Speaker: Evangelism Shouldn’t Be Feared

By LORETTA FULTON

As a junior in college, Priscilla Pope-Levison experienced what she called “friendship evangelism” that set her on a course to become what she is today– associate dean for external programs and professor of ministerial studies at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. 

The experience was so enriching for Pope-Levison that she, along with other Christians, was alarmed at the findings of a recent Barna study that showed that six in 10 Americans believe that any “attempt to convert others to one’s own faith is ‘extreme.’” Those are painful words to Pope-Levison, and she hopes her book, “Models for Evangelism,” will change some minds.

Pope-Levison was the guest speaker for the May 11 Intersections program presented by the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University. The program was hosted by Randy Harris. Carson Reed, executive director of the Siburt Institute and co-host of Intersections, was unavailable for the May 11 presentation.  

Priscilla Pope-Levison

In her book, Pope-Levison outlines eight models that can help church leaders make evangelism a part of the culture of their church. And those leaders don’t have to look outside their church for help–the people they need are sitting in the pews.

“If we take Paul at his word, the body of Christ has the spiritual gifts in its midst,” Pope-Levison said. “We just don’t always see it.”

A description from the publisher explains the structure of the book: “Each chapter introduces and assesses a model biblically, theologically, historically, and practically, allowing for easy comparison across the board. The book also includes end-of-chapter study questions to further help readers interact with each model.”

The Intersections program, “Inviting Others Into God’s Good News,” was the last for the academic year. New programs will resume with the beginning of the new school year. 

Pope-Levison’s book was published in October 2020 by Baker Academic. Books can be ordered through amazon.com or Baker Academic

The eight “Models of Evangelism” explored are: 

1. Personal
2. Small Group
3. Visitation
4. Liturgical
5. Church Growth
6. Prophetic
7. Revival
8. Media

Pope-Levison and her husband, Jack Levison, both teach in SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. Soon, they will be moving into a residence hall with 180 students as faculty-in-residence. It will be the perfect setting, Pope-Levison said, to put the small group model into practice.

“Of all the models,” Pope-Levison said, “that’s one that I really zero in on.”

Something that can be fixed immediately, Pope-Levison said, is to make sure your church is a welcoming place. She and her husband have lived in places all over the United States and abroad. Many times, the churches they visited weren’t welcoming. It wasn’t an intentional snub, but the couple felt that their presence had made no difference to the congregation. Hospitality is essential, Pope-Levison said, and a theme that she emphasizes.

“I just try to lift that up,” she said.

Pope-Levison cautioned that changing attitudes about evangelism and becoming comfortable with it isn’t easy or quick. Building relationships takes time, but the effort is worth it. One way to start is by inviting people into community. All humans have a need to be in a place where they are accepted and loved. Church should be such a place.

Based on her own experience with “friendship evangelism,” Pope-Levison knows that there is a need for effective and affirming evangelism. People may have been scared away from evangelism because of the negative perceptions of television evangelists or perhaps they had a bad experience themselves. 

But evangelism is in the Christian DNA, Pope-Levison said, and it should be. After all, the Christian story is one of Good News that needs to be shared. Finding a comfortable, effective way to do that is imperative, and Pope-Levison shares her ideas on ways to achieve that goal in her book.

“I want to help people see evangelism as not something to be feared,” she said. 

Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene

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