There was a time in my life when I saw evangelism as the central task of church life. I read books and attended conferences. My sermons regularly highlighted the importance of sharing the good news. Churches and Christian groups I led would advertise family-friendly programs that aimed to draw in neighbors and friends. In everything we did, I wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for people to come to faith.
As I look back at it now, I see a whole lot of bait-and-switch tactics designed to draw people in and give them something they wanted before preaching sin and forgiveness. While participation in the first part was not entirely contingent upon reception of the second part, there was this unspoken expectation that made things a bit awkward when the good news did not sound all that good to the people we shared with.
In the end, the whole thing was about using power to accomplish a perceived good. That is because power is ultimately about control and control often involves manipulation. Whether we set up a huge table at a brewpub to celebrate the tapping of a new batch of beer or made sure the Vacation Bible School water balloon fights were nothing less than epic, the setup for evangelism always sought to manipulate our audience, making them receptive to whatever came next.
To make it even worse, our understanding of the Gospel at the time was an exercise in shame manipulation. First, we would stir it up, leaning into that voice in all of us that tells us we are broken. Then we would go on to how much our brokenness offends a righteous god. Then came the “good news” of god unleashing that offense of Jesus rather than us. All of it missed the point of what fishing looks like on the other side of Easter. So what does Easter-style evangelism look like?
Evangelism and Fishing
John’s story of Jesus closes with the disciples right back where Jesus initially found some of them, fishing (John 21:1-3). They’d been out all night, doing what they had always known, but for whatever reason, the fish stayed clear of their nets. Whether it was bait-and-hook or just dragging the nets, the fish knew to stay away. Then Jesus tells them to cast the nets on the other side of the boat. What follows is hard to describe as catching fish. Instead, it was more like one-hundred and fifty-three fish diving into the nets. There is no need for evangelism tactics and tricks here, these fish want to be caught.
If the Church is busy being the Church, there will be two responses. One group, the oppressed and marginalized masses will flock to a faith that offers inclusion, liberation, and dignity. That is evangelism after Easter.
The other response will come from the powerful, and they will do anything and everything they can to stop the Gospel in its tracks. That is why the crucified Jesus. It is why Jesus foreshadows the Apostle Peter’s death (John 21:18-19). They will even go so far as to infiltrate the faith and turn evangelism from something that just happens to a power-laden tactic.
I have to wonder how we, as spiritual misfits, since we rarely find ourselves at home in a faith community, can live out evangelism after Easter?