Evangelism. Many of us shudder at the idea of it. We think of it as such a dirty word nowadays. Evangelism conjures up images of Billy Graham, hundreds and thousands of people flocking to his feet. Contemporary evangelism may have grown up a bit, but we still hold that picture in our heads and it gets results, there’s no denying that. Seeing a couple of hundred young people passionately giving their lives to Jesus sends shivers down most people’s spines. But evangelism is so much more than that. We are in the business of making disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey what Jesus commanded (Matthew 28: 16 – 20, the great commission).
I want to say from the start, church is important. If you’re going to uni and thinking of not bothering with it, I’d urge you to seek out a safe, inclusive church which will embrace and welcome you no matter who you are (See SCM Connect). But ‘church’ is also important for your non-Christian mates too. Here’s why:
When Jesus got his disciples together, he just said ‘follow me’. They might have heard a bit about him before, but they certainly hadn’t sat down to bash out a statement of faith before spending three years with him. This is real, Jesus-centred community church. A quick look at some of the 12 disciples will show you where I’m going with this: Andrew, Peter and John – fishermen, Simon and Thaddeus – violent Jewish nationalists, Matthew – unjust and treacherous tax collector, Thomas – the world’s most famous doubter and pessimist.
So what do we do?
We create spaces within our churches, within our lives, which model this kind of dangerous, edgy community. Here at St Alkmund’s we have begun to establish a small community called Limina. Meeting on a Sunday evening we have sought to develop a church community which is inclusive to questions, doubts and grief as well as hope, peace and joy.
As you might imagine, this is quite messy, but we are seeing genuine hope arising out of doubt, we’re seeing lasting community and relationship. There is a wide generational and socio-economic scope with a growing reach to students and 18-30s, both on a Sunday night and beyond it.
We don’t fear questions, we actively embrace and encourage them. We don’t encourage people to be vulnerable and honest without demonstrating it first. As Christians we need to be human and honest with our friends. It’s okay to crave answers for questions we have, that’s normal. However we often struggle to acknowledge when perhaps a question doesn’t have an easy answer or even doesn’t have one at all.
Instead of obsessing over answering our mates’ questions, evangelism is about inviting people to belong to a community which follows Jesus. And like the disciples, no-one has to fit a particular mould. This is dangerous precisely because it ruptures our own ‘safe space’, opening it up to everyone. It is how we grow as disciples too. You are a disciple called to make other disciples. You’re one of the rag-tag bunch following Jesus (welcome to the club!). When things don’t go well, when we have doubts and questions, instead of running from church, ask them there. It should be within Christian community that hope and dreams, doubts and pain can be most openly acknowledged and explored. The more we do this, the deeper in love with Jesus we become and sharing our faith becomes less about offering apparent certainty and more about inviting people to a place of real, substantive hope and change.
- Don’t just look for a church which offers ‘cool services’, but one at which you are accepted, valued and welcomed as you are. (SCM Connect will help with this)
- Don’t be afraid of telling friends you’re going to church. When they ask you why, invite them along. Allow your safe space to also become theirs.
- When challenged on your faith and you don’t have an answer, admit you don’t know, then take your friend(s) out for a drink to discuss it together.
- Don’t be afraid of your doubt, it’s out of doubt from which hope arises (Thomas in the bible is a good example of this. So am I!)
- Allow church to be the place you’re most open about yourself. It’s scary, but try to find one or two people you trust to whom you can be really honest.
Ben Martin, Lay Pioneer Pastor at St Alkmund’s Church, Derby.
Ben Martin is a Lay Pioneer Pastor at St Alkmund’s Church, Derby.