A guest blog by Ben Martin, Lay Pioneer Pastor at St Alkmund’s Church in Derby for our Associates, SCM.
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 are thinking of not bothering with it, I’d urge you to seek out a safe church which will embrace you and welcome you no matter who you are. But ‘church’ is also important for your non-Christian mates, 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 community, Jesus 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 –treacherous tax collector, Thomas – world famous doubter and pessimist.
So what do we do?
We create spaces within our churches and lives which model this kind of dangerous, edgy community. Here at St Alks in Derby, we’ve begun to establish a small community called Liminal, meeting on a Sunday evening we have sought to be inclusive to questions, doubts and grief as well as hope, peace and joy. This is quite messy, but we are seeing genuine hope arising, 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. 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, always giving a solution, 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, but this is how we grow as disciples too.
When things don’t go well, when we have questions, instead of running from church, ask them there. It should be within Christian community that our whole lives 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 substantive hope.
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