“Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words” is a quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. This quote, whether or not St. Francis was actually the first to pen it, it is well-known in the conversation over the nature of evangelism. Do we evangelize through our words, or through our actions? Do we go out proclaim the gospel to strangers with our lips, or do we reach people through service and acts of kindness? Craig Borlase wrote an article for Neue Magazine about this topic, and he begins with this anecdote:
How we communicate with people about our faith is an issue that divides us. Some see it as the potential cause of every good thing—that if we just communicate correctly, then we will have gotten Christianity pretty much right. Others see it more as the symptom—that if we’ve got the internals sorted out in our relationship with God, then the way in which we relate to others will flow well as a result. I remember the worst words my friends have ever said to me. We were sitting in some restaurant somewhere, and I had finished my usual dribbling about What Christianity Means to Me.
“The thing we like about your faith, Craig …” Vincent paused for a drink while I sat back ready to take the compliment. What would it be? Was he about to praise the freshness of my insight? Could it be the way in which I was so rooted in both contemporary culture and ancient Scripture? Or was it simply the fact that I was such an example of purity and—yes, I could say it—humility?
“The thing we like about your faith,” Vincent repeated, “is that it actually doesn’t seem to make any significant difference to your life at all.”
There was not much to say to a statement like that. I just sat there, my mouth a cross between a smile and that strange twisting thing it does before you’re sick.
From there, Craig goes on to examine this dualistic understanding of evangelism: the idea that either it is something you do by just talking, or it is something you do mainly through actions, and he points out that the either/or dichotomy is a false dichotomy. Evangelism needs to take a both/and approach. He writes:
If this either/or is a false opposition, then there is one other way forward that we might look at. I heard someone once call it integral mission, and I only narrowly avoided losing consciousness through lack of interest. But through the haze I caught word of something that seemed like it might offer a way forward. It was the idea that as Christians we must care for the whole of the person, not just part. That means their physical as well as emotional needs, their relationship with God and their relationships on earth. Food, clothing, education, wholeness, faith—these are the issues in people that we must all address. They require us to break out of the molds.
I encourage you to read his whole article here, as it offers great insight into the mission of the church and what it means to preach the gospel through word and deed.