There was a time when evangelism was often described as ‘the dreaded “e” word’. This could be seen in 1999 when James Lawrence wrote his great book about sharing faith, ‘Lost for Words’. The perception of many, including the Christians James was writing for, mirrored this feeling. Now, I am glad to report that such perceptions have changed significantly, both inside and outside the Christian community. Evangelism is very definitely on the agenda. Although some might find it difficult, and many of us are still ‘lost for words, I think the time for it to be called ‘dreaded’ is thankfully past.
The evidence for saying this comes from a variety of different quarters and is marked by a very significant shift in theology and practice. I would like to suggest this has both changed perception and fruitfulness.
This week I have just returned from ‘Forum 2015’ of the churches in England, organised by Churches Together in England on behalf of the 43 member denominations/networks represented by 6 presidents. Speaking from their different traditions, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Church of England, Pentecostal and ‘New’ Churches, each of the CTE Presidents spoke of unity and mission in fulfilment of Jesus prayer in John 17, as ‘crucial’, ‘important’, ‘essential’ and ‘indispensable’ (Archbishop Justin Welby).
Many national church leaders have spoken about the season of evangelisation. In the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury has it as one of his three core priorities and has an Evangelism Task Force group to further it. Alongside him Archbishop John Sentamu is leading bishops mission initiatives in the north. In the Roman Catholic Church Cardinal Nichols headed the ‘Proclaim’ 15 day conference for missionary disciples/parishes in July with 800 delegates responding to Pope Francis document ‘The Joy of the Gospel’.
Next week, J.John is hosting a leaders gathering to propose a major gospel outreach using the Emirates Stadium. More locally churches are working together around sport and the Rugby World Cup under the banner ‘Engage 2015’. In addition Messy Church and Fresh Expressions continue to bring new people to Christ. At a local level, countless congregations and groups of churches are putting evangelism as their key priority in Mission Action Plans, prayer initiatives, welcome packs, festival outreach and service to their local community.
Hope has just been re-launched for another phrase, with the focus of being a catalyst for churches doing mission in ‘word and deed’ and ‘doing it together’. To see what difference it makes in the next 5 years, significant research has been conducted to investigate current perceptions of Jesus, Christians and Evangelism, for comparison in 5 years’ time (see www.talkingjesus.org). The research has thus far revealed that Christians are indeed sharing their faith, and people are responding. Evangelism is very definitely on the agenda, many are even talking and praying about the ‘re-evangelisation of England’.
In all of the above I sense a shift that has perhaps gone unnoticed in the past 20 years. It is a shift that has opened the door for many Christians to say ‘I might not be an evangelist, but I can do evangelism’. It is shift in theology and practice that has often changed the way we do evangelism, less with a formula (an ABC of Salvation) and more about ‘starting where the other person is’, to help them to discover faith. The shift is towards a Jesus way of doing evangelism, which for many of us has been revolutionary.
20 years ago I read this short passage from Ronald Jasper:
“An essentially biblical emphasis – all too often ignored by the church – is that Christ is Lord and Saviour of the whole of a person, or he is no saviour at all. Because Jesus insisted on seeing the person whole, one could never be sure which aspect of a person’s need he would tackle first. Here comes the paralysed man, helpless and obviously sick in body … and Jesus talks about forgiveness of sins. Here on the other hand … an enquirer asking how to gain eternal life, and Jesus gives him an economic answer ... Because ultimately Jesus cannot rest content until all of a (person’s) needs are fully met, it doesn’t matter much to him where he starts on the work of salvation.”
This quote changed the way I did evangelism. It inspired me to write the book ‘Sharing Faith the Jesus Way’ in the deep belief that every follower of Christ can also share their faith. Jesus is our teacher and as ‘The Way’, shows us how to do it. Essentially it is about connecting three stories. The first is listening to the story of the other person. The second is knowing well the story of Jesus. The third is reflecting on our own story. As we explore all three stories and pray, miracles happen, lives change, and more people come to Christ.
Jim Currin is a Church Army Evangelist (www.churcharmy.org.uk) and currently serves as ‘Evangelisation, Mission and Media’ with Churches Together in England (www.cte.org.uk).
Sharing Faith the Jesus Way is available from Bible Reading Fellowship (http://www.brfonline.org.uk/9781841018621/)
Pray Every Day by Ronald Jasper