The word “evangelization” comes from the Greek word “euangelion,” meaning good news or glad tidings.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News; it is the proclamation of Jesus as Messiah, Lord and Savior; the announcement of the reign of God; and the message of truth, hope, peace, promise, immortality and salvation.
Evangelization is to tell the story of Jesus; to introduce or reintroduce people to Jesus; to bring others to belief and help them to deepen their faith; and to proclaim, share and spread the Gospel message.
The greatest evangelizer
The Spirit of the Lord rested upon Jesus, and he was appointed to bring glad tidings to all (see Luke 4:18). Jesus came to proclaim the “gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), and he instructed his followers to continue his mission “to make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20).
Before Jesus ever spoke a word, he prepared himself with prayer. He spent 40 days in solitude in the desert — fasting, reading Scripture, in contemplation and in conversation with his Father. And, once properly grounded, he was able to speak with power and authority.
Then throughout his ministry, Jesus went off by himself over and over again to pray and renew his strength. If we hope to be evangelizers, we need to pray before we begin and then pray regularly — especially with Scripture and particularly with the Gospel — to the Holy Spirit, so we will be guided in when to speak, what to say and how to say it.
Jesus shared his Gospel in a warm and personal way. He was informative and down to earth. He told stories that held people’s attention and taught powerful lessons. He used familiar examples that were easy to understand. He gently invited people to listen.
He was pleasant and friendly, energetic and positive, not harsh or mean, not high pressured, aggressive or pushy. As his followers, we ought to imitate his style.
Jesus not only spoke, he performed many good works: He fed the hungry, embraced children and cured the sick. His good deeds were consistent with his words, expressed his compassion, proved his integrity and gave his Gospel greater force.
If we hope to be effective evangelizers, our words must be accompanied by many good deeds.
Near and far
Jesus began his outreach at home, but his scope extended far beyond his immediate area.
Jesus first proclaimed his Gospel in Nazareth, his hometown, and Capernaum, his home base for the initial portion of his ministry.
But, almost immediately, Jesus extended his reach, first to the region of Galilee, and eventually much farther, to Tyre and Sidon in modern-day Lebanon, to the Decapolis in modern-day Jordan, and to the region of Judea and the city of Jerusalem in central Israel.
Jesus may have traveled far, but there were many places he never visited: Europe and Africa, India and China.
If we take our cues from Jesus, evangelization begins at home with spouse and children, and then moves to our wider family and friends.
It extends to our parishes in prayer groups, Bible study, faith sharing and religious education. It expands to where we live and our next-door neighbors, and to where we shop, go to school and work.
It may even reach distant locations, other states or countries if we are able to travel. There will be many places that we will never visit, but wherever we go, the message of Jesus should be on the tip of our lips.
Jesus generated crowds, many with people who were eager listeners and became his followers, as well as others who were merely curious, some who rejected him and a few who bitterly opposed him.
His magnetism drew crowds at the door to his home, up and down the seashore, along a hillside and in the Temple precincts.
Yet, the people of Nazareth drove him out of town and intended to throw him over a cliff; the residents of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum did not repent; and after he explained that he is the Bread of Life, a number of his first followers declared, “This saying is hard” (John 6:60) and “no longer accompanied him” (John 6:66).
Jesus enjoyed tremendous success, but he also suffered bitter disappointments. Yet, he never let up. He was persistent, indomitable!
Like Jesus, some of our efforts to evangelize will be well received; others will be ignored or resisted. When we encounter trouble, we must persevere. The message is too important! Jesus has the words of everlasting life! (see John 6:68).
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.