The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (via elca.org)
I sometimes question what the word “evangelical” means in the ELCA. Quite often when the word evangelical is used many picture a crazy man on a street corner screaming Bible verses at people. Another image that is used is a number of older members of a congregation that call themselves an evangelism committee. These committee’s typically sit around complaining about why there is not enough people in church instead of ideas of how to spread God’s word to the world.
So what does it mean to be evangelical?
The ELCA is a church that is confident in God’s grace. Those who belong to the ELCA believe that to be evangelical means that people are dedicated to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and this is done through intentional conversations, not through insulting preaching.
The ELCA’s tag line is “God’s Work. Our Hands” This means that the work that is being done throughout the ELCA is to let people know that there are people in the world who passionately care about serving God and helping one another.Evangelical means centered in the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet
But still when many people hear the word evangelical images of conservative Christians, fundamentals or the “religious right” come to mind. But I believe that can change. I think that the ELCA chose to use this word because it pushes the members of the ELCA out of their comfort zones to experiment and to engage the community they belong too, but at the same time they can remain faithful to their heritage and theology.
Lutheran theology is centered in grace, God’s unconditional love for us. Grace means that everything begins with God. An image that I hold on too is when Peter starts to walk on the water towards Jesus he loses his sight and begins to sink. But Jesus pulls Peter out of the water to safety.
We commonly take our eyes off of Jesus, we try to hold onto our good works, our behavior of being holy and spiritual. But the thing is God loves and accepts us unconditionally. There is nothing that we can do to separate ourselves from God. Our faith, our service and our good works are a response to God’s gracious initiative, not the way to earn it.Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words - St. Francis Assisi Click To Tweet
Here are three ways you can be evangelical
- Learn more about your faith. To be evangelical you need to know what you are communicating to someone else. To learn more about your faith you can go to church, attend Bible studies, pray, read scripture and have conversations with your pastor or church friends. The more you know about your faith, the more you can share with other people!
- Invite. Invite your friends and family to church, help them experience the worship service and then take them out to lunch and talk with them about their experience (you can invite your pastor too!). Or if inviting them to church is too much, invite them over to dinner or out for coffee and talk with them about their faith. People want to talk about their faith, or they have questions about their faith and but many times they don’t know where to go and ask about it. Start the conversation!
- Share. Tell a story or an experience you have had in connection to your faith. Tell about the time you saw the acolyte catch his hair on fire, or tell about the sermon that touched your heart. People love to hear stories and then they can be inspired to share their stories.
To be evangelical is not to force our beliefs on someone else, but to learn more about our faith, to invite others to experience their faith and to share about our own faith. At the forefront of all these conversations is the good news of God’s unconditional love and grace for all people.