Saturday, July 29, 2006

Your mission should you choose to accept it

The last few days I have been helping out with what is generally called a Jesus Awareness week (or a mission week if you are in the UK).

The week has included lunch time talks around the theme of Who is Jesus and what would he say about various issues. "Who is Jesus" was written in chalk (this is allowed and we washed it off after) all over the campus. Across each day people were out giving flyers advertising the events, doing surveys to find out what students believed and having conversations about Christianity off of the surveys. In the evenings people had friends round for meals and shared testimonies, a couple of nights we gave away pancakes and chatted with folk about Jesus as we were asked why we were giving away pancakes. On the final day both the lunch time and evening talks were about Jesus and why he died on the cross.

A few non Christians have signed up to read the bible with someone, and a number of people have heard the gospel. This is what we are here for and it was great to be a part of it.

For myself I left encouraged, challenged and with questions. I was encouraged by a couple of great conversations I had (I have never been told before by a non Christian after a conversation about how we are all sinful and in need of rescue that "it is good that you are here because that is not what most New Zealanders think Christians are about") and other conversations had by students and other folk helping out with the week. I was challenged by the fact that I find surveys an uncomfortable evangelistic tool. But what alternatives are there and how can I help students try both surveys and other approaches of reaching those with whom we don't normally have contact? My biggest question is how do you stop "I don't care" being the end of a conversation about Jesus? This was a standard response from students and all of us found it difficult to move any further past that statement. But if it really is the general view amongst students here we need to find ways of engaging with it.

Some additional thoughts I've had since I wrote this originally:

The use of testimonies in a lunch time talk is very helpful. After the talk on what would Jesus say about racism a Christian student who used to be a neo-nazi gave his testimony. This really helped some people see how what had been said in the talk looked like in someone's life and took it from being a theory to a practice.

Secondly, the importance of listening. It is probably the same the world over but people here seem very sensitive to whether you are generally interested in what they have to say or are simply talking to them in order to communicate something about Christianity. Now sometimes we are talking to people simply in order to talk to them about Jesus but in the process we come across as not actually valuing people and what they have to say which we should be doing regardless of whether what they are saying is right or wrong and regardless of whether it is our first conversation or thousandth conversation with the person. Not only is this the model that the New Testament lays down for us but in practice I have found that if I have listened to what someone has to say they are for more open to me questioning their view and talking about Jesus.

Thirdly, and this is linked to the previous point, I am considering adding the question "Why do you think we are doing these surveys/having Jesus awareness week?" to future surveys I am involved in. All too often people have misconceptions as to why we do evangelism and these misconceptions colour the whole conversation. Hearing them say why they think we are doing what we do helps us realise some of the misconceptions that are out there and it gives us the chance to apologise if we have given the wrong impression and explain why we are really doing what we do: that the gospel really is good news that they really need to hear and that we are doing it because we love them.


Sam said...

Hi James,
I came to your blog via Andy's and keep coming back! I wanted to just comment on the question you posed - what do we do when people say "I don't care". This is something which I think about too. It's easier to write a talk entitled "why you should care" but in most conversations, it's not possible to give a talk. Perhaps one way is to have a set of clear arguments as to why one should care, and then to ask the person if they would listen.

A way of awakening interest is to be autobiographical and say: "I used to think that Christianity was boring and fraudulent too", and then stop there. If they are not interested, then they will say so.

Beyond that I don't think it's right to pressure people; not because the message isn't important enough, but because the God-ordained means are "with gentleness and respect." People experience evangelism as a form of religious advertising. Just like they don't want a new mobile contract right now, they feel like they don't want a religion right now. Getting to the library is more important.

I haven't got an answer. Perhaps we need to think of ways of reaching people who don't have time and don't care which meet them at the times when they are relaxed and interested - literature and web evangelism - banners on student websites.. beer mats in the student bar. Jesus went to the synagogues first, Paul went to the Areopagus - I believe we're meant to be creative and think hard about people's social behaviour and use it for the gospel. But at the end of the day, it is God's mission, and is seeking lost sheep.

James Allaway said...

Hi Sam,

Thanks for the encouragement and suggestions (I've added a couple more thoughts to the post which I had last night). I can see where you are coming from but my concern is that "I don't care" becomes a means to shut down or avoid conversation. I would make a distinction between people who are busy (time & place issues/need to get to the librbay types) and people who are apathetic.

It is an example that is used many times I know but Jesus is quiet blunt with the samaritan women in John 4. Some people need to be challenged and I am beginning to wonder whether some times it is okay and necesarry to be a bit more provocative.

Sam said...

Hi James,
that distinction is really helpful. I reckon that being provocative is also good. The litmus test is always that of "am I loving the person?" - I cringe when I think of occasions when I didn't care about the person.
Nevertheless it's still possible to be provocative and loving. The person knows that you have a clear opinion, but it's expressed in a winsome way.