“According to a recent Evangelical Alliance survey of 17,000 UK evangelical Christians, the older we are in years and faith, the less likely we are to share our beliefs. This survey, 21st Century Evangelicals, also showed that although 90% of us are convinced that we should be active in evangelism, the likelihood that we will speak to anyone this month about God is no more than 60%. The survey confirmed what many of us already feel: evangelism is important – but it just isn’t happening.”
“Why is it so difficult to talk about the most central and significant part of our lives? Why do so many of us feel timid, but appear arrogant? Or feel unqualified, but appear Biblebashing? What does evangelism need to look like to be biblically faithful and culturally relevant, an integral and inspirational part of our walk with God, and a natural part of our relationships with others?”
“Evangelism doesn’t have to mean arm-twisting our neighbours into attending church meetings, or forcing our colleagues to come to terms with their own mortality in their coffee break. Evangelism doesn’t have to be formulaic, middle class, manipulative or misleading. Evangelism doesn’t have to be a war of words or wills. Evangelism should not be a chore, a challenge – or a choice.” As we will see, “Evangelism Jesus-style is for all his disciples as we live authentic, humble lives.”
So, how do people become Christians? Well, there are many different ways. No two people have the same story. Many people are brought up in the church. They are evangelised and nurtured through their family and through all the contacts within the church that they have as they grow up. Some lapse away from church and then come back to a living faith later in life. Others stay as part of the church but are still not really sure what they believe. Others come into contact with the God and the claims of the gospel through all sorts of circumstances, things as varied as moving house, losing a loved one, reading a book, the birth of a child, chatting to a friend, or looking into a star filled sky. Something happens to open people up to the possibility of God, and so begins the journey of discovery that we call coming to faith in Jesus Christ. But one thing is common to every story, and that is the presence and the loving purposes of God. God is the evangelist. God is the one who calls people. God is the one who is known to people though Jesus Christ.
Our job as the church isn’t to convert people – only God can do that – but to allow God to use us in his constant desire to make Christ known to everyone. We do this by trying to live Christ-like lives, by serving our local communities, by providing opportunities for people to find out about the Christian faith, and by sharing the story of our own faith and the story of Jesus. This intentional ministry of witnessing to Christ and helping people make the journey of faith is what the church calls evangelism.
Our Text for 2014 (Colossians 4. 5 – 6) sets this out when it says: “Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have. Your speech should always be pleasant and interesting, and you should know how to give the right answer to everyone.”
This text says that mission and evangelism is about our actions and about our words. To combine these two as our Text for 2014 suggests we just need to rediscover something of our Lord Jesus: “Jesus demonstrated the good news of God in his actions centering on his life, death and resurrection, but also in the way he touched lepers, challenged hypocrisy, fed the hungry and healed the sick.
Jesus’ perfect actions spoke louder than our words ever could. But he didn’t stop there – he explained his actions, finding the right words for the right people and modelling for us the fact that, just as we push back the boundaries of social action, equally we need to be pushing back the boundaries of our conversations.
Sometimes Jesus told a story, sometimes he engaged in discussion, sometimes he reminded people of Old Testament ideas, sometimes preaching, sometimes provoking, sometimes walking away with a punchline. He never used long words, he was never patronising. He was always accessible, always loving, always gracious ... Evangelism Jesus-style is for all his disciples as we live authentic, humble lives.”
Now, there are some who are natural at sharing the gospel, but most of us need help to develop our skills. When it comes to evangelism we have the advantage that God himself is the Evangelist. He wants people everywhere to know his love for them through Christ and he invites us to join with him in this work. For many of us, as we have seen, the thought of speaking about our faith is not natural yet, at the same time we long for our friends, neighbours or relatives, to discover Christ for themselves.
In 2014 the Diocese of Chelmsford will celebrate 100 years of faithful service to Essex and East London. 2014 will be a great time to celebrate the hope which our churches have shared in the living Christ over our first 100 years and to commit to our next 100 years together. Bishop Stephen wants every parish in the diocese to: put on a Mission Weekend as part of the centenary celebrations; try to do one thing in evangelism it has never done before; and have in place a small team of people who have had some training and experience in evangelism. Also in 2014, by working in partnership with churches across London, Crossing London hopes to provide, during Autumn 2014, an opportunity for 10,000+ residents in London and the Home Counties to make a faith commitment and then to grow as disciples of Jesus. Both initiatives encourage us to share our faith with people on the fringe or outside of church and there is training, resources and financial support on offer so that we might make connections and evangelise more effectively in our area.
Do you want your Church to reach people in your parish or benefice more effectively? Do you want people you are in touch with through work or leisure to be transformed through the presence of Christ? Do you want to witness the change that happens when the Kingdom of God breaks into your network and community?
If so, then all of us have a part to play. Some will have a specific gift and calling to share the message of Christ. Others will play their part just by being enabled to talk about their faith with colleagues, friends and neighbours. Some will run groups to help people find out about the Christian faith. Others will play a supportive role, offering hospitality and friendship.
We need to find new ways of connecting with people and sharing with them the gospel of Jesus Christ because it is laid upon us to 'proclaim the faith afresh in each generation'. So, we need this ministry of evangelism to be as normal a part of parish life as worship on Sundays. For without an on-going ministry of evangelism we will fail in our responsibility to answer the call that Jesus gives us at the end of Matthew’s gospel “to make disciples.” And if we are not making and growing disciples all the others things we long to do to make a difference in the world will falter.
John Tavener - Ikon Of Light.