Many years ago I was given a picture by a lady called Brenda Thompson of being a person banging away at the wall of a great big damn with a toffee hammer and feeling frustrated that I was making little progress, and then she said “but in reality the hammer is really a sledge-hammer” and the hole in the wall will result in breakthrough.
It is a picture I often remember, as often over the last decade of parish ministry I have felt like a little guy swinging a toffee hammer and feeling frustrated and disappointed at the progress.
The more I have pondered on this picture the more I have thought of the calling of God which is to simply “be faithful”.
This weekend we had a mission with a great guy called Fane Conant, and have been thinking about all that had happened, and more than that, about the importance of evangelism and evangelists.
Firstly I think this weekend helped “demystify” evangelism -as Fane was very humble he didn’t ‘big himself up’, rather he ‘bigged up Christ’ as he simply told his story and how he had met Jesus.
His phrase “just one beggar telling another beggar to find bread” is a good principal to have.
He wasn’t scared of speaking overtly about Christ, in a clear and unashamed way, too often as Christians we beat around the bush, sometimes even struggling to say the name Jesus often instead referring to him/the Father as “the big man” or “him upstairs”.
He explained it clearly without making people feel stupid, he owned his struggles -“and although I became a Christian it took me a while to be free of my gambling addiction” and shared some of his post-conversion struggles life with Christ is wonderful but it isn’t always a bed of roses. I think often we are afraid of being real, thinking it will put people often, when in fact honesty and authenticity actually increase rather than decrease its appeal.
I was reminded on Sunday Morning by our readings about God calling us to be “witnesses”, -giving testimony-, sharing our story and then began to think “we over-came by the blood of the lamb (Jesus’ death) and the word of our testimony. Interestingly our testimony is what connects what happened 2000 years ago on a hill 2000 miles away with the here and the now, good news for our time and our context.
As we chatted one of my friends shared a little more of his story, one I’ve not heard him share before, but one which would be great if he would.
For me, I used to think my testimony was a bit dull, largely despite my best efforts of being a bit of a wally I owe my faith primarily to amazingly Godly and prayerful parents and a colleague at work who had the bottle to consistently keep inviting me along to her Church (and of course to the relentless loving pursuit of the wonderful Holy Spirit of God). -I didn’t used to share my story because I didn’t think it was much of a story, until I was doing schools work and my boss Danny, Danny Brown helped me see that every story of God at work in us is worth-telling, but also will connect with other peoples stories too.
For my friend with the more dramatic testimony I’ve heard him say “I’m not that person anymore” and often the devil hides some wonderful redemptive stories of salvation beneath a blanket of shame. Don’t let our embarrassment of past failures rob Christ of a wonderful trophy of grace that can bring hope to other people.
People are interested in other people, people are often much more interested in spiritual things than we think they are. Too often we think “they wouldn’t be interested”, but as Bishop Lee Rayfield says “give them the opportunity to make their choice of whether they hear or not, don’t make the choice for them”.
Evangelism creates a culture of expectancy, and a culture of intentionality, we expect God to be at work with the preaching of his word, and we are intentionally do all we can to share this message with as many people as we can.
Evangelism ought to be about partnership, very rarely does someone come to Christ purely by the work of one person, the colleague at work who shared a little of their faith, a Neighbour who invited them along to something, a family member praying faithfully. For a person to come to faith I believe often requires multiple Christians to be acting in obedience.
When we see these Billy Graham style crusades everyone says how amazing he is at speaking (and he is), but yet rarely does any credit go to the army of faithful anonymous saints that have got the person to the stadium in the first place.
Evangelism is like worship insomuch as it reminds and realigns our priorities, if we are focusing on “ordinary people meeting the extraordinary Jesus” then some of the squabbles we have cease to have the same weight or importance.
Reminding us that Jesus is the pearl of great price, wonderful and good news to share. Evangelism challenges us to explore our own faith and to see it as something worth sharing.
Lack of evangelism I believe leads to Churches becoming inward-looking and dying. We need to hear those stories that remind us that God has not abandoned his world, he is at work in us and through us, and is drawing people to himself. Again testimony of God at works keeps us expectant for him to be moving amongst us, and this gives us courage and boldness to take those golden Kingdom opportunities the Lord lovingly scatters in our path.
In Fane’s testimony he talked about Christians having something he didn’t, our lives speak louder than our words, our lives should make people thirsty for Christ. Yet too often we seek to blend in with everyone else. In order for people to realise their thirst for Christ his followers need to be “salty” perhaps when evangelism is a tough struggle it is call for us all collectively and as individuals personally to “increase the salt”.
This weekend we saw a young guy pray a prayer of commitment, Harry -one of my friends- warned me not to just let him flounder in a Church that doesn’t take discipleship seriously, we are called to make more than converts but disciples, not just getting people to pray the prayer but to live for Christ for the rest of our lives. I remember hearing at the Mission Shaped Ministry course a lady say she’d been converted about 20 years, and had just started to realise that Christ’s calling on her life was more than being on the tea rota at Church.
Seeing people move from “milk to meat” is at the heart of the Kingdom of God, and this is the other thing I learned from our weekend with Fane, it was great to talk to someone who had been doing evangelism for a lot longer than me.
I have learned what little I know mainly by picking stuff up along the way, in the field of mission and evangelism there seem to be few mentors, and maybe to we who have a heart for mission often are so keen to investigate the new things that we don’t sit with the older and more experienced and learn from them.
I long to have a school of mission where we have plenty of mentors to nurture and invest in young evangelists, and equip Churches to be bold, intentional and faithful in obedience to the missional and evangelistic heart-beat of God.
So, at the end of a mission as I curl up on the sofa, despite any progress made the fields are white to the harvest but the workers are few (or to quote Pastor Yinka) “…the workers are YOU”, the question is about getting up tomorrow as we continue the partnership with Christ in his glorious mission to his world.
A job that is never done, but remains the most wonderful privilege we can have.