By: Laura Callarman
“The most evangelistic thing the church can do today is to be the church—to be formed imaginatively by the Holy Spirit through core practices such as worship, forgiveness, hospitality, and economic sharing into a distinctive people in the world, a new social option, the body of Christ. It is the very shape and character of the church as the Spirit’s ‘new creation’ that is the witness to God’s reign in the world and so both the source and aim of Christian evangelism.” (Bryan Stone, Evangelism After Christendom, 15.)
The most evangelistic thing the church can do is be the church. I don’t know how this claim strikes you at first glance, but let me tell you, when I first read it a few years ago, I was blown away. You see, I was in the midst of a four-year master’s degree focused on learning all the ins and outs of Christian ministry and mission. I’d dedicated years of my life to studying about evangelism, and I intended to devote my life to engaging in it in one way or another. And here was Bryan Stone telling me that the best thing we could do to fulfill Jesus’ instructions to spread the gospel and make disciples was simply to be. Not to have a missional program in place or to go on mission campaigns around the neighborhood or the world. Not to strategize and plan, to plot ideas and measure outcomes. Not even to figure out the most socially acceptable way to share the good news of Jesus with people in their various cultural contexts. But rather to just be. What in the world did Stone mean by that?!? And why, despite their dissonance with much of the other training I’d received (both in school and throughout life), did his words resonate so deeply with me?
Perhaps because of the dissonance and the resonance both, those words stuck with me. I kept turning them over again and again in my mind and in my heart. I pondered their meaning and I considered their application. And I found wisdom in them, particularly when I looked around me at the utter failure of traditional practices of “evangelism,” practices that rarely bring the true good news that they claim to. (“Evangelism” is Greek for “good news,” but more often than not our evangelistic practices are more expressive of judgment, condemnation, and exclusion than any actual good news.) When it came to winning the hearts of people to Christ, there just had to be something more, something better than that which I’d seen taught, modeled, lived—and, all too often, completely (and understandably) rejected by those who did not know Christ. And as I pondered his words, I realized that Bryan Stone was on to something.
Over the years since I first read Stone’s assertion, I’ve become utterly convinced that he’s right. I’ve seen it. Yes, I’ve seen the miserable failure of traditional models of “soul winning,” as I’ve just mentioned. But it’s not just that that’s convinced me. It’s that I’ve seen the kind of evangelism Stone describes work. He says that the best thing we can do to share good news with others is to be people who’ve been transformed by good news and are thus an inviting alternative way of life. And I’ve seen that happen.
I’ve seen the church be all that it was called to be and designed to be, and I’ve seen people be transformed by it. I’ve seen lives permeated by God’s good news in ways that many would consider peculiar or even unnerving, but it’s because as Christians we’re called and enabled by the Spirit to be people who live in such love and trust and forgiveness and grace that we look very different. And I’ve also seen some who had written off or given up on Christianity take a second look because they see the transformed people of God and they’re intrigued and drawn in by the enduring witness that that life-giving transformation is.
In short, I’ve seen a new creation emerge in the lives of both individuals and communities, and I’ve seen that new creation bring new life, new hope, and new joy to all people—Christian and non-Christian alike.
I’ve been re-evangelized with this gospel of love and meaning in deep relationship with God and God’s people, and it’s my hope and prayer that all people can experience this. Because, let me tell you, it’s a lot more uplifting and exciting than anything else I’ve ever experienced in life. It’s true good news: God is love, Jesus is Lord, the Spirit is our trusted companion and guide, and we are people transformed in relationship with this God! And that is worth joining in on. Come along with me for the journey!