Friday, September 15, 2006

Your mission should you chose to accept it part 2

I work on a campus where the majority of students are commuters and there are no students are on campus in the evening so there are no options for doing evening evangelistic events. There is no set lunch hour and students are having lunch breaks anytime between 12 and 2pm and are not always keen to spend their lunch time at another lecture type event. This makes doing lunch time events not impossible but not straight forward. Add in to that a scepticism from people to people that they do not know very well and an (at best) cynicism towards people whom are perceived to be telling them what to do and you have yet more difficulties in doing speaker focused evangelistic events. You can understand why I have been thinking a lot about what evangelism looks like here. Now before I continue let me state for the record that I am committed to the public proclamation of the gospel. I am very aware that faith comes though hearing (Romans 10 v 17) but I am beginning to wonder if we focus too heavily on getting Christians to bring their non-Christian friends to an event where someone else speaks.

I have to admit that part of my thinking has been shaped by a book I have just finished (The Radical Reformation by Mark Driscoll) which has been a very interesting and challenging read. The author walks the line between being faithful to the biblical gospel whilst understanding and engaging with the culture around him and recognises and points out the perils we fall into if we seek to live outside the culture we find ourselves in (unbiblical fundamentalism/legalism) or if we embrace the culture that we live in at the expense of faithful bible teaching (liberalism). The book makes many helpful, honest and challenging observations and suggestions and is intermingled with testimonies from Christians seeking to be witnesses to Christ in all kinds of places. I'd recommend the book very highly.

But back to the point of this post. I have reached the conclusion that we need to spend more time encouraging and equipping people to be evangelists (as well as doing it ourselves obviously). Now I recognise that this is no revelation or ground breaking idea but my question is are we really equipping folk to be evangelists and evangelists in a grace filled way? Because all to often I think we are equipping folk to be evangelists by getting them to invite their non-Christian friends to an event where someone who we feel has an exciting testimony or has a good answer to a question we think non-Christians are asking. We do encourage people to talk about Jesus with their friends but all too often they don’t get round to it because they are either embarrassed (fearful of what their friends will think of them) about being a Christian or feel that shouldn't talk about anything till they can answer every question imaginable for fear of getting something wrong and thereby failing God in some way or don't know how to talk about the gospel to someone who isn't a Christian. The used the phrase "grace filled" because I have come to think that providing we are faithful to the message of the gospel and not using shameful or deceitful means we can try something and see what happens. If it doesn’t work out we rejoice, learn from it and keep going. All too often our evangelistic efforts are not grace filled or motivated. If no-one comes to an event or responds to a survey or question in conversation then we assume that we have got it wrong and beat ourselves up about it. Which all too often leads to a temptation to mess with the message rather than rejoicing that the message of the gospel has been made known and review/adaptation of the method/approach we used.

Somehow for some people evangelism is defined as something we do at specific events or when we are doing specific things. In his letter Peter calls us to be "making the most of every opportunity" and I know for myself that is neither how I think or operate. There is almost a switch in my head that I flick on during mission weeks, evangelistic talks etc. and off again after. The truth is that I should always be looking for, praying for and taking opportunities to talk to the people I meet about Jesus. Something that I think can help with this is actively vocalising and bringing our faith to bear in the decisions we make and our general thought process. Rather than just saying what we think about a subject or issue (I had an interesting conversation a few months back as to whether classical music can be racist and how we should respond if it is) we should include we think this way because we are Christians which then gives the possibility to explain why we think what we do as Christians. I'd be the first to admit that trying to do this in my life is a slow process but I am getting better at it. Having talked about this with a few people they have said that talking in this feels awkward so therefore isn't authentic so we shouldn't do it. But just because something feels awkward does not mean it isn't authentic. It can just mean we aren't used to something. A friend of mine got married recently and it felt weird at first introducing his wife as his wife. But he did not stop doing it just because it felt weird. He kept doing it and after a while it became normal.

The Christian union that I work with has just moved from a lunch time meeting to an evening meeting and have decided that part of the extended time that evening meetings make available will be dedicated to thinking about how the people in Christian Union can talk about Jesus with their friends. They have been doing this for two weeks and already it is bearing fruit. The first week they thought about general opportunities and then prayed that they would have them and that they as Christians would take those opportunities. Two days later one of the members was travelling to a concert with a friend and they talked about the Christian faith and that friends questions. That person later agreed to come to an evangelistic service. The friend still has some way to go but they talked, some of her questions were answered, some of them weren't, but they will likely talk some more in the future.

Again, I am still convinced that the Bible calls us to be doing events where the gospel is publicly proclaimed, but I have realised we need to out meeting people where they are as well as inviting them onto out turf to do things with us.

This is something I am still working through so any feedback would be gladly received.