Monthly Archives: September 2011

Getting the Message Across

There was a time when “evangelism” was all about getting some certain information across to people. It was the era of the tract – thrusting a message into people’s hands, or calling to them from a soap-box. In reaction to this, for the last two decades Christians have paid much more attention to building relationships, to incarnation (living in among), to demonstrating the gospel. If I hear Francis of Assisi’s quote “Go into all the world and preach the gospel, and only use words if necessary” one more time … I’m going to tell the quoter to stop using words and go into a different part of the world.

Our reaction has become an over-reaction. Evangelism has almost become anything but putting a message across. We’ve become great at building relational and community connections, but never been worse at getting the message of the gospel across. I know it’s very difficult. Talking about Jesus is a taboo in our culture. It’s far more acceptable to talk about your sex life that to talk about your religion. But nevertheless, the gospel does remain “news”. It is information. More to the point, it’s an invitation. And as long as we simply hang out with and love and understand people, and keep the invitation to ourselves, we are doing less than evangelism. Jesus put it quite clearly: “If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9)

Given this very challenging task, it surprises me that we neglect a fantastic method for communicating the gospel: Literature evangelism. I’m not so much meaning tracts, I meaning books (and video and web resources).

Often we feel like we have to be the ones who communicate the message. And it’s important to be basically equipped to do so – to know how to share the elements of the gospel, your own testimony, and an invitation to someone to receive Christ. There are methods such as Two Ways to Live, Bridge to Life, etc, that help with this. But in our Jesus-taboo culture, and in the 60-second window I get with a person that open or interested, why would I try to sketch Two Ways to Live on a serviette when I could put a great Christian book in a person’s hand and say, “You might find this very interesting!”

There are a lot of advantages to this method: Firstly, unless I’m a very gifted evangelist, my gospel summary isn’t likely to match C.S. Lewis’, a master Christian communicator. Secondly, instead of 60 seconds with me, they spend 6 hours with C.S. Lewis. That’s a whole lot more information that gets across. And thirdly, it allows me to be a “third-person” in processing their response to the book. I can say, “What did you think of that?” and their objections will be with C.S. Lewis, not me directly. This makes an ongoing dialogue about the gospel far more likely.

It makes a lot of sense to read these yourself, and make use of occasional specials to stock up and keep a supply handy! Good books to give away include:

C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity (now a little dated, still good for modernists)
Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (great for post-modernists) a movie is in production
Francis Chan’s Crazy Love
Tom Wright’s Simply Christian (for thinkers)

What others have you found useful? And what has been your experience of literature evangelism?

Stealing Your Identity Back

The value of identity of course is that so often it comes with purpose - Richard R. Grant*

Every church wants to be more missional. But how to go about it? Too often I think we try to approach it at the levels of teaching and action. Teaching – through more sermons about how God loves the lost, and action – by just getting people ‘out there’ and hoping they’ll catch the bug. I’m not against either of those, but I know many pastors who try them both and don’t see lasting change. To attempt missional transition, we’re dealing with a thorough-going systemic issue – one that can’t merely be dealt with at the surface. For lasting change we need to challenge paradigms,  And this means dealing right down at the level of identity. We need to talk about ‘calling’ – literally learning to call ourselves what God calls us.

At the core of the discipleship process is the discovery of a new identity we are given in Christ. Without a deep awareness of this, change in our behaviour goes no further than social conformity (learning how to speak and act churchian). The biblical characters (Abraham, Israel, Peter, Paul) who had their very names changed upon encounter with God were onto a good thing. Some Christian communities across history have picked up this practice, (a recent example being the Church Army). We have become a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Christians could refer to each other as “Prince” and “Princess” – because we are given a nobility that precedes and makes sense of the call to noble action. But the practice of calling each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ – let alone prince or princess – has become rare.

Most Westerners have their identity tightly bound to their occupation. That’s identity-theft. A person says “I am a hairdresser.” She might consider herself a “Christian hairdresser”, but the noun “hairdresser” remains the defining element. How might things change if believers considered themselves “a Christian” or “a missionary” first and foremost? Instead of being a Christian hairdresser, one becomes a hairdressing Christian? Representing Christ becomes core. Hairdressing becomes the way I serve Him at the moment.

As a pastor I often saw people transfer into and away from our city, as their employers moved them around the globe. The comment “Wherever my work takes me, I’ll find a church” sounds pious, but once again betrays the core of one’s identity. I’d rather hear “Wherever the Lord sends me, I’ll find a job.” We must recover the radical new identity to which the gospel invites us.

I remember struggling to get through to a group of teenagers that God’s plan for them was much more than to become neatly-dressed, clean-speaking church attenders. In frustration I blurted out “It’s much more like being a secret agent!” And from there, the label “Sacred Agent” has stuck with me and hence the name of this blog. Hairdressing is at best our cover. We have another story, a very exciting one. We are a part of a very big plot. And it doesn’t need to be secret.

For a church to become a ‘missional’ church, the only real way is for the majority of its members to see themselves as missionaries. Sacred agents. Ambassadors. Right from the start Jesus called his followers ‘fishers for people’ and ‘apostles’ (sent ones). When people reclaim this identity, their mission then comes from their very core, and their full creativity is brought into play. Without this, church members might ‘do mission’ – but only as another way of ‘helping out the church’, rather than being the church.

What do you call yourself? What did you put down as your occupation in the recent census?

*Useful quote, but does anyone know who Richard R. Grant is?!

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