooms where you can be changed to the deepest level.
Kim Reisman 28:21
Right, exactly. Absolutely.
Rob Haynes 28:24
So Kim, if someone were to ask you, “You know what? You have absolutely convinced me I need to be an evangelist because I love Jesus and I want to tell other people about Jesus. How do I even learn to begin to share my faith like you’ve said?”
Kim Reisman 28:41
Oh, well, funny that you bring that up, Rob. It’s funny that you bring that up. Well, that’s really what we want. That’s really what World Methodist Evangelism is about, helping people by providing them with tools and resources and whatnot, so that they can become more in touch with their own experience of faith and then become more comfortable and authentic and relaxed and confident when they’re engaging others in spiritual conversations and sharing their faith. So that’s really what we do and we do it by providing resources. One of the resources that we provide is Embrace. It’s a small group study, but also something that can be done in the context of a weekend workshop, a Friday/Saturday workshop. It is all about getting in touch with your own experience of faith and utilizing some core values, some essential values like humility and clarity and getting clarity on your own experience. We focus on prayer as an essential value and integrity, making sure that like I said earlier, that our words and our actions are ringing true so that actually we can walk with integrity and people can see that in our lives. And then obviously worship is a core value because that is one of the main environments in which the Holy Spirit moves when the community of faith is gathered. And then urgency, that there’s an urgent need to share the Gospel and for people to know about the love of Jesus Christ. So we focus on those core values and we use the metaphor of embrace as a way to envision that and we work through those successions in order to deepen our own faith so that we can be more comfortable and confident when we’re sharing it with others. So that’s one big way that we do that.
Rob Haynes 30:58
And that is something that you can connect with at World Evangelism by visiting our website: WorldMethodist.org. Well, Kim, I think this has been a really helpful way to think about evangelism and to think about something that is important for all of us to do, no matter where we are in our faith journey. Before we go and finish today’s podcast, I want to remind you, that you can be a part of this show as well, we want to hear what God is doing in your part of the world, whether it be in North America or anywhere else. You could do that by recording a short testimony, two or three minutes, whether it be on your phone or on your computer and uploading an audio file. You can find information about that on our website: WorldMethodist.org, which you can also find in today’s show notes. But before we go, I want to ask you, if you would please make sure that you rate and subscribe, because that helps get the word out about what we’re doing. It’s important that we share this because it’s an important message. We want to thank the folks at Christ Church Global in Memphis, Tennessee for helping us share this important message. And on behalf of Kim Reisman, I’m Rob Haynes and you’ve been listening to World Methodist Evangelism’s Real Faith Real World podcast.
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