Here’s a definition I heard years ago about evangelism — telling the good news about Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God — and I think it is true about Christian ministry in general:
Evangelism is what happens when you have a vital relationship with God and a vital relationship with someone else.I think Christians have often tried to domesticate evangelism by making it a program, or a script that we run through with people like a sales pitch. If you’ve ever been cornered, you know what I talking about. But it is really about developing vital relationships.
First is having a vital relationship with God. However, a lot of times we want to domesticate that relationship, to domesticate God and fit Him into our little box. But He is bigger than an hour or two on Sunday morning, bigger than a daily prayer or devotional, bigger than our own little home and our own little concerns and our little lives. Gloriously bigger! The more we come to know Him and the amazing things He wants to do in the world, the more we are vitalized, energized, our heartbeats coming into rhythm with His.
But we must also develop vital relationship with others. That is how God made us to be in the beginning. For God Himself is vital relationship — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a relationship of love with each other that is thoroughly full and complete. Yet, out of the divine love relationship among the Persons of the Trinity, God created the heavens and the earth, to share the overflow of their love, and vital relationship, with humanity.
To use an analogy, when I come into vital relationship with others, they will not only know me, they will know about my wife, because I am in vital relationship with my wife. Or think of some of the grandparents you know, and how eager they are to talk about their grandchildren. That’s because they are in vital relationship with those children. Likewise, when I am in vital relationship with others, they will know about the Lord Jesus, because I am in vital relationship with Him.
There are thousands of ways we can develop such relationships with the people we are naturally around everyday as we are out in the world. This is true not only on the individual level but also at the level of involvement with the larger communities of which we are a part. For example, the realms of family, education, government, business, media and the arts are all areas in which we can develop vital relationship with others.
These are all ways individual Christians can become more involved in the life of the community and develop vital relationships. But the local church, as a corporate body, can also develop vital relationship with the community in the same ways. For example, my son and his wife are part of a church in Ybor City (Tampa, FL). The church is only about eight years old, but they have, almost from the beginning, been developing a vital relationship with Booker T. Washington Elementary School, reaching out on the level of meeting practical needs. They have also been developing vital relationship with the Ybor community — the people of Ybor — and its culture. They are currently working on a project to develop vital relationship with the arts community there.
Now, let me be careful to say that vital relationship is not a means to an end; it is a sufficient end itself. It has no agenda; it is its own agenda — to know, love and fellowship with others, to live life together. But it is the nature of such relationships that we each share what is most important to us, that we may give ourselves openly and honestly and receive each other more fully. And so we give life to one another.