IMAGE-BEARING and EVANGELISM in a global pandemic

Bearing God’s image implies a significance and status that some scholars equate to royalty.[1] Indeed, God directed humans to subdue and rule over the earth (Gen 1:28) and the way humans rule indicates the fullness of God’s image within them.[2] The pandemic has caused most church doors to close, as quarantines have swept across the globe. Some believe the restrictions will cause a decline in church growth and on evangelism itself. Has evangelism become so tied to physical church buildings that quarantine threatens the Great Commission? Or is the global pandemic a reminder that the Holy Spirit cannot be contained by walls?

As image bearers, humans have access to divine attributes and purpose, but must choose to orient our lives around God’s purpose instead of our own. We must choose to make decisions through the lens of the two Great Commandments.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matt 22:36-40, NRSV

Van Pelt Campbell connects the pursuit of common good directly to the image of God in humanity.[3] He suggests that Christians have the opportunity to provide this world with a glimpse of what is to come when God reigns again on earth.[4] And this is a reminder that each and every choice we make has a spiritual implication. “Any task performed to steward creation, to harness its power for God’s glory and the benefit of fellow imagers, and to foster in the harmonious productivity of fellow imagers, is imaging God.” [5]

The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and communities empowers us to make ethical choices, aligned with our true nature. Evangelism happens when we spread the gospel and when we choose to live the Greatest Commandments. When we do it right, evangelism becomes “true worship that not only entices the soul to develop a deeper relationship with God but also electrifies the believer’s heart to action that multiplies God’s kingdom.”[7]

Spiritual Guidance and Connection

In a world that feels isolating and disconnected, the Spirit still works in and through believers, guiding and connecting the body of Christ. First, the Spirit guides believers. We see this in Acts 16, when Paul carefully charted out his journey and destination, only to have his plans altered three times by the Spirit (vs 6-11).[8] Similarly, when we allow the Holy Spirit to take over the navigation of our lives, we have confidence that we will minister to the people God has placed in our path.

Second, the Spirit enables connections within the body of Christ, locally and globally. In Ephesians 4, Paul describes how the parts of the body of Christ join together,  in submission to the head of the body, who is Jesus Christ (Eph 4:15-16). We play an individual role within the body of Christ, but we make a global impact when we join in community. In her book The Disciple, Lucy Peppiatt argues that we cannot live independently as Christians, because our identities are not individualistic, but formed in community. She writes, “We do not possess this identity as individuals, but only collectively, and we are given this identity in order to be a witness to the character of God and the truth of Jesus in this word.”[9] As we each draw closer to one another and to the Holy Spirit, our place and purpose becomes more clear. She says, “This is not just about ‘me and Jesus.’ This is about who we are together in Christ.”[10]

Global engagement is best supported through a Spirit-led collection of unique individuals who join together on purpose and for a purpose.

Evangelism During a Pandemic

Over the last year our ability to connect has been thwarted by the pandemic. What happens to evangelism in a time period when churches are closed, and we are encouraged to stay in our homes as much as possible? Our response to that question has a lot to do with our view of the Spirit’s role in evangelism.

Some church leaders rely on a people-powered, assembly line evangelism model. They build systems and processes that attract new believers in great numbers, converting many to volunteers. They train those volunteers quickly, deploying them in a constant cycle of disciple making.[12] It can feel like an evangelism assembly line. While that model may fuel large attendance numbers, it does not support depth of spiritual formation. My experience is that without depth of discipleship, engagement suffers and attendance drops.

When I think about Paul in Acts 16, I imagine he was confident with the travel itinerary he created. He charted his journey, packed his bag, and set off to his intended destination. He wasn’t so set in his ways that he missed the Spirit’s movement. Paul planned to evangelize one way, and allowed God to redirect him.[13] In his exhaustive work on Paul’s understanding of the Holy Spirit, Gordon Fee writes, “We are not left on our own as far as our relationship with God is concerned: neither are we left on our own to ‘slug it out in the trenches,’ as it were, with regard to the Christian life. Life in the present is empowered by the God who dwells among us and in us.”[14]

Evangelism may look much different today than it did pre-pandemic. The reality is that some local churches may never open their doors again. Still, the Holy Spirit will work in and through us, and continue to transform hearts and lives. The same power that hovered over the waters in the beginning (Gen 1:2), and was unleashed at Pentecost (Acts 2) , will form a deep connection with us during this global crisis.


[1] Richard J. Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 27.

[2] Richard Averbeck, “Worship and Spiritual Formation,” in Foundations of Spiritual Formation: A Community Approach to Becoming Like Christ, ed. Paul Pettit (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), 53.

[3] George Van Pelt Campbell, “A Biblical Theology of the Common Good,” Bibliotheca Sacra 172, no. 686 (April – June 2015): 139.

[4] Van Pelt Campbell, “A Biblical Theology of the Common Good,” 139.

[5] Heiser, “Image of God.”

[7] David Wheeler and Vernon M. Whaley, The Great Commission to Worship: Biblical Principles for Worship-Based Evangelism (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2011), 21.

[8] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019).

[9] Lucy Peppiatt, The Disciple: On Becoming Truly Human (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012), 108.

[10]Peppiatt, The Disciple, 58.

[12] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 166.

[13] Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 1983), 398.

[14]Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 8.

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