Good news about sharing the good news

August 18th, 2014

I feel like I’m twelve years old, riding through my neighborhood on bikes with my buddies. The click of gears, the occasional laughter, the roar of wind in my ears on a nice stretch of downhill, all of it sends me back in time. This happens every week with our evening social ride, where between 30 and 100 cyclists roll through scenic (and mostly flat) sections of our city. Occasionally I feel a rush of euphoria as I realize, “I’m doing evangelism! This is ministry!”

Ministry isn’t always fun, of course. There are sad hospital visits, technical sound system issues that no seminary could (or should) train you to address, gut-wrenching ethical dilemmas, and interpersonal diplomacy. Sometimes these can be fulfilling, too. But navigating through town with 100 friends is one of the highlights of my week.

Before I started planting our church, I had often heard other Christian leaders talk about the importance of being out in the community. “Pastors spend far too much time in their offices!” they would say. The most important job of a church planter is networking and making new contacts. They would talk about doing evangelism on the golf course. I would roll my eyes. “How convenient,” I thought.

But I had also preached, more than once, on the nature of call. I’d used the Frederick Beuchner quotation about your vocation being where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need. I had told church members that ministry should be a joy, not a burden. I told them that the Holy Spirit had given them unique spiritual gifts they could use in ministry to the church and the world, and if they used their gifts in ministry, they would feel joy and fulfillment—not drudgery.

I hadn’t actually realized the same thing applied to me.

Maybe you already get this, but for me it was a forehead-slapping revelation: God wants me to enjoy ministry. I, too, have been given spiritual gifts and passions to do ministry in my own context. Using those passions and gifts is fulfilling—and fun!

I do my best evangelism when I’m doing things I love with people I love. It’s not the in-your-face evangelism of knocking on doors and passing out tracts, but the natural evangelism that happens when you share experiences and food with other people. God made us social animals, and we share the gospel best when we are doing our social things. I suspect that’s why the Gospel of Luke reads like one long progressive dinner, with Jesus eating at someone else’s table in nearly every other chapter. Sharing good food with good friends is part of what makes meaning and memories in our lives. In the ancient world it was a symbol of shalom and a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. This is where the deep conversations happen. It’s also where you share the best jokes.

This doesn’t mean that I use my relationships or my recreational activities in a mercenary way. I’m not hanging out with people in order to proselytize. Sometimes people strike up religious conversations with me, and I enjoy sharing my faith when other people are interested in it. But there are no ulterior motives. I love biking and I love people. Simple. (Well… I love most people. Most of the time.) I don’t pull out a timer and “clock in” when I start talking about Jesus or my church, as if the socializing part was play, but the evangelizing part is real work.

If part of my job as a pastor is to lead my congregation in evangelism, it means I cannot spend all of my time around church people doing ministry as a job. I also need to be doing the ministry I enjoy: joining clubs, taking classes, participating in book groups, going to parties, or playing dominoes in the park. Not only is this part of self-care, it’s part of ministry! If I played golf, I’d need to be out on the golf course.

Ministry doesn’t always mean bearing a cross. It can also mean bearing a light burden. Evangelism often means doing the things I love that help me come into contact with the people Jesus loves. It is such a relief to hear this good news about sharing the Good News.

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