The Lord Jesus sets forth a plan for evangelization that is not just some sort of haphazard, shoot from the hip program in which he wanders about aimlessly. Rather, he had a plan to visit specific cities at specific times. And for each visit, He sent an entourage ahead of Him to prepare the town for His visit and to arrange for the necessary preliminaries. The texts says quite clearly, At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit (Luke 10:1).
Now these lead teams, these evangelizers, received seven basic instructions from the Lord on how to evangelize effectively. These seven basic habits are also for us, who have receive the mandate to evangelize (cf Matt 28: 19). Let’s look at them briefly.
1. Supplication – Jesus said, The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Hence before any effective evangelizing takes place, there must be prayer. In my own parish we are preparing to go out two-by-two in the fall. Prior to this we have prayed for over a year. We’ve held Eucharistic holy hours and prayed at both Mass and Bible Study for a fruitful team of laborers sent, not by man, but by God. On Pentecost Sunday, fifty people signed up to walk door-to-door. They are the fruit of prayer. So step one for effective evangelization is to have a praying community asking for laborers. When we go door-to-door, fifty others have signed up to stay in Church and pray as we walk. Habit one: pray!
2. Sobriety – The Lord tells them, Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3). We do have to be sober about the fact that we are in a world that is both critical of and hostile to our faith. We are bound to experience persecution, ridicule, anger, misunderstanding, misinterpretation, misrepresentation and just plain animosity. That we experience the world’s hatred or anger does not mean we have done anything wrong. The Lord was clear that the hatred of the world was a sign of true discipleship: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (John 15:18-20). Too many Christians today want the world to like them, and they think that holiness is about winning a popularity contest and being “nice.” Well the fact is that Jesus did not end up on the cross by winning a popularity contest or being nice. He had enemies and so do we. But we are not to hate them; we are to love them. We have to be sober about accepting some degree of hatred from the world. And to those who have won the popularity contest and have no enemies Jesus warns, Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26). The true disciple and evangelizer will experience some degree of hatred, anger, and scorn. We do not look for a fight, but hatred will come our way. An old spiritual says, “I been ‘buked and I been scorned. I been talked ’bout sure’s yo’ born.”
3. Simplicity – The Lord tells us to travel light: Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way (Luke 10:4). We are to bring nothing along that will weigh us down or hinder us in our tasks. The fact is that we all have a lot of baggage in this life that hinders us from the more important work of evangelizing our family and others. Too many parents barely know their children because they work long hours at jobs to maintain a lifestyle that is too expensive. On top of this we add endless projects and pursuits that keep us running all over God’s green acre. Though perhaps good in themselves, these pursuits become too much of a good thing and we end up barely knowing the first people we are to evangelize: our children. The Lord says that we should lighten up, simplify, and make do with less. First, take care of what is most important: God, family, parish, and community. Learn to prioritize and to say “no” when necessary. The bottom line is that we have too much baggage and too many distractions, and thus the Gospel goes unlived and unpreached. The unusual instruction from Jesus, “Greet no one along the way,” means that we ought not allow any relationship to hinder us either. There are folks who can sidetrack us and impede our progress and we ought to limit such contacts (charitably, of course).
4. Serenity – The Lord says, Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household’ (Luke 10:5). Though the world may be hostile at times, the Lord tells us that upon entering into any place we should say, “Peace to the his household.” We do not go forth with hostility but with a serene joy and love. We must love those to whom we announce the Gospel. We are to radiate a serene confidence, joy, and peace. We are not picking a fight or trying to win an argument. If we need to clarify a misunderstanding someone has, we ought to do so peacefully and with serene confidence. Because we are confident in the truth, we are serene in it. Shalom, peace is at our core, not hostility or aggressiveness.
5. Stability – The Lord instructs us, Stay in the same house … Do not move about from one house to another (Luke 10:7). Thus the Lord tells us to find our place and stay there. In the end, the best evangelization takes place where there are deep relationships. But deep relationships cannot exist when we are running all over the place and relating to others only superficially. We ought to stay put more with family, parish, and community and put down deep roots. Too many people barely know their own family. No wonder the faith is not passed on in the diffuse, rushed, sporadic climate of the family. Find home and stay there routinely. Build deep relationships.
6. Sensitivity – The Lord says, Eat and drink what is offered to you, … cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you’ (Luke 10:8-9). In other words, the Lord counsels simple human kindness: do not complain about unnecessary things like the quality of food, or matters of preference. Further, He counsels that we have a charge to bring healing and help to others. And although we may cure the sick by physical means, the kind of healing necessary is often more emotional and spiritual in nature. We ought to manifest care for others. Even the simple act of listening to someone can bring great healing. Without simple human kindness, declaring that the Kingdom of God is at hand can seem not only to be an empty statement, but it can even make the Kingdom seem odious. To say to others that the Kingdom of God is at hand means that they can start living a whole new life. We ought then to manifest kindness and bring forth cures by helping people find wholeness and healing from the many blows this world inflicts. The Kingdom of God is not only about doctrine, it is also about healing, holiness, and the wholeness that comes from them.
7. Soulful Joy – The disciples returned with great joy and the Lord celebrates with them and helps to deepen their joy. There is nothing worse than a sour-faced saint or a bored believer. In the end, the greatest evangelization can be achieved by manifesting a joy at what God is doing in our lives. This joy is not necessarily a sentimental, emotional joy, but rather a deeper, more serene joy rooted in confidence, hope, and love. Do people see you in this way? If they do, the ground is fertile for evangelization. St. Peter says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). Now of course giving an answer presupposes that someone notices the hope and joy in us, and in noticing this asks the reason. Does anyone notice this about you?
So then here are seven habits of divinely inspired evangelizers as taught by the Lord himself.