I find it highly interesting that when we examine the work of the New Testament, we not only find a map for our lives but a field manual for evangelization.
And when I say that, I know that I surprise some people.
That’s because for many Catholics evangelization is a new thing, something that has come into existence around the same time that it was first mentioned by their deacon in a homily, or by a fellow participant in a parish program that they recently attended. But the truth is that evangelization has been around for a very long time.
It was present when the prophets spoke about God’s plan to bring Zion home from exile, and it was present when the prophets conveyed God’s desire that the various nations should repent and change their ways. But in the New Testament, when Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were inspired to relate the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus, we the readers of the Bible not only received the message of the Good News, but also the building blocks of a method as well.
Now, if you’re like most people, then this is entirely new. So let’s take a brief look at just three lessons we can glean from this method to see if we too can put their wisdom into practice.
It’s Good News after all!
One of the pillars of the evangelical method in the New Testament is that the message the sacred authors wish to convey is ultimately good news.
When we examine the work of the New Testament, we not only find a map for our lives but also a field manual for evangelization.
Yes, we will be asked to change our lives.
Yes, we will be asked to speak and to do what we thought impossible at different times.
But in the end, God coming into our lives and Jesus walking among us is good tidings to those who hear it.
And how could it not be?
In the Gospels we read about people who are healed, others who are saved from demons, and an overwhelming majority who experience a freedom that they had never felt before.
In fact, the goodness of the message is so essential to the method that the two have literally become synonymous. After all, to spread the Good News is to evangelize, and those who spread it are evangelists.
So the question is, are you an evangelist?
When you speak about Jesus and His Church, does it sound good to those who hear you, or does it sound like a burden and a never ending task list?
Consider the audience.
Here is something else we notice when we examine the method of the New Testament authors and speakers: they are aware of their audience.
Perhaps that too sounds strange to you. After all, we sometimes get the impression that every sacred author, prophet, and preacher were speaking to all people and all time.
But the fact is, Matthew was very aware that he was writing for a Jewish audience, while Luke was writing for a non-Jewish audience, and so on.
And how do we know this?
Because the phrases they use and the examples they highlight are more convincing when read them with each respective audience in mind.
And we have to do this too.
It makes little to no sense sharing the Good News by way of urban cultural norms and expressions when our audience lives by rural cultural norms and expressions. If we are going to make real advancements for the Kingdom, then our method has to adapt to meet people where they are at socially, culturally, linguistically, and so on.
They thought about the order.
Finally, the New Testament authors and protagonists were very careful about the order in which they shared the Good News, and from what we can tell from the record, this was almost always determined by the audience standing in front of them.
For example, Matthew thought a genealogy linking Jesus back to the Jewish King David was a great way to get the attention of his Jewish listeners, essentially raising the question: could Jesus be the long awaited Messiah? They would have to read on to find out.
Luke thought a genealogy linking Jesus back to the first man and woman would be a better fit for his audience. After all, these were non-Jews that he was writing for. Of course, this raised the question: could this Jesus be the one to heal the broken family, the son that the father had sent to fix a vineyard gone astray? They would have to keep reading to find out.
And what about St. Paul, a contemporary of the evangelists?
Well, he too shows us an amazing ability to begin at different points when he confronts the men of Athens over their altar to the “unknown god.” (Acts 17)
You see, he and the others started with the state at which their hearers were in their belief. And because they did, evangelization bore much fruit.
Taken together, these three simple points form the building blocks of a method that can and certainly should be used today when you and I evangelize.
So remember to:
Keep the GOOD in the Good News.
Consider your audience, know them well, and change your words and examples if necessary.
Present the Good News in the order that will make the most sense to your listener.
Don’t just speak for the sake of speaking. The Word of God has a task to carry out. And when we are conveying the Gospel, that task is to bring others home.