Transforming Presence 2

27 Mar

Evangelising effectively 26/2/12

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Brief intro, explaining series and recap on last week.

Taken from Transforming Presence
For too long the Church of England has either considered evangelism something that other churches do (before a few lucky souls graduate to our obviously superior brand of Christianity!) or simply waited till people come through the door, placing far too much confidence in the hope that our traditional ministry of hatching, matching and despatching will bring people into the church. Of course some people do join us through all of these routes, and it is important to offer these ministries as faithfully and generously as we can. But I have increasingly begun to wonder if it might be better if no one joined us this way. At least it would focus attention on the woeful inadequacies of this as the only approach to evangelism. So let us begin from first principles. God is the Evangelist. God longs for reconciliation with the whole of the creation and with every person on earth. His great love for the world and his purposes for the world have been revealed in Jesus Christ, and through his death and resurrection Jesus has already done everything that is necessary for us to enjoy eternal life with God. The ministry of evangelism is our sharing with others the good news of what God has already done in Christ and the transformation it can bring to the world and to our lives here on earth and in eternity. In the end each individual will have to make their own decision about whether to accept and receive what God offers us in Christ, but it is the responsibility of the Church to issue the invitation: “As the Father sent me, so I send you” says Jesus on the first Easter Day (John 20. 21). We call this ministry evangelism, which is best understood as our sharing in the ministry of Jesus to make God’s offer of reconciliation and new life available to everyone. In recent years we have re-discovered that for most people becoming a Christian is like a journey. This changes the way we approach evangelism. For the most part it will mean accompanying people on that journey. This is another reason why the story of Jesus on the Emmaus Road is so instructive. It involves specific ministries (such as a place of nurture where people can find out about Christian faith), but is also shaped enormously by the witness of individual Christians as they walk with others in their individual daily lives.

What does effective evangelism mean?

Evangelism – “Zealous preaching and advocacy of the gospel. I.e. telling people the good news about Jesus”
Effective – “Producing or capable of producing an intended result”

So the first question is why do we evangelise?
Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
And, as I read a moment ago, in the gospel of John, chapter 20 verse 21 “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” ”

So we have 2 very clear directions from Jesus that we are to tell people about Him. And we can’t take these verses as being just for the disciples because if we did then the Church would have died out within 100 years of is starting! We know that God is not stupid, so therefore this command must be for ALL disciples, which includes us!

Ok, so how can we be effective?
Firstly, by recognising who we are going out to.

“Urgency and anger motivated a lot of our work with the young people. We felt clear that ‘knowing Jesus’ was something beautiful and if people were prevented from knowing Christ by systems, something was horribly wrong. We wanted to get to the young women before they got pregnant and to the young men before they ended up in prison.
In my perception, there are 3 divides. There are Christians. There are ‘non-Christians’ and there are ‘pre-non Christians’. Non-Christians are people who have had contact with church or Christians and have some understanding of the framework of Christianity. The reason that they are not Christians is either hostility, apathy or disagreement.
‘Pre-non Christians’ are people who have little or no knowledge or understanding of Christ or Christianity. Jesus is a word to be used negatively – it is nothing more than a swear-word. The reason that they are not Christians is not hostility, apathy or disagreement but ignorance of the basic Christian stories.
Traditionally the church has worked with non-Christians. Until recently most of the country have been non-Christians and the reality of the pre-non Christian is not yet catered for in the church’s thinking. Pre-non Christianity is a comparatively recent development. These days there is less religious education in schools; only seven per cent of the population go to church and now it is the grandparents, not the parents, who know any of the Bible stories. Most of the young people with whom we worked were pre-non Christians, and there was no church structure able to provide appropriate teaching and nurture for them. No one taught us about it. We had to work it out for ourselves.”

Taken from chapter 3 of Gospel Exploded by Bob Mayo

So, we have to realise that the people we speak to will have different levels of understanding about God. The non-Christians will have at least some understanding of what we go on about when we start talking. Things like the Christmas and Easter stories will be familiar and give us somewhere to start. But there will also be those that don’t have a clue what we are going on about, and those people are growing in number. People who would give you a blank look if you were to ask the to name a disciple. People who would say that the Saints are Southampton Football Team. people for whom Jesus is not a name but a swear word. So, we must realise when we go out who we are speaking to and where they are in relation to their understanding of God.

We must also need to understand is that our belief in God is a balance between knowing and not knowing. That is to say there is the revelation we have experienced, the stuff that we have read and so on, and there is the mystery of that which we can never know. We can never fully know and understand God because He is so different from what we are able to comprehend. But when we come to talk to people about Him we must remember this and make sure that the balance we strike has enough of both.
Enough revelation that they are able to understand what we are acing, but not too much that it all seems easy and not distinctive from the rest of life. And enough mystery to keep God as this amazing being that CAN create the entire universe but at the same time not too much that He is seen as untouchable or irrelevant.
So how can we look to do this? How about remembering a few stories about Jesus’ ministry, things that He did that will have some connection to life now? Jesus was a human being, He did human things like eating and drinking. He went out in a boat a few times. He spoke to people, helped a few too. Any of these sorts of stories are likely to provoke a response from which a conversation can spring up.

We also need to remember who we are and the reaction of people to us speaking to them. Like Paul said in our Bible reading, if we have a social link that can help convey the Christian story then use it. If you are an African speaking to an African, there will be certain experiences that might help explain it better than a white Englishman can do. If you are a mother, your experiences might shine a light on a particular aspect of God better than a single guy with no kids can. If you have lived in abject poverty, that experience can also help you connect when telling someone of Jesus better than someone who has grown up and lived in middle class suburbia for most of his life. And in all those cases the reverse can be true too.

But it’s not just similarities that make a connection. Sometimes it’s the differences that make what you do stand out even more

I then read a story that Nicky Cruz wrote that his friend, Israel, told about David Wilkerson (chapter 11 in Run Baby Run). Israel finishes by saying “Nothing Davie had said had gotten through to me. But this guy was no phony. He lived what he preached. I knew then I couldn’t resist the kind of power that could make a man do something like that for someone like Jo-Jo.”

Here we see Dave Wilkerson going up to a gang leader who was from a completely different background to him. Yet he made a connection because he showed that the differences were not going to stop Dave Wilkerson doing something for Jo Jo.

The final thing I want to say about how we should be when we evangelise relates back to last week. We have to BE Christians, we have to be distinctive. Not just in what we say but how we act. And that’s not just during our evangelism but in all of life. This may sound a bit strange to say, but so often we can find ourselves being non-Christians where think that it doesn’t matter. But when we live in community, people talk. And when people talk, they share things that they see and hear. So if the Christian is seen or heard swearing then people are going to ask the question”What’s so different about them?” And I hold my hand up as being someone who suffers with that one in particular.
Being distinctive, like Dave Wilkerson showed himself to be to the gang members in New York, is as much a way of evangelising as any other. As St Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
And with that comes the need to know your own faith. Knowing and understanding your faith is vitally important because otherwise you may be dismissed if you cannot explain why you believe what you do. If anything good has come from the New Atheist movement, it has been that apologetics (the art of defending the doctrines of the Christian faith) has become increasingly popular and focused upon.

Finally, we return to what I spoke about last week, about us being a community. Particularly, when it comes to supporting each other and especially in prayer. If the roots are not strong and regularly fed, how can we hope for branches to grow? If the church family are not supported in their faith, how can we hope to see them bringing in others?

So, the challenge that the bishop sets us is a simple one. “When it comes to developing a ministry of evangelism how could I begin to think and act and pray differently in my context?”

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