October 25, 2016

By Eddie Pipkin

There is a lot of baggage that comes with the idea of evangelism.

The Christian church in America has a long and storied focus on evangelism. And not all of it is savory. In our quest to bring believers into the fold in the past half century, we have often been pushy, sometimes obnoxious, frequently self-righteous. We have talked much more than we have listened, and we have tried to impose on others what we think is best for them without stopping to take their needs into account.

Some followers of our churches, in an attempt to swing the pendulum the other direction, have abandoned the idea of evangelism altogether. incarnational-hospitality-1So wrapped up have we sometimes become in feel-goodism and a culturally popular gospel of self-improvement that we have built “ministries” of activities that only connect tangentially to the Good News.

Jesus (as evidenced in reading the Scriptures—always an eye-opening journey) is straightforward about who he is and why he has come. He is also straightforward about laying out the vision statement for those who would follow him: “Go and make disciples.” Where we get tripped up is when we take that admonition to bring the Good News to the world and bend it to our own priorities and perceived needs. That’s how it too often becomes a call to militant recruitment rather than an empathetic invitation. What Jesus actually lived out as an example through his words and deeds during his time on Earth was a seamless example of how to love God by loving people.

Done well (and as Jesus called us to do it), that’s what evangelism is: loving people (and then–when they ask why in the world we would love them in the way in which we are loving them–we explain that this love is an outpouring of our relationship with our Savior).

That’s what our new books Connect! And Connect! For Individuals and Small Groups is all about: helping congregations understand this straightforward process of empathetic engagement as evangelism. It’s called Incarnational Hospitality, and it’s not the job of a committee or exclusive to professionally trained ministry operatives. It is a calling directly from Jesus to each of us as individuals.

This has, of course, been part of the teaching of the church as an historical institution spanning the centuries, but the simplicity of Christ’s strategy for communicating and spreading the Gospel has been overpowered by theological convolutions, institutional bloat, misguided motives, and even technological distractions.

Back to the basics. Connection, connection, connection. People have an inherent need to be connected to God. And people desperately want to be connected to other people in meaningful ways. That’s why we named the books Connect! It is a one-word summation of years of ministry experience and listening to churches as they struggle with the desire to be relevant and robust within the context of their individual communities. We have worked to unpack deep concepts into digestible nuggets. And we have focused on practical steps to bring those concepts to life. These are strategies that can be customized for any sized church in any kind of community. They are Scripture-based, real-world-tested, and action-oriented. And a congregation that is living out these concepts of Incarnational Hospitality is a congregation with stronger internal connections, renewed purpose, and sustained energy. We focus on:

• How to love our neighbors in profound and practical ways.
• How to move out beyond the walls of the church to become integral to the community.
• How to seamlessly communicate the story of the ways in which our relationship with Jesus has changed us.
• How to help others connect with God, even as we grow more deeply in our own discipleship.
• How to move from missional gestures to ministries of engagement (and generate excitement and new purpose in the process).

If any of these things sound like something your congregation has been seeking, we hope you will explore these new resources more fully. Their development is the fruition of years of work with dozens of churches filled with real people longing to be faithful disciples (just like you), and we are eager to share the results of our journey. We’d love to have you along. Questions? We have answers. Use the comments section or email us directly at EMC3.