The last Sunday of last year, I challenged my congregation to reflect on what God had taught them in the past year, and then to create some sort of memorial. The idea was based on the concept of Ebenezers we find in the Old Testament. “Ebenezer” is a Hebrew term that translates “stone of help” – it’s a stone monument erected by Israel to mark an act of God in their history.
The exercise: create some sort of marker that reminds you and those around you of how God worked in your story in the past year.
Since I’m a blogger, I figured my Ebenezer should be a blog post. So what follows is my account of a concrete way God was active in my life in 2103. It’s not meant to be boastful. It’s not seeking compliments. It’s a marker. A signpost.
So what did I learn in 2013? I learned that I have been given the spiritual gift of Evangelism.
That takes a bit of unpacking. Spiritual gifts are abilities given to Christians by the Holy Spirit. We receive them specifically so that we may use them to serve the larger body to which we belong. Since I’ve been part of one church or another all my life, I’ve been thinking about my own spiritual gifts at least since my youth group days.
Spiritual gifts are a notoriously tricky subject to broach – everyone has their own pet theory about what they are and how to identify them (you can find a thousand or so “tests” for them online). I’ve taken plenty of the inventories myself, and unsurprisingly, the same few always show up.
I’ve always identified gifts like Knowledge and Teaching as my primary spiritual gifts. And to be sure, they’re gifts I use all the time (especially in my role as a Teaching Pastor).
I never considered Evangelism as a gift because of how I thought about Evangelism.
I’m sure it’s no different from your conception: handing out tracts, fire-and-brimstone preaching, 4 Spiritual Laws, debates, all that. When I engage people who aren’t Christians, when we share life, talk about faith, religion, all that, I don’t like to be combative or confrontational. And I don’t appreciate the shallow, bait-and-switch methods I was taught as a teen.
So how did I decide I have the gift of Evangelism?
Some while ago, someone gave me some really great advice on identifying Spiritual Gifts. (I can’t remember who said it. My memory attributes the advice to my college New Testament professor, but I think it was someone else. He’s just the bible guru who lives in my head.)
The advice was: If you want to know what your Spiritual Gifts are, ask your church community.
It makes sense: if the Spirit gives us gifts so that we can edify our church body, then who better to tell us how we best serve than those we’re serving?
Three different persons in the past year, three individuals part of my community in some way, specifically told me I connect and engage non-Christian persons in spiritual conversations better than anyone else they knew. These three persons were all from different parts of my life – they don’t know or interact with each other. And they each told me this – unsolicited – at different points throughout the year.
None of these people called it “Evangelism” – in one way or another, they all told me that I connect people who don’t follow Jesus to Jesus without getting wrapped up in institutional church – the churched language, habits and customs that comprise American Evangelicalism but not necessarily the Gospel.
And that’s why I decided to call it Evangelism.
“Evangelism” comes from a Greek word that meant “good news” – “Gospel” in Middle English. When we talk about the Gospel, we’re referring to the Good News about Jesus – a term my friend Matt uses instead of “gospel”. That’s not coming to a building on a Sunday or learning a particularly set of words (like Gospel!) or to ascribe to a certain political agenda.
Evangelizing is announcing the good news about Jesus. It’s about the conviction that God is already working in the world and the fact that Jesus rose from the dead is good news for everyone. Wherever they are.
Evangelizing is recognizing that everything is spiritual, whether it’s the latest superhero film, the party at the bar, the birthday party for their kid or even the things that happen in church buildings. It’s about helping everyone connect the dots, revealing the God who is already working in their lives and helping the say Yes to the invitation that God is extending to join in.
According to my friends, the Spirit has gifted me to do this well. This year, I’m listening to the voice of the Spirit speaking through them, and exploring how to leverage that for my Church.