Here is a short extract from some thoughts for my new book on evangelism. It’s unedited, rough as bits but sets the scene. what do you think about my view that as ‘Church’ we stink at evangelism?… let me know what you think and post a comment…
… beacuse we stink at it.
Calling the adventure of bringing life giving words, works and wonders and partnering with the most beautiful, creative, powerful, accepting and healing man who has ever and will ever live and calling it ‘evangelism’ is a bit like working for Rolls Royce as their executive engineer designing jumbo jet engines and calling what you do: ‘chief glider geek.’
The word ‘evangelism’ can bring to mind so many negative images, so much so that some of my fellow evangelists have done away with their tile all together and describe themselves when asked as ‘motivational speakers’ or ‘life style change coaches’, or as ‘ marketing and advertising agents for Royalty!’ (I made that last one up…) So rest assured, I am an evangelist but I’m not going to lull you into a false sense of security and then in the closing chapters reveal the true intention of the book and take you on some kind of guilt trip to convince you to do evangelism because you really really should. Rather, this book is simply about the adventure of you and me doing evangelism and taking people along with us on the journey. It’s about the whole Church taking part in something which is enjoyable as well as challenging. You see, my understanding of evangelism is an activity that is rich, diverse, creative, fun, and in partnership with the author of life.
So, in short this book is about letting the people in our communities who have no or little contact with Christianity an opportunity to hear and see what it means to be a Christian. Some may wish to argue that there is no need for this book is because we, as in the Church have our Alpha and friendship evangelism strategies. But the painful truth is that the West remains an unreached world and the exposure people are having to the gospel is diminishing. Yes Alpha and other courses have introduced and discipled hundreds of thousands of people but it simply is not enough. We need to do more, as on the whole we absolutely stink at it. We miss the opportunities that Jesus gives to us by assuming that someone else will do it. Someone else will reach out to the groups of young people causing a nuisance on the green, someone else will visit the elderly in the care homes, someone else will welcome the new families recently moved into the communities, someone else will take assemblies and pray for the schools… and the list goes on and on. One of my favourite episodes of the Simpsons is when Homer takes on the Springfield council rubbish collection after the bin men refused to collect his bins after he called them ‘trash eating scum bags.’ He runs for the job of ‘sanitation commissioner’ which is a voted position and has a landslide victory on the strength of his slogan ‘Can’t someone else do it?’ He hires an army of rubbish collectors who not only literally take your rubbish out of your home round the clock, they also do the most bizarre cleaning jobs like changing nappies, mopping up spilt beer and helping mega rock band U2 pull up their trousers when their bum-cracks are showing! (If you haven’t seen the episode this will sound bizarre!)
I observe that the Western Church has, on the whole, said in reply to the great commission to ‘go into all the world and preach the good news to all of creation.’ (Mark 16.15) ‘can’t someone else to it?’ For a while specialist teams or overly eager Christians have keenly taken up the mantle of going while the majority of the Church slumbers and like a sleeping giant it remains impotent and behaves as if it hasn’t got an order to reach the world or a clue as to how to let others know about Jesus.
Nowhere have I witnessed the mentality of ‘can’t someone else do it’ as clearly as when I recently taught a seminar on sharing faith. Around 50 people turned up and I thought I had spoken passionately about loving people and about always being prepared to give the reason for the hope that we have and I pleaded with those gathered to do something to bring the good news of Jesus to those who haven’t got a clue. I was on a bit of a preaching role to only be rudely interrupted by the clanging of the door, and in walked a man off the street. I stopped what I was saying and welcomed him in and pointed to where he could take a seat near the area where in five minutes time people from other seminars would stream in for their tea’s and coffee’s.
Like a divine illustration to all of us gathered, here in our midst was an example of the kind of person we could all reach out to. The odds where against the poor soul, 50 to 1. He had walked into a session on evangelism, and I kind of felt a bit sorry for him anticipating how the zealous participants would spring on him. The man sat amongst us and patiently listened to the end of the session about letting people know the good news about Jesus. I invited people for prayer afterwards to receive boldness to do these kinds of things and a number of people responded. But as I prayed with people I was distracted as I had one eye on the man who had walked in, sitting alone and ignored and one on the people who asked for prayer or who wanted to talk. 50 people walked past the man who had walked into the session for us all to see. Not a single delegate greeted him let alone asked if he was alright or wanted a cup of tea. It wasn’t as if those there could have thought he was also a delegate, It was painfully obvious that he wasn’t; he didn’t have a name badge on for a start!
I gave my apologies to the lady whom I was talking to and said that I was distracted by the man who had come in off the streets. I went up to him and asked if he was alright and offered him a cup of tea. He declined the drink but began to talk about how he was doing and quite quickly wanted to let me know about some struggles he was having. He explained that he had come into the Church building because he needed help. He needed to talk to someone. We sat and spoke together for a while and I offered to pray for him which he gratefully accepted. ‘Thank you for listening’ he said as he went through the door he had gingerly entered in an hour previously. I enjoyed meeting that man Francis and listening to him about his life, worries and heartache and how much he longed to amend his ways. While it was a privilege to have met him I so wish one or two out of the 50 people who had been to my ‘sharing faith’ seminar and who would have seen him walk in could have engaged with him, but I honestly believe that no one actually saw him, they kind of missed him. We need to take our ‘cant someone else do it’ spectacles off and start seeing people as loved and valuable and our encounter of them divine and not chance.