beyond stereotypes: preaching and evangelism

There are two topics I’ve often wrestled with when I consider Christianity’s, and particularly, the church’s role in our world today: preaching and evangelism - two topics full of stereotypes (some right, some wrong).

Preaching faces many challenges: mediocrity in preachers, consumerism in congregations, celebrity-status for preachers, uncertainty around the role of the Bible, biblical illiteracy, and on and on...

Evangelism has it’s own challenges: cultural misperceptions, insensitive evangelists, overly-aggressive evangelists, non-contextual evangelism, distraction and lack of motivation to evangelize, and on and on...

Add to this an over-individualized culture where preaching and evangelism can become focused solely on the individual - both individual benefits (e.g. what did I get out of that sermon) and individual works (e.g. how can I convert that person). In both cases the role of the community of faith is simply a means to an end, a tool for personal growth we consume. Neglected is the centrality of covenant community in the life of faith.

As one who’s led and pastored in various churches, I’ve had to face these problems head on, often asking: Why preach? Why evangelize?

In the face of bad or failed examples of both, the temptation is to resign myself to a simple “don’t bother” and move on - preaching and evangelism are outdated and beyond repair.

But then I hear stories and encounter individuals and churches with the same questions and struggles I have. But instead of giving up they are creatively exploring how preaching and evangelism can remain central to the preaching task. As I’ve mentioned before, the writing of Mark Gornik has been one such source. And here, his comments on preaching and evangelism in the context of a rooted and connected community are exactly the type of faithful expression that gives me hope for these two misunderstood and badly practiced aspects of the Christian faith.

On preaching:

“When people know they are deeply loved, cared for, accepted, and wanted by a community, they are transformed by the experience. And preaching that flows out of community life and serves its formation, rather than being the artificial focus of the church, is similarly transformational” (To Live In Peace, 74).

On evangelism and witness:

“Christian witness is about storytelling--the body of Christ bearing witness to the story of God’s salvation.” And Quoting Orlando Costas, Gornik reiterates this central role of community: “The base of evangelization is the congregation. As a community of love, faith, and hope, the congregation is God’s instrument for the transmission of the gospel. Its life should be a continuous perpetual proclamation, ‘a fifth gospel,’ the incarnation of love, faith, and hope, the reproduction of the good news of salvation in its social context” (To Live In Peace, 90).

Considering all the challenges, such a vision for preaching and evangelism within a rooted community is good news indeed.

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