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Teasdale urges Conference to move beyond fears of evangelism

By: Rev. Eric Van Meter, DWU campus pastor

Faithful evangelism is not a matter of technical skill, but of reflection, awareness, and formation. This according to Dr. Mark Teasdale, who addressed the Dakotas Annual Conference with “Evangelism for Non-evangelists” in two teaching sessions on Friday. 

“Evangelism is not about best practices or getting the right formula,” Teasdale said. “It is primarily about formation—being formed as those in the Good News who therefore flow out with the Good News.”

Teasdale acknowledged that many people of faith are afraid of evangelism, and that such fear is often rooted in negative past experiences. But, he argued, evangelism is something every Christian—not just those with specific giftings—is capable of doing. 

According to Teasdale, the E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor of Evangelism at Garret Evangelical Seminary, evangelism begins with positive experiences with Jesus, both shared and personal. 

“Your starting point includes how you make sense of the universe,” he said. “It is a window through which you see the good story of Jesus Christ that interprets all other stories.”

Although experience may provide the starting point, evangelism must also include intentional theological reflection. Aspiring evangelists must interact with Christian tradition in order to articulate their understanding of God—who God is, what God does, and how human beings should respond.

The desired outcome for evangelism may take many forms, including increased church attendance, social advocacy, and meeting immediate physical needs. Tragically, the American church has separated abundant life into various emphases that we treat as mutually exclusive. At its core, however, all evangelism is about the conquest of life over death, both in this world and the world to come. 

“We can work together on this,” Teasdale said. “We are on the same team. It’s time we get over ourselves in having such a reductionist view of God’s salvation. We can all celebrate what each other is doing. We can honor each other and be grateful for it.”

In his afternoon session, Teasdale focused on contextual awareness as the key to making us meaningful to others. We have to pay attention to cultural values, social structures, individual personalities, and communities people join if we are to understand the context in which evangelism happens. 

Effective evangelism means addressing the context authentically. Teasdale identifies four primary styles of evangelism: proclamation, process, presence, and events. Different people will approach the task of evangelism based largely on which of these resonates most with them.

But, he cautions, evangelism must remain creative in order to be dynamic. To be evangelistic, an activity must share the abundant life of God through Jesus Christ and invite others to participate in it without engaging in stereotyping. 

Practically speaking, Teasdale urged members of the annual conference not to be held back by fear, but to find the intersections which provide opportunities for sharing Christ’s life. And, he noted, research suggests that most people are quite willing to discuss authentic faith with their friends—even though only 35% of unchurched people report anyone ever sharing their faith with them. 

“The issue is not that people are unwilling to receive,” Teasdale said. “It is that we are unwilling to share.” 

UMC

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