A FRIEND told me recently of his new job title: "Evangelist for
Microsoft 360 Azure". "They actually call you that?" I asked.
"Yes, business cards and everything. You see, Microsoft Azure
truly is good news because it transforms . . ."
I will spare you the rest of the conversation. But why is it
that Microsoft is happy to use the concept of evangelism
corporately, but people in the Church shy away from it, as if they
might come out in a rash? My guess is that there are many reasons
for this - some fairly understandable. I would like to make the
case for it to take its place front and centre in the
THE Archbishop of Canterbury has three priorities for his
ministry: prayer, and the renewal of the religious life;
reconciliation; and evangelism and witness. When Archbishop Welby
first talked about appointing an Adviser for Evangelism and
Witness, he explained the reason for using the "e-word".
It was not simply because the term "mission" has - wonderfully
in many ways - become the watch-word for everything we do in the
Church, and as a concept has grown so large as to be ungraspable as
a priority. Nor was it to give privilege to one church tradition
above another. Evangelism is not, and will not be allowed to be,
the preserve of Evangelicals: it is far too important for that. No,
the reason for using the word "evangelism" is because it is a
particularly Christian word: Jesus, we are told, arrived
proclaiming the Good News.
IT IS a relief that the cliché "Preach the gospel at all times:
where necessary, use words" has ceased to do the rounds. At least,
I hope it has - not just because there is no record that St Francis
ever said it, but because, even if he did, it is just wrong: to
proclaim the gospel is to use words. As T. S. Eliot's character
Sweeney says: "I've gotta use words when I talk to you."
We see this reflected in the first of the Anglican Five Marks of
Mission: "To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom". Of course, to
be believed, our life, personally and corporately, has to bear
faithful witness. As Lesslie Newbigin said: "The Church is the
hermeneutic of the gospel": the church community is the context in
which the gospel message is best understood.
Yet a commitment to evangelism is to a deliberate setting forth,
a holding out, and declaring of the good news of Jesus Christ. Of
course, we desire a response - as every call of God does. But the
gospel is proclaimed primarily as an announcement of the action and
intention of God.
In the first sermon in Acts, Peter proclaims what God has done
in Christ Jesus. He finishes, and the question comes: "What shall
we do?" It is then that he invites their response: "Repent and be
EVANGELISM is the discipline of not keeping the good news to
ourselves. There is no better news for anybody, anywhere, than who
God is for us in Jesus Christ - in whom God has chosen to be for
all people. In his life, his teaching, his death, and his
resurrection, God has chosen to love, call, suffer, die, rise, and
open the Kingdom of God for each person. God desires each one to
live in the joy of this grace.
So many people are living with no knowledge of what God has done
for them. And yet the difference would be transformative if this
"took"; if this was effectual in human lives. The beauty of this
gospel captivates our lives and sets us free.
Evangelism is not a recruitment drive. It is not done for fear
that nobody will be in the Church in a generation's time, or as a
solution to financing crumbling buildings or crumbling clergy. It
is our response to what God has done.
THIS message is about the person of Jesus Christ: so it is
always personal, always loving, always gracious, and always
particular. It is not some package to be delivered, like some dusty
just-add-water powder. As it is Jesus Christ we are setting forth,
the words always are spoken in a specific tongue, at a specific
time, with a specific accent, and a particular dialect.
Evangelism requires listening and proclamation, reception and
gift, the theologian Luke Bretherton writes. "We cannot presume to
know what needs to be said and done with these people, in this
place, at this time, if they are to truly hear and dwell within the
The setting forth is essential. People cannot know the glad
tidings unless God's community shares them. The gospel is not
something we already know: it is new knowledge that cannot be known
unless it is borne witness to. To hear, respond, and follow Jesus
Christ is the best thing that anyone can do with his or her life.
The Church exists as the bearer and performer of this good news.
The Holy Spirit forms us in, through, and for this.
A DIOCESAN bishop told me recently about a congregation that had
decided that it was not "called" to evangelism at that particular
time, but would reconsider it in five years.
"Why do they think it's an option?" he asked. "If they had
decided they weren't called to worship, they would have expected me
to turn up on the door the next day insisting that, because they
were a Christian church, this wasn't an option for them. Why do we
not grasp that evangelism is a non-negotiable?"
Like my business friend, I am an evangelist. But if Microsoft is
out there proclaiming cloud computing's potential to improve our
lives, imagine how transformative the good news of Jesus Christ
would be, if each of us was sharing it with those we met - whatever
that meant in each different encounter, and even if it was clunky,
and the words did not come out perfectly - because we knew that
sharing Jesus was at the very core of following him.
The truth is that our news is too good to keep to ourselves -
and the adventure of discovering how we most faithfully do that is
an amazing one.
Canon Chris Russell is the Vicar of St Laurence's, Reading,
and the Archbishop of Canterbury's Adviser for Evangelism and
The Archbishops' Evangelism Task Group has published
resources for churches to pray for evangelism at Pentecost at