What Epiphany Shows Us About Evangelism

The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Our Lord to all people. He came that we might know him – that all might know him, everywhere. Epiphany calls us to a renewed understanding that mission and evangelism are not incidental add-ons to the Gospel, but rather the unfolding of Jesus’ work from the very beginning.

Epiphany reminds us that we do not “own” Jesus. He is not church property, to protect from contact with a messy world.

But even more than that, Epiphany reminds us that Jesus is not just an idea to tell people about, but a Person to encounter.

We can’t make people know Christ by dumping information on them, or by rhetorically maneuvering them into a corner, or by “winning” an argument about who Christ is, or by promising lots of fun and self-help and personal fulfillment.

Watch What You Wear

Not long ago, I had occasion to observe a group of high school students serving a meal to about 200 homeless people in our city.  They had come to fulfill a high school requirement to complete a certain number of community service hours, which probably should have been my first clue.  I was floored by the complete disconnect between those students and the human suffering right before their eyes.  Many laughed or made jokes.  A man or woman who did not look nice or smell particularly good would draw odd looks and quips.  Serving the food looked like more of a game to them than an opportunity to help someone.

 

As the students prepared to leave, it did not seem as if they had been affected at all.  They were huddled in their little group, busily chatting about the next activity of the day, oblivious to the many who filed out into the searing summer heat, not sure where they might find their next meal. 

 
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The Parable of the Sweater: or, Why Evangelism Can Drive People Crazy

How do you evangelize when people aren’t interested in the Gospel? They don’t feel a need for it, they think it’s silly and embarrassing, it interferes with their daily lives, and they just don’t want to hear about it. One approach is to try to work in appeals to the Gospel in conversation – to look for an opening and point out that Jesus really is the answer.

Many Christians don’t understand why this approach often backfires – sometimes spectacularly, as if the evangelist had just stepped on a verbal landmine, sometimes quietly, as if a glacial chill had settled on the room. Why doesn’t this approach work better? Why don’t people open up and take the opportunity to talk about the Gospel?

I’ve been there, on that side of the conversation. It’s hard to explain straight-up, so let me tell you a story.

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