A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Some Good News
The word “evangelism” has acquired a negative connotation to many people in the last few decades; certainly beyond the Church, but even within it. That’s mostly because evangelism became associated with particularly visible and influential elements of Christianity in the United States that often use fear, shame, judgmentalism, and exclusion to motivate existing members of their churches and attract new ones.
And that is a tragedy for two reasons. First, it has made many, many people assume that such beliefs and tactics are an inherent part of Christianity itself. But that’s not even true for large segments of evangelical Christianity, much less other forms of the Christian faith.
And second, such forms of Christianity are actually in deep conflict with some of the most basic convictions of our faith: that we receive the gift of abundant and eternal life in Christ through God’s grace, not anything we are or do to earn it; that we are called to love God and our neighbors, even our enemies, in response to that grace; and that we are called to do so by emulating Christ’s ministry that deliberately included and served those whom the rest of the world prefers to exclude or ignore.
Such convictions are at the very heart of the good news that Jesus proclaimed and entrusted the church with, which is actually where the word “evangelism” comes from: a Greek word that means, literally, “a good message; good news.” So by definition, the gospel (a word that also literally means “good news”) that we share through evangelism is supposed to be good news!
Now, more than ever, our world is desperate for good news. John Krasinski, the popular actor and director, even started a delightful, hilarious, and sometimes even moving YouTube series from his house during the pandemic which he called, simply, “Some Good News.” It became instantly and wildly popular precisely because it was offering, in a light-hearted but authentic way, a message of connection and solidarity and a conviction that there is good and beauty to be celebrated in the midst of all that is terrible right now.
We need to be at least as intentional about sharing the good news that we have as Christians, and as members and friends of First Presbyterian, as the pandemic continues and perhaps even especially as it seems we may be soon entering a phase of the pandemic that promises a bit less danger but even more uncertainty, which always breeds anxiety.
So I urge you to practice “e-vangelism:” engaging and sharing our livestream worship and other church Facebook activities through your own Facebook account, so that people in your network who aren’t involved in the church may hear some good news through our worship and ministry together. Engage in the “liminal space project” that our Visual Arts Team is launching to help us to be faithful and attentive in this time of sheltering in place (a description of this project is in our new communication, “Spotlight”).
And continue to check in with neighbors and friends, not simply to say hello and offer well-wishes, but to truly listen to their joys and struggles in a ministry of presence, which does not require physical proximity to be powerful. This, too, is sharing the good news through actions rather than words, following Christ’s example and imitating his love.
And as you do these things, look and listen for the good news of Jesus Christ coming back to you even as you share it; for we all need some good news!
Grace and peace,