Who speaks for us?
Laurence Singlehurst explains how when it comes to evangelism there's no such thing as 'one size fits all'
For the last 30 years that I've been involved in missional activity in England, I think in my heart of hearts that I've looked for the one thing that will make our churches missional.
Alpha, Christianity Explored, Friendship Evangelism, Cell Groups, Missional Communities… the list goes on.
The truth is there is not just one piece to this jigsaw. There's no such thing as one size fits all. Mission is hard work. There are many pieces to the jigsaw, and to make it more complicated, this jigsaw is alive! It’s people. It’s churches. And just as you get all the components in place some of them change their shape, or a part of the jigsaw that used to work well no longer does.
Plus it's not just about understanding all of these component parts and bringing them together. We have to keep them together, month in month out, year in year out.
So what are the parts to this jigsaw? I think there are at least eight ways each of us should be thinking about evangelism:
1. Be big-hearted. John 3:16 shows us that God’s missional instinct starts in his heart. 'God so loved' that he sent. All of us need to embrace a big heart for other people, to realise the value of each individual, and allow that passion to motivate our actions.
2. Pray. Jesus not only prays for his disciples but he prays for those who will come to faith through his disciples (John 17:20). Prayer focuses the love of God into communities and onto people’s lives. It is essential. We learn that the harvest is plentiful and surprisingly Jesus tells us not to pray for the harvest but for labourers (Luke 9:38). A truly missional church is not 10 enthusiasts making a difference. It is all of us.
3. Be authentic. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus tells us to go and make disciples. We cannot make what we are not. So being a disciple and being authentic is essential - particularly in a postmodern culture where people are more impressed by what they see as a guide to truth than what they hear. They want to see Christians who are the real deal.
4. Be relational. According to the Talking Jesus research, over 60% of people come to faith through the influence of friends and family. Having unchurched friends and being a good neighbour is an essential part of the jigsaw.
5. Do good works. Jesus says our good works should be seen (Matthew 5:6). Many parts of the Church are now moving from an attractional model to a missional model, and this is seen in the good works that Christians are doing around the country. Christians are getting involved with Street Pastors, food banks, money advice and many other services. And it’s no surprise to me that the Talking Jesus research shows that the average English person sees Christians in a far more positive light than many of us previously thought.
6. Have conversations. At some point in this missional journey our faith must come to words. The Talking Jesus research sadly shows us that 46% of our friends are not very keen on us sharing our faith. And perhaps that has to do with language, in that perhaps we are using words that are no longer meaningful (see my booklet The Gospel Message Today)? In Colossians Paul challenges us to be gracious (4:6). This might mean sharing our faith in a conversational style, asking questions about the other person and what they believe and making a softer approach. The golden rule of every conversation is to leave people positive for the next Holy Spirit encounter.
7. Develop a rhythm of mission. The very fact that Jesus uses a harvesting analogy in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:10) speaks to me of a journey of rhythm: the ground has to be broken up, the seeds must be sown, they must be looked after, the weeds taken out, and at the right moment there must be harvesting. And when you’ve finished one cycle you start again. Hope Together has been promoting the idea of rhythms of mission: in the Autumn thinking of our friendships with a view to inviting people to the easiest invite in the church calendar - a Christmas service. Then as the New Year arrives we look after our relationships with prayer, and working towards Easter where we have an opportunity at Easter to tell the story of a historical Jesus. During Pentecost we carry on with good works and testimonies as appropriate. Then having shared God’s story, the story of Jesus and maybe our own story we can ask people: ‘What is your story?’ And we can invite people to Alpha, Christianity Explored or something similar. In this rhythm of mission there can be at least 3 church-wide guest services.
8. Be intentional. Often the missing ingredient in our mission is intentionality. The challenge is to keep the motivation alive and well. When it comes to motivating people while including a measure of accountability, I have never seen anything more powerful than small groups which are holistic in discipleship and have a missional heartbeat. The future is in people power - mobilising and encouraging every church member. Small groups do this well.
This jigsaw moves, changes, bits of it stop working. And every church needs what I call an enthusiast - a church-based evangelist. This could be a member of the church, or it could be one of the leaders. It’s the person who looks after the jigsaw. They encourage church members. They speak to the leaders about what is working or not working. They guard that rhythm of mission.
Yes there are many parts to this jigsaw, but in a sense it is better to understand its complexity than live in disappointment because our one-piece jigsaw didn’t work.
So whether your list is the same as mine or a bit different, I think there are some important things here for us. So let’s make the whole picture, and let’s reach our communities with God’s love.
Laurence Singlehurst is director of Cell UK and former director of Youth with a Mission, England. He is a regular speaker at national events such as Spring Harvest and cell conferences worldwide
Unbelievable? presenter Justin Brierley blogs on all things theology, apologetics and ethics.