Debunking Myths around Evangelization (Part I)
In anticipation of our upcoming Saturday workshop on evangelization at Most Precious Blood parish on October 22nd, we present the below blog from the instructor as a preview of the material. CLICK HERE to learn more and to register.
First, let me begin with a confession. If you were to tell me 10 years ago that the focus of my professional career would be evangelization, I would have “laughed you to scorn” (Ps 2:4). I had no intention of evangelizing, making evangelization the focus of my ministry, or, let alone, the title of my day job. I was intimidated by it, and I felt totally unequipped to do it. I would hear the occasional homily about the importance of sharing the faith with those who don’t believe and slowly sink down in the pew so the priest couldn’t make eye contact with me. I knew deep down that it was important and I felt guilty for never doing much about it.
I’m guessing you may be able to relate. You’ve probably heard the homilies encouraging you to share your faith. You, like me, probably understand deep down that God is calling you to be more active in sharing your faith. Yet, you may feel intimidated by the idea of evangelization or may not feel like you “know enough” to share your faith.
I’m here with good news! What made all the difference in my life was someone helping me understand what the Church really means when she talks about evangelization. I’ve found in my work in parishes and with various clergy and lay leaders that there are a handful of deeply rooted misconceptions about the nature of evangelization. These misconceptions paralyze us from the work of evangelization because they leave us feeling intimidated, afraid, or even repulsed by the idea of sharing our faith. These misconceptions can paint a mental picture for us of a task that is ineffective and offensive to many people (something like a street corner preacher). My hope is that naming some of these common misconceptions can help you realize that evangelization is not as scary or unapproachable as it seems, and give you the confidence to begin sharing your faith more frequently. Over the course of a few articles I’d like to break down some of the most common misconceptions I’ve found in my work as Director of Evangelization for the Archdiocese.
Misconception 1: Convince vs Invite
One the most common responses I hear when I ask people why they don’t evangelize more is, “I don’t feel like I know enough to evangelize”. When I ask more questions and dig into that response with people, I almost always find this fundamental misconception. We mistakenly believe that evangelization is primarily an act of “convincing” someone of the truth of our belief system and getting them to agree to believe what we believe.
If evangelization was about convincing someone on an intellectual level to agree to the belief system of a religion, we would indeed need to know a certain amount of theology and apologetics to be successful.
However, evangelization is not about convincing someone. It’s about sharing an invitation with them.
There are two places in the New Testament that highlight this for us. The first place is the story of the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. This story is familiar to many of us. Think carefully about the ending of that story. What does this woman do to spread the faith to her entire town?
Was it a masterfully crafted theological treatise? No! In fact, this may surprise you, but she actually had incorrect theology! Jesus had to correct her on a point of liturgical theology (where is the proper place to worship) during their interaction.
If she didn’t convince her neighbors with a well thought out argument, how did she spread the faith single handedly to her entire village?
Through her testimony and the sharing of an invitation.
She says, “Come and see a man who told me all that I ever did” (John 4:29). No one would have listened to her if she had tried to argue theology with them (and I think we all agree and feel the same thing about our own life). She approaches them with vulnerability, sincerity and without compulsion. How did she have the courage to share the invitation? She had a life changing encounter with Jesus. She had actually met Jesus and knew she could invite others to come and meet him also.
If you’ve met Jesus, you can invite others to meet him too!
One final place from scripture that brings this into clear focus is the parable of the marriage feast. In Matthew chapter 22 Jesus tells a parable about a king who gives a wedding feast for his son. The allegory in this parable is clear: the Father is the king, Jesus is his Son, and the wedding feast is heaven. Pay attention to the details of this story, for what does the king send his servants out to do? Not have a public debate to argue the benefits of attending this marriage feast! They were sent out simply to share the invitation and call the people to the feast. Even in his parables, Jesus himself refers to the sharing of the faith as the action of sharing an invitation, and a wedding invitation at that!
Think of the joy that is associated with the sharing of an invitation to join a wedding. If you’ve been invited to weddings in the past, think of the joy and excitement with which you received that invitation. If you’ve been the one sharing the invitation, consider how easy and joyful it is to share that invitation.
Jesus is telling us that evangelization is meant to be like this. We should be filled with joy and excitement to share the invitation to the King’s wedding feast. We should have no fear and not be burdened by the misconception that it’s our job to “convince” or “argue” people’s way into heaven.
Jesus, give us the grace to hear again your invitation to us, an invitation of love, so that we would have the confidence and joy to share that invitation with others!
If this article helped you feel more hopeful about the prospect of sharing your faith, I invite you to join me for a morning of conversations like this. I will be hosting a workshop on “relational evangelization” on October 22nd at Most Precious Blood parish. CLICK HERE for more information and to register for this workshop. Come to be equipped to share the faith in your circle of influence!