Doing what you do is far more effective than doing what someone else does.
Doing what you see God doing and joining in makes it easier to do what you do.
Doing evangelism interwoven with prayer makes it far easier and joy-filled than without.
These three insights are somewhat obvious, I know. But bear with me for a mo. I reckon they may just be worth exploring as often evangelism is seen as a one size fits all activity, dependent on all our efforts rather than God’s and is often divorced from spirituality.
Here’s a bit of background to these 3 insights: I’ve just spent a week in Clacton creatively reaching out to people through a mission with all the churches together called ‘Restore.’ Working alongside the local churches the objective was that small groups would come up with their own ideas as to how they would bring restoration to their town. Secondly the aim was to work alongside the existing projects that the churches run week in and week out and serve them in what they already do. Lastly we wanted to have a regular presence within the town, connecting with people through creative ways the story of a restored relationship between people and God through Jesus.
1. Doing what you do is far more effective than doing what someone else does.
Over this week I have seen this principle worked out in front of my eyes time and time again. I know it’s such a simple principle, yet too often we chose a method in evangelism and expect it to work for everyone. When we do that and use something that someone else uses which fits their character but not our own the very same vehicle for the message that flowed for one become ‘clunky’ and awkward for another. For example, one of the activities that I led most days was ‘stones of hope’ simple messages written under stones that people could randomly choose.
For some who looked after this way of sharing faith they simply sat and didn’t engage with people or with a few, for others there was a steady stream of people talking and engaging with the theme of hope. Another example is that one of the ministers in the town, fellow baptist Sean Fountain, came up with an idea called ‘postcards from heaven.’ He bought 30 postcards depicting scenes from Clacton and wrote a simple message on each one and simply went to ‘hand then out.’ He met 30 people, prayed for 6 people and took a wedding booking for one couple!
Another example was a guy who on the Monday joined us as an observer and by the Wednesday had come up with his own idea of offering gifts of biscuits presented in a bag with one broken. The message was simple: He wanted people to know that God’s promises can’t be broken and each gift of broken biscuits had a tag with a promise. Simple yet profoundly powerful. These ideas strangely flowed and people connected with the message but most importantly the messenger. Now, others who tried postcards or biscuits as a means to explain good news didn’t have the same integrity and impact as those who had come up with their own ideas and in obedience responded to what they believed God was asking them to do to communicate with others their faith. This principle was clearly seen with some of the ministers who joined me from different areas of East Anglia. They were all given an option of what to do and how to demonstrate their faith. Each one chose different activities and when I ‘swapped’ them around to try others the ‘connecting with people’ wasn’t quite as effective as the means to which each one had originally deferred to.
2. Doing what you see God doing and joining in makes it easier to do what you do.
Over this week we spent quite a bit of our time somewhat flabbergasted as to what God is doing in the lives of those around us. Each one of us I am sure is familiar with this principle, but it’s when you get to see the God of mission do mission before your very eyes, it’s then that the misseo Dei moves from being a missiological term to something that you can observe as those who are unloved encounter compassion and value through the Presence of God on the street. One way that I join in with this principle is by affirming people of their God given gifts and ‘made in his likeness’ characteristics. This evangelism by affirming teases out in others the sense that they are known and loved by God. So how do I do this?
Painting quick watercolours for people and weaving within the paintings some insights and prophetic messages is one way of participating with what, I believe, God is doing in the lives of those I meet. On one occasion this week I was joined by 3 bored teenagers. They watched me paint for people and loved the pictures and I asked whether I could paint something for them. Each one of the pictures had some affirming words that I believed God wanted to let them know about and each one of the young people spoke with me and asked how it was possible that God could know them.
One lady whom we painted a simple ‘light in darkness’ picture for told us that this wasn’t a coincidence and as she explained why, she experienced God and kept saying ‘I’ve got goosebumps all over me!’ It was a profound encounter for her and left us deeply encouraged.
Another way of joining in with what God is doing is through listening. Given the opportunity, many people simply want to know that they are valued enough to be listened to. The process of listening usually brings in turn some story of a spiritual encounter that may need some explanation.
It doesn’t have to be all about prophetic insights, painting or listening. When I look out at crowds of people I often feel God’s compassion and how he wants to embrace people. So I join in and offer free hugs! It’s very uncomplicated yet can carry a deep significance to people and in Clacton we heard time and time again the phrase: ‘I needed that.’ We encountered people who were bereaved, people who hadn’t had a hug for months or even years and on some occasions people who asked us about the simple gesture were told something about the meaning of the symbol of the embrace.
Doing what you see God doing requires a willingness to listen to God and a belief that God actually speaks! Intentional prayer times are important, creating space for listening as well as showing dependence on God for the task of evangelism.
3.Doing evangelism interwoven with prayer makes it far easier and joy-filled than without.
Woven throughout the week that we worked with the Churches in Clacton were times of prayer. Sometimes formal with the use of an order of service, other times free and open for all to pray.
Each day we would write up the names of those who had asked us to pray. On the left is the prayer board after one day and each day we had more and each day were equally humbled by the requests and opportunities to pray for people. This brought much joy. Don’t get me wrong, praying for people’s deep hurt is difficult. It too hurts. The joy kicks in at that process of giving to Jesus the people and their needs to Him. And when we encountered answered prayer- well that’s when the buzz of heaven really did give a delight in doing what we do.
It certainly wasn’t all an experiential thing, praying also brings feedback and a reassurance to the team that their small efforts put together are making an impact. Without these punctuated prayer times throughout the day we would have missed out on that group dynamic of ‘together we have achieved a great amount- far more than by ourselves!’
Prayer really is a mystery and I am increasingly fascinated by it. Here is a truth to hold on to:
‘When we pray God works.’
Sovereign God chooses to partner with the likes of you and me to reveal the most beautiful Kingdom that is here and yet also will come fully when Jesus returns. This is something to get excited about!
In conclusion here are some words from my friend who I mentioned previously, who gave out postcards on the streets. What he writes has deeply encouraged me. Why? Well, Sean hasn’t done this kind of outreach before, yet in doing something to meet strangers who become friends who become disciples he shared afterwards, ‘this is so easy!’
As I went out onto the McDonalds square, I prayed that God would direct me to the right people at the right time. As I felt led, I would walk up to somebody and offer them a free postcard. It was amazing that the verses on the postcards just opened up conversations with people. I was really privileged to be able to pray with complete strangers in the street.
I am not somebody who finds approaching people very easy but, the postcards acted as a great “icebreaker”, and I found it really easy to chat and discovered that people are open to talk about faith.
As the week drew to a close, an evening celebration was hosted by The Salvation Army and we were able to share the stories of how God had been at work in Clacton that week.
- Countless people had been prayed for or had asked for prayer
- Numerous people had the gospel shared with them
- People had either committed or re-committed their lives to Christ.
Just a thought. Would you like to volunteer and take part in similar projects in 2016 like ‘Restore Clacton?’ If so, please do get in touch as I will be pulling teams together for next year who will do the kind of stuff I’ve outlined in some Sea-side towns around the UK.