One of several subjects that came up this morning at church: evangelism is a topic that we all know is out there, but which we rather shy away from encountering. My current church is Anglican, a bit of a change from previous experience, but the general associations with evangelism are fairly typical. At least our rector was being honest when he mentioned the word: “we are called to be evangelists… sorry.”
Interestingly, it also happens that I’ve told the following story several times this week, so I figured it would bear repeating in this context. Having attended and graduated from Moody Bible Institute (class of ’87), I’ve had some familiarity with evangelism. We had to not only take classes in the subject, but each semester we’d perform a “Practical Christian Ministry” (PCM) which involved working in the community of Chicago: and one of them needed to relate to evangelism. Beyond that, I’ve read a number of books that described different facets of what to most is a difficult theme. Most people don’t believe me: but it is one of the classes I’m most glad I took. The experience was trying at the time, and challenged my outlook: but what I learned from my instructors and mentors regarding evangelism has served me in many quarters.
What scares most people about evangelism is that they think they have to talk about their beliefs, and convince others of those beliefs, trying to change minds and convert numbers. But that’s not really it at all: at least not the bulk of it. Most of it is simply talking to people. And, what we were taught: the biggest part of being a good evangelist is learning how to recognize need. Learning how to talk to others, frequently in other contexts and other cultures, and being able to identify the desires and the needs that are uppermost in that person’s mind. Then a good evangelist takes that need, shapes it and reworks it and fits it into something that he or she can offer. The classic Christian evangelist is particularly able to understand personal needs, like needs to be recognized, to belong, to feel loved. In most cases such needs can be met through a church or a structure of beliefs. A good evangelist starts with needs that are small, that build trust and foster communication. Over time, when those solutions work, people are willing to try questions of larger scope.
Many have joked (not realizing how accurate they are) that I am a GIS evangelist: at work (as in my personal life) I try to understand a problem and to determine how to solve an issue through data, databases, programming and analysis. It might sound complex; but it’s just a matter of understanding a problem well enough that its solution can be mapped out in specific and precise detail. Programming is nothing more than a “language” that computers understand. It’s all in how to understand a problem and communicate the steps to take to solve it. Seeing that my methods work in small areas, people are willing to try larger problems. It has worked the same regarding my work in management and human relations. So my classes in evangelism at Moody helped me to refine my observation and communication skills to such a point that I can help people to realize how to meet their needs. That’s what I enjoy.
A good evangelist does not have to convince others that he or she is “right” in what he or she believes. A good evangelist simply demonstrates that his or her solutions work, and others follow.