BIG THINGS IN SMALL PACKAGES
Some significant gifts come in small packages. A diamond ring is encased in an exceedingly small box. Two $100 bills are enclosed in a congratulatory card. A $500 gift card is found in a tiny envelope. A concise, informative, erudite concept emerges from a 52-page book. It is the latter that captured my attention this week.
Vernard Eller, a past-professor of religion at the University of LaVerne in California and author of over twenty books, has become one of my favorite authors of things related to religion and the church. Eller thinks outside the box and adds imaginative perspective. Even though his writings are several decades old, they remain relevant to the present age, in my humble view.
The book alluded to in the opening paragraph of this article, written by Eller, is entitled Proclaim Good Tidings: Evangelism for the Faith Community. The e-word, evangelism, frequently elicits anxiety and fear primarily because it is associated with telling (speaking) the good news of Jesus Christ in a manner that will entice people to come along, to join the company of Jesus followers. Moreover, evangelism invokes images, maybe nightmares, of well-defined programming wherein “evangelists” are trained with tools to convert non-believers to the way of Jesus, to Christianity. Anxiety and fear kicks in when those of a more timid nature are concerned about speaking to strangers. What if difficult questions are asked or the good news is rejected? OH MY! Those more outgoing have less trepidation about visiting with others, but…OH MY!…there isn’t enough time to squeeze in a training program!
Eller, consequently, eases these evangelism burdens. Instead of boxing evangelism into a programmatic monster to be tamed, he develops a portrait of evangelism as a community effort of radiating the essence of the Jesus way. In other words, the body of Christ, the church, or the community of Jesus followers, simply needs to let their manner of living serve as their witness. This manner of living “speaks” volumes, not always in words, but unquestionably with actions. Eller calls this “evangelism through body language.”
A paragraph from Eller’s 52-page gem provides a nice summary of his thesis. He writes: “The calling of the church is that it function (sic) as ‘the body of Christ.’ Thus, within the body, the members are to operate, not for their own enjoyment or enhancement, but to the end that the body as a whole is built up. When the group is functioning so, its body language is such that a chance observer can read it and be moved to fall down and worship, crying, ‘God is certainly among you!’ And what is going on here is nothing more nor less than evangelism.”
Eller also helps us to understand that evangelism is not a one-person enterprise. Sharing the good news of Jesus and the Jesus way is most effective when it is done together, in partnership, as the whole. It isn’t a programmatic enterprise, either. It is, at the most basic level, a way of being, acting, and living, revealing evidence of the Spirit of God moving within and acting upon our individual and collective lives.
So, if the e-word puts you into a state of panic, take heart. Simply be who you are shaped and informed to be in the Jesus way, joining with the company and gifts of others. The rest, in a manner of speaking, will take care of itself.