I wanted to write really briefly about evangelism and how my understanding of it has gradually changed – or rather, dropped into place, over the last few years.
For much of my Christian life, evangelism has been something that hadn’t been done unless you felt horribly embarrassed and somehow violated after the experience. And having done it, it was something you avoided for some time since you naturally felt that, after pain like that, you’d done your duty somehow so it wasn’t your turn again just yet.
However, reality being in stark opposition – if I think about the people I actually know who’ve become Christian, one thing stands out like a dog’s hind leg – each of them made a commitment as a direct integral result of their involvement and experience of loving Christian community. I don’t remember anyone becoming a Christian ever through any form of street witness, or door knocking, or even as a direct result of preaching. Each time it was about love, and what they saw in us.
Thinking about Jim*, who lived at University residences with me and our active Christian group. As a group, somehow we naturally befriended Jim – some people found him hard to be around, but we loved his realness and honesty. Jim pretty much bailed us up in a corner one day and said he wanted to become a Christian now, and demanded to know how it all worked. Much later he told us that the reason he’d become a Christian was because we’d been willing to genuinely love and include him. Fast forward to now, and Jim still has a strong faith. For us at the time, Jim was the first, but he was the first of many, all of whom responded to natural involvement in loving community in a residential situation. That group grew from an initial 4 to something like 35 after only two years.
Another story that imprinted itself firmly was the story of Sally Smith’s little church in London. In the midst of a refugee crisis, Sally, an Anglican minister, found her church stockpiling shoes and clothes and actively helping refugees with what they needed, including food and a warm place to sleep. From a genuine desire to help and from the very real work that they were doing, they found that organically refugees were becoming Christians at the rate of 3-4 a week. (Link below) This is an example of love and community bearing fruit. Interestingly, quite a number of the existing members found the transformation of their church difficult to deal with and started complaining. Sally’s response? “that’s what we’re called to”.
|“I have lost lots of congregation members because of what has happened at the church. They don’t want the hassle and they don’t want the church being messed up. They see the church as having a very definite role and opening the doors to refugees isn’t one of them.”|
She adds: “They expected a vicar’s role to be looking after the people inside the church and one of the insults often levelled at me is: ‘She cares more about the people outside the church than those inside.’ Well, this is what I am meant to be doing and you’re meant to be doing it with me. We should be doing this together.” — Sally Smith, Church of England minister, London
It’s always amused me that we often think that the primary evangelistic gift is that of public speaking; I think however in reality the most important gift here is that of hospitality. Hospitality opens so many doors; oftentimes things have happened over some shared simple food, or over coffee, or having a laugh and including people around us in different activities – if you like, doing life together, sharing our hearts, being real and letting others know we’re human and that we hurt, struggle, rejoice and laugh just like them.
It’s been really weird for me lately – after something like 10 years away from being an active Christian, I’ve become excited about my faith again. It’s surprised me how many conversations have been happening naturally before I even realize what’s happening. I wonder whether one of the keys here for me has been actually being genuinely excited about what I believe.
So my question is – have we experienced Christ ourselves? I don’t mean in the “bla bla have you accepted him” way that has probably happened for all of us, I mean, what has our experience been in the areas where we fundamentally struggle most and feel least safe? One thing that occurs to me is that the level we’ve let Christ into our lives will naturally express itself in people around us getting curious. If you remember we worship a God who is so compelling that hardened fishermen pretty much dropped everything and charged off after him (Mt 4:20 etc). May we believe and live out our lives in the presence of such a compelling and intriguing God, with such deep acceptance and love, that our transformation is the same as these fishermen that went on to change the world.
Finally another quick thought – it’s not just about “making people into Christians” (shudder). Ultimately it’s about keeping people alive in their faith and alive in their lives. Anything less is dry dust.
May we simply become infectious through our authenticity, love and community, and perhaps the rest will just fall into place as we need it. This seems to be how the early church became incendiary.
- For his privacy, Jim’s name has been changed