Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Evangelism, evangelistic and being evangelical.


People who follow Jesus talk about Jesus.

Much of the time we feel very awkward about it and sometimes we don't really want to do it. And truth be told, a lot of the time we don't actually do much talking about Jesus, and sometimes we feel bad about that. And then we do it and we do it badly, and we feel bad about that. God's happy people gone glum.

Sometimes church's talk about talking about Jesus. This can happen on a Sunday morning and can be very painful. I've done it. I've tried to do it. It's painful because people don't really want you to do it, and because in such moments you're left desperately hoping no one who isn't a Christian is in the room (scratch that: it makes me wish I wasn't in the room), because the weirdness is through the roof, and talk of manipulating or conquering people makes me want the roof to fall on me now...

At times the church can seem desperate to share the good news of Jesus, and yet its possible to walk out of a church meeting says "I'm so thankful I didn't invite a friend today...".

I do think it is possible to talk about talking about Jesus, and in a sense this post is an attempt to do just that...

A big danger is the development of a back-stage / front-of-house mentality, like Sainsbury's 50p challenge. The posture can be ugly. Which is odd because Jesus' posture never looked ugly.
(Yes there were moment where Jesus spoke to insiders and outsiders... but I'm not sure that's quite the same thing)

Beautiful feet - the characteristic of those who bring good news -  by definition aren't ugly. Weak, vulnerable, careful, but not ugly. There's nothing wrong, intimidating or weird about talking about what you love, what (and who) you believe. In fact, life is more interesting when people do this.

Evangelical doesn't have to mean weird.

And, if church spent its time engagingly talking about what it most loves (that is, if she talked about who she loves) in a way that makes sense to people, whatever their beliefs, then it wouldn't seem strange at all. This doesn't have to be overly intense, or in-your-face - better not to be. Rather, understated, reasonable, patient, gentle, kind and so on (like Jesus).

Evangelical doesn't have to mean rude.

The technical term here is "evangelism". Which just means telling good news. It's related terms - evangelistic (being about telling good news), and evanglical (people of good news). Neither trite, nor glum but filled up with goodness with gravitas.

Evangelical isn't a choice between being trite or glum.

The Christian faith says that the most experienced believer needs the good news of Jesus. Eighteeen years after I was first met by Jesus I still need to be evangelised. He's good news for me from beginning to end. And so too the person who has never considered anything of it. One message for all human beings: Jesus. All of us in need of being evangelised by Jesus. Not played, not manipulated, just invited to meet a person called Jesus.

Then,

1. Sunday morning church becomes a good place for anyone to meet with Jesus, where ever they are on their "journey of faith". More evangelism might happen by being evangelistic than by talking about evangelism. Why talk about evangelism when you can talk about The Evangel himself?

2. Preachers would need to learn to communicate the good news of Jesus is a way that is exemplary of how to actually talk about Jesus with other human beings. That surely entails a lot of listening, a lot less assumed agreement - most human beings don't know the Bible, don't agree with most of what it says, think that 'the Bible says' is a reason not to believe something rather than to believe it (and so on).

This, as it turns out, might help all listeners, whoever they are and whatever they believe, to speak more sensibly with others. Churchgoers might become more evangelistic, because we'd know better how to talk with our fellow human beings about all sorts of things.

3. The church could stop being bi-lingual, stop having back-stage/front-stage language, and just be about Jesus from A-Z for all people.  Which might make church more evangelical... astounded, aggravated, interested, intruiged - week by week - by the unimaginable goodness of Jesus.

Evangelical means about Jesus, like Jesus, for Jesus, and for people.

Sainsbury's looks creepy when it wants to manipulate customers to spend an extra 50p, instead of focussing on helping us to "live well for less" and "taste the difference" - which would probably mean we'd spend more...  Church looks creepy when it makes a big deal of talking about talking about Jesus, instead of just talking about Jesus. Which, as it turns out is fairly in keeping with the New Testament documents.

Very little is said about "evangelism" in the Bible. (Not nothing, but not much). What there is is a lot about Jesus. And the persistent expectation is that the God of the Bible is characterised by 'a spreading goodness'. A shining light of self-giving love.

The evangelistic, evangelical, evangelist isn't a Harry Wormwood (in Roald Dahl's Matilda), selling dodgy second-hand cars to unwitting customers. Rather, evangelistic, evangelical, evangelists are people on their own journey of getting to know Jesus better in the middle of life in this world, listening, loving, and inviting others to get to join them along the way.

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