I thought keeping kosher was a heavy obligation in Judaism. Years later, I decided that the pressure to evangelize non-Christians was worse.
It’s easier for me to explain evangelism done badly than well. My memoir opens with the story of how a classmate told me my recently deceased uncle was in hell because he didn’t believe in Jesus. Leading with the threat of hell is a universally terrible way to evangelize, I think, and anyone who has converted from this tactic likely did so out of fear rather than love.
Reframing the concept of evangelism helped me change my mind about it (although I much prefer to call it “sharing your faith”): if hell was completely off the table, why should people still be interested in your religion? If hell is your only motivator, then you’re probably doing it wrong.
Ideally, people should convert for Jesus’ sake. They should convert because they believe he was divine; because they are seeking redemption; because the Sermon on the Mount contains information that will turn the world upside-down in the best way possible.
I can’t lie and say that my fear of hell has disappeared completely, but when it comes down to it, those reasons above are my primaries.
But how do you lead a conversation about faith at all?
As an introvert, I’m thankful for the Internet to communicate my ideas in written form. When I do occasionally leave my house, I no longer stress about how to “spread the Word,” because I believe I’ve evolved to a point where my faith informs my actions on a regular. It’s why I’m inclined to give my last five dollars to a homeless man even when my own stomach is craving Subway. Or let another driver into my lane. Sure, any non-religious person with a sense of empathy can do these things, but faith is what gives me that extra push.
Saint Francis said, “Preach the gospel at all times, using words if necessary,” which I partly agree with. Faith without works is dead, but faith without words is also not very effective.
The more people get to know me, the more they will naturally come to know my faith, which is as much a part of my life as my marriage and my fur children. There is evidence of it on the bookshelves of my house, and especially in the explanation of what I do for a living. So for me, talking about faith is inevitable. I don’t push the issue, but rather leave it open for people to ask questions. Usually, the first thing people ask is, “How does someone who grew up Jewish end up joining the Episcopal Church?” Depending on my mood, I either say, “Let’s get coffee” or hand them a business card. 🙂
The word “evangelism” has a bad reputation (not wholly undeserved, either). I know firsthand what it’s like to be a victim of those who treat it like sales transaction, or as a tool to beat people with.
Honestly, people stress out this concept way more than is necessary. You don’t need the tracts; you don’t need the bullhorn. You communicate your beliefs by what you read in coffee shops; in your response when asked about your interests, or explaining what motivates you, in both hard times and normal times.
Talk about Jesus the way you talk about your spouse or your children. Let him be part of who you are, rather than some multi-level marketing concept you awkwardly shove into a conversation after you ask that high school classmate you haven’t seen in ten years how she’s doing, and if she needs another pair of leggings.