By David Schoen
This Bible verse, "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God for salvation ..." (Romans 1:16), was a good confirmation verse for my father, Victor Schoen. I think a lot about Dad this spring on the anniversary of his death a year ago in April. I remember Dad as a new church planter and church pastor who witnessed with great enthusiasm for the gospel. In every event and moment, including worship, meetings, Christian Education classes, community activities, social witness, camp gatherings, meals, and even on vacation, Dad shared his faith in Jesus Christ and his joy in the community of faith with an exuberance that was downright embarrassing at times. He was all about evangelism.
I learned many things from my father, but the one thing I now especially realize in my faith and ministry is that "it's all about evangelism." In my work with local congregations, more than ever I recognize that vital, faithful and dynamic congregations enthusiastically live evangelism as their core value.
Today's evangelism, following Christ's call to go forth into the world and responding to the spiritual hunger of the crowd, is outreach-focused and missiondriven. Social and personal transformation are united in congregations that make a difference in lives of individuals and in the world. Such churches find ways to address people's needs not only in worship, but in ministry throughout the week. Churches that are dynamic are filled with people who are encouraged to discover and use their gifts for ministry. Denominations that are expanding in outreach are filled with congregations that are excited about starting worship opportunities and new congregations. They encourage pro-active ministries that invite, welcome and speak to today's diverse, multicultural, multiracial, unchurched, disaffected, challenging, yet hungering and hurting world.
Many of today's spiritual seekers yearn for the very values and vision of the United Church of Christ, including the wide embrace and welcome of all; biblical understanding based on freedom of inquiry and thought; passionate commitment to reconciliation and unity; and community based on justice and mission.
"We can embrace and bring in and invite a wider array of people and understanding," says the Rev. Eric Elnes in the new video, "It's All About Evangelism," "because we have a faith that's broad enough and deep enough to inspire us to do that. It's about human lives, changing lives one by one."
I give thanks for the memory and witness of my father and all who have been evangelists to me. I rejoice in the spirit of evangelism that I see growing among congregations today. Is evangelism a core value in your life and congregation? I invite you to join me to claim the calling, as Mortimer Arias writes, that "Evangelism is the task of each generation—to incarnate the gospel in their own time."
The Rev. David Schoen is Minister and Team Leader of the UCC's Evangelism Ministry Team.