Since we seem to no longer preach in public places, how do we best evangelise? I fear we christians (in the West, at least) have become insular and even acquired a fortress or ghetto mentality. How do we (in church) set hearts on fire?
I met a “noob” the other month. You know what I mean by “noob”, don’t you? A newbie. A brand spanking new Christian.
And not one of those “were-they-or-weren’t-they, grew-up-in-church” sort of noobs. No, this was a genuine “back-of-the-court-Hail-Mary-on-the-buzzer-all-net” effort. From no kinda Christian at all, to a praying, church-attending, Bible-reading, telling-other-people-about-Jesus, kinda Christian. And in her early forties with loving hubby and great kids. Oh, and a great job in a creative industry.
This was a genuine … no kinda Christian at all, to a praying, church-attending, Bible-reading, telling-other-people-about-Jesus, kinda Christian.
How did that even happen? At one level, it happened because, over time, she’d sensed a lack in herself—a lack of something existential and spiritual. She realised that she was missing something coherent that might bring things together for her. And it also turned out that this lack coincided with conversations with her boss—a friend of mine—who did possess something existential, spiritual and coherent.
She and he had a series of conversations over time, in which my friend’s witness to the gospel of Jesus, coupled with the testimony of his life, proved compelling to her. God opened her heart to receive the gospel of course, but she saw something in it that put the puzzle pieces together. She started to read the Bible, and turn up at church, and then voila!
She now loves and serves Jesus. She said she felt “light”. She said she felt she no longer needed the approval of others because she knows where her approval comes from.
At this point you’re not busy taking notes on turning what I just described into an evangelistic method or theory. Right? You’re praising God that He saved someone by the power of His Holy Spirit and the witness of a godly friend. Yes?
God Still Saves
In these complex cultural times in which the workplace is fraught with identity politics landmines and the Christian message is not simply seen as bad news, but dangerous, unsafe news, God still saves people—especially people who are looking to make sense of their lives in an often senseless world.
And it’s easy to forget that. Perhaps because so much of our conversation—certainly my conversation—is how to engage with the public square, we lose sight of just how much of life is lived in the private sphere.
So when it comes to having a conversation about Jesus with someone we know, we’re ready to say “no” for them—sometimes long before they are ready to say it for themselves. We can smell the fetid breath of the 500 pound gorilla of well-crafted secular public hostility sitting just behind us, and we flinch.
But the public and the private are different spaces. For one, the measured hostility of the public square belies the generally benign vagueness—the incoherence—of the private sphere. Sure, there are angry people who hate the gospel and are deeply suspicious of Christianity, and do so coherently. They may have even read a few books. Perhaps they’ve done a degree in sociology.
Most people I meet who are not Christian have no coherent reason as to why they are not.
Yet most people I meet who are not Christian have no coherent reason as to why they are not. And that’s on top of them having very little understanding of the Christian message.
In fact, very few people I know have much coherence about anything at all. Missionally minded, evangelical Christians can assume that because they’re thinking about this stuff all of the time that others are too.
They imagine that stack of apologetic books, the five missional conferences and three evangelistic methods they have imbibed, have equals and opposites among their non-Christian friends and colleagues. A battle of coherency if you like.
But it’s not true. Most people are a blend of half-baked ideas, personal foibles, weaknesses, pains, personal history and mixed intentions. They have a desire to craft a vaguely meaningful life for themselves and those they love in a world that is getting out of control. Yet for the most part they’re just keeping their heads down and getting on with what seems liveable. Gorilla? What gorilla?
I say all of this in the context of much Christian angst about evangelism—and in the light of the apparent ineffectiveness of our recent methodologies. For it seems that the less effective we have become, the more methodologies we throw at it.
Committed as we are to method—we are moderns after all—what’s the killer app that might produce the lack we’re lacking? Which once-killer (and now useless) apps needs to be put out to pasture? We use this tool or that tool with the word “Evangelism” in the title (to distinguish it from that other tool with the word “Evangelism” in the title).
And don’t get me started on the theories about how we’re supposed to do church in order to be more evangelistically effective. Is it new church-plants? Is it revitalisation? Is it urban churches among the poor? Is it suburban churches that operate as public meeting places and community centres? Is it urban churches among the elite? Is it missional household churches?
A Compelling Coherence
Maybe, in these incoherent times, we should just stop and take a deep breath. Maybe it’s time to realise that with so much discombobulation in the culture, Christians simply living a coherent life—one that looks liveable yet strange at the same time—can be compelling in and of itself.
That’s not to say methods don’t work. And that’s not to say that you don’t need to have a prepared answer to the hope you have. But the key question people are asking today is not “Is it true?”, or even “Is it good?”, but “Is it liveable?” Will it hold together? Can it make sense of the chaos we’re witnessing? Can it make sense of the incoherence we’re experiencing in our private spheres?
Let’s start there, and see if that starts to get the evangelism monkey off our backs.