Evangelism is “goodnewsing” – getting on with life in such a way that people have a chance to discover Jesus for themselves.
It involves being, doing and speaking, which should always be held together.
It is an essential aspect of Christian discipleship, but this doesn’t mean that evangelism always has to be the thing at the front of our mind, the thing we are consciously aiming at.
In fact, it often happens best when it happens obliquely. Ironically, if evangelism is always the primary motivator for everything we are, do and say, we will end up actually undermining our evangelism because we will make it inauthentic, twisted, less than genuine.
So, for example, when the way we are bespeaks Christ, when our churches are hospitable, honoring the least and including the outsider, this is indeed evangelistic; it communicates the good news, but our primary intent here is not to communicate but rather, together as a church, to live a Christ-like life.
Evangelism in this mode is more often than not a blessed by-product of trying to be faithful, Jesus-type communities.
Similarly, if we only ever care for the needy or work for peace and reconciliation so that we can let everyone see what the way of Christ looks like, there’s something about our motivation that is not true to the Jesus we hope to communicate.
Again, gospel communication in this mode happens best when we are focused on something else, such as loving people, irrespective of whether or not they are interested in our message.
This also applies when we speak of our faith. When we explain to friends why we pray, when we offer a Christ-informed perspective to colleagues at work chatting about an event in the news, even on occasions such as these it is not that we think, “OK, now I am going to evangelize.”
No, we just do it because part of what it means to live as a Christian is to speak as a Christian and therefore to speak of Christ.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not against intentional proclamation of the gospel as one means of communicating good news.
There will, of course, always be those times when our primary purpose is indeed to get the good news across.
But these are evangelism’s special occasions, not its everyday way of being. This is evangelism in its Sunday best, not the kind of “come as you are and take us as you find us” evangelism that is the staple of ordinary “goodnewsing.”
This matters, because when we allow disciples to believe that the exceptional is what defines evangelism, we run the risk of putting them off.
Nor am I suggesting that we don’t have to speak about our faith. I don’t think Saint Francis ever actually said, “Preach the good news and if you must, use words,” but I wish it hadn’t got around that he did.
Piping up about Jesus is a crucial part of evangelism. But it’s a part, not the whole.
And it’s at its best when it’s not contrived but rather when we just tell our friends about Jesus, when we say what we say because that’s who we are, not because we are targeting someone, seeking to assuage our guilt or trying the get the pastor off our back.
I don’t know if these thoughts will help. Some might think I’m watering down evangelism. In which case, I’ve not made myself clear.
I think I’m trying to beef it up. I’m also trying to help people see that it can be a commonplace part of ordinary Christian living; something every day for everyday disciples; something that everyday disciples just get on with; something for which the Baptist flavor of disciple becomes known – in life and not just on paper.
If that were to happen, that would be good news.
Glen Marshall is the co-principal of Northern Baptist College. A version of this article first appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of Baptists Together, a publication of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @theglenmarshall.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.