I went to a friends Church this morning on zoom in Eastbourne, one of the things I have liked about lockdown is it has been possible to worship with different friends and also to hear sermons from mates, family and former colleagues who I wouldn’t normally get to hear from.
The preacher was awesome that Sunday, but that is not what I am blogging about today. The service was led by a guy, Martyn Relf, who used to be my RE teacher, and he said “I remember you when you were a kid telling the whole class you wanted to be a missionary!” I cringed, as when I was a kid I loved Jesus and wanted to share him, but I didn’t know what to say or how to do it, and just ended up making me a bit of a target to get bullied.
I probably could write a blog, indeed I have probably written many, talking about ‘zeal without wisdom and knowledge being folly’ and how we need to be wise, prayerful and sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we share our faith.
Perhaps, maybe unconsciously, that is why I am passionate about the school of mission, about helping people to live out their faith well and fruitfully.
I wonder with our kids do we ever help them to talk about their faith well from a young age, pulpits seem regularly to be thumped by some preacher telling us to “make Christ known” but rarely is there any real and helpful training to enable us to do this well. Many people have rarely seem evangelism modelled well. Often courses on evangelism are taught by bookish minister who probably don’t see a person who isn’t a Christian very often from one week to the next(!) in fact one former Pastor I see each week told me that when he left his job and began to lead his church full-time he didn’t see anyone who wasn’t a Christian for several weeks, and he ended up becoming a cricket umpire so he could meet some mates who weren’t Christians.
My boss and friend Dave, does an amazing course each year in Exeter for (anyone including) guys going off to Uni to help them think about mission and evangelism. I remember sitting there on his course thinking “this is brilliant” and then thought “I could have really done with hearing this when I was just turned 11 and launched into the scary world of secondary school”.
Interestingly I often talk about the Christian life as walking the tightrope, am a a legalist (a pharisee, smug judgemental but mildy holy) or am I a liberal (very gracious and non judgemental but sinning like it is going out of fashion) and I have fallen off both sides of that wire –Jesus obviously the greatest tight-rope walker ever managed to be holy, loving and full of grace and truth- but Jesus was God right so we’d expect him to get it right, and then I came across Daniel, a young lad who probably felt much of the things as I felt as a child wandering around a scary and at times brutal secondary school when he was dumped in Babylon and tried to live out his faith in a hostile and alien culture and context.
Daniel let them call him a Babylonian name, he ended up working for their government, but he didn’t end up eating their defiled food nor praying to their King, and although I got a few bumps and bruises and a bit of name calling I never got fed to any lions!
Yet I can count on one hand how many times I have heard people talk about how to navigate through the weirdness of modern life well in a Christ-like way, and much of the comments made from the front of churches make me realise that those who are talking have very little idea what “real life” or at least “my real life” feels like.
For me, my issue wasn’t a need for greater apologetics, or even how to explain the gospel in 2 minutes, but how to “be Christ-like and ‘normal’” as I am trying to develop ‘a school of mission’ my whole idea was summed up by my friend AJ who said “basically Mase your saying ‘how can we help Christians to live and talk about Jesus without being a nob!’ –Maybe put slightly more bluntly that I would have done, but that is about the gist of it.
I remember reading Nick Hornby’s “About a Boy” –the film is amazing but the book is a whole lot better! The boy Marcus a nerdy kid who doesn’t understand life and is bullied massively becomes friends with this older guy Will, who is cool (but very shallow) and there is this beautiful bit where they have an argument. Will thinks Marcus needs a wise “dad” type figure to “impart wisdom and be wise and learned” (which Will is very ill equipped to do) but Marcus doesn’t actually, Marcus wants someone to tell him that Kirk Obain (really Kurt Cobain this pretty girl at school is being cruel to him) does not play for Manchester United but is the lead singer in the band Nivana and wants someone to help him buy trainers that look decent.
My friend Simon who sadly passed away used to openly mock many of the ordinands at St. John’s Vicar Factory for being “completely up their own backside” (slight paraphrase!) and wanted to run his own module in the pub –called BS2, BS was Biblical Studies and college seems unaware that BS is a common abbreviation for bullsh*t, BS2 would have been beer studies with Simon where you could only pass by being “not embarrassed to introduce to our (mostly not Christian) mates in the Sherwin Arms” –despite this being a humorous suggestion he was actually right and wise!
So, there I was, cringing at the reminder of my very poor attempts at evangelism to the other guys in my class, and I later really compromised my faith too, I got it wrong a lot, but in getting it wrong I think God really taught me a lot, and when I eventually ended up going back into what could have been a Christian bubble I realised that the years at school, sixth form, work, pub, mates had meant I no longer fitted and I hope that the more I do what I am passionate about doing, there might be more kids in school –or people where-ever- who are unafraid to talk about Jesus, but do so wisely and well, faithfully and fruitfully.
My friend Mark Rich has a phrase “zeal without wisdom is folly” –the opposite of my misjudged 11 year old outburst!