Sunday, August 30, 2009

Phillip the Evangelist: Evangelism 101

August 30, 2009
Acts 6:1-7; 8:26-40

Disciples were being made. People were obviously telling others about Jesus.Since the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit birthed the church, when many chose to be baptized in Christ, disciples were being made. Folks were being told about life in Christ. And they were choosing Christ for themselves. The church was growing so fast. They couldn’t keep up with the needs. Specifically, the care of widows was lagging behind. Disciples were so busy earning a living, making a wage so as not to burden others, trying to still leave space for the work of Christ. But it just wasn’t cutting it. More and more people were coming to the faith and something had to change. They needed some who could give their whole lives to the work of Christ, to not be burdened with having to earn a living, so that they could organize the rest of the people and their work for Christ. Some leaders were set apart. One of those leaders was Phillip

The strategy worked! More disciples were made. God’s word continued to be told. Evangelism was happening. People’s lives were being made new in Christ.

Today we venture to learn a little about Phillip, not the disciple, but the one known as the “Evangelist”. Philip was “set apart,” in much the same way that I was when I was ordained. He was set apart to help lead the church, but his primary task, given by God, was evangelism. God set Philip apart for the task of evangelism.

We have 3 other accounts of Philip’s life in Christ. In Acts 8 Philip is preaching and changing lives in Samaria. Later in the same chapter we have the encounter with the Ethiopian. And in Acts 21 reminds us that Philip is still at the work of evangelism and has taught his family.

In all his ministry, Philip evangelized. He went to people and places outside of his comfort zone – Samaritans and Ethiopians. He had conversations with people he would normally not talk with. He shared the life of Jesus with them and the difference it made in his life. He encouraged others to choose Jesus for themselves and brought people into the faith through baptism.

Philip was an example of evangelism in his generation.

But just what is evangelism? And what does evangelism look like in our generation?

Martha Grace Reese in her book Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism (page 6) tells us “Evangelism is people sharing with others their personal understandings that life is better, richer, truer if one has faith in Christ and lives in a faith community.” She tells us that evangelism is relational. It’s about intentionally building relationships with other people, sometimes relationships with others with whom we would not normally mix. It’s about going out of our way to, for the sake of Christ, know others personally.

Reese also tells us that evangelism is sharing what you feel. Sometimes we think evangelism is telling people what we know, and we think we don’t know very much, so we think we don’t have to do evangelism. But Reese reminds us that evangelism is sharing what you feel. It’s sharing the simple story of how God has made a difference in your life. It isn’t always a “I once was lost but now am found” kind of story, though if that’s your story, that’s the story to share. Sometimes it’s a story of always having been held in God’s love and the difference that this has made in your life. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing why you make the choices you do because of your faith.

Evangelism draws people to Christ first, and to community as a result. Sharing your story with others should elicit a desire to know Christ personally. Evangelism helps people want to know Christ. The conversation Philip had with the Ethiopian drew him to know Christ. It didn’t highlight Philip’s accomplishments or life, it It highlighted Christ. And because of that story, the Ethiopian was drawn to baptism, to connect with the community of Christ.

Two cautions: First, evangelism isn’t about growing the church. Though there is no harm in growing the body of Christ, our task is making disciples. Evangelism draws people into the life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ, as it goal! Secondly, evangelism isn’t solely the task of people “set aside” like Philip. Jesus charged every follower to “go and make disciples”. It is the task of everyone whose life has been genuinely made “better, richer, truer” because of Christ. That’s all of you, to be sure. That’s me as well!

So what does evangelism look like in our generation?

Two stories of evangelism in our generation:
1) Heather Kirk-Davidoff’s story from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (page 34-35)

2) Story of Evangelism in the Oil Change shop told by Royal Speidel, the Distinguished Evangelist in Residence at The General Board of Discipleship.

That is another, good, definition of evangelism in these stories: engage people in conversation about God in the strangest of places. Places we sometimes go regularly – like the oil change shop. Places we sometimes go out of our way to in order to engage in conversation about God – like the bar, perhaps.

I am convicted by these ideas of evangelism. And I want you to challenge me. I have many times I schedule to engage people within the church in conversations about God. I don’t know any time in my work week where I intentionally schedule time to engage people outside of the church in conversation about God. But I want to know that time. I am compelled to do that. And perhaps if a few hundred of you each week ask me if I had a conversation about God with someone outside the church, I might be more inclined to remember the importance of doing so. So would you ask me? Would you hold me to that? Ask me if I have been Philip this past week or not?

And may I ask you the same?

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

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