On Wednesday I am heading to the gathering of Anglican Diocese youth leaders as they want me to do a talk on evangelism, what I think it means and how this might be applied to the practice of youth work & ministry. I have got to be honest, thinking about Evangelism ties me in knots, and brings me out in a cold sweat.
But you say, youve been involved in youth ministry for 20 odd years – how can that be?
Someone who works with young people must be pretty clued up and effective in Evangelism right?
A problem I have with evangelism, is when it becomes disconnected with what i know about God, or to use a technical term, Theology. If God so loved the world, why is an evangelistic venture into the world loaded with proficient sales techniques? Is that what God’s love is like? And if God didnt come into the world to judge it ( John 3:17), then surely that might be the response of the church to the world in how it lives in it. For too long theres been thoughts of separation. Church is here, world out there, Sacred and Secular, very little of this is truly Biblical. If anything the Incarnation of Jesus causes this to be in question, the presence of a person in the living history of the world, approachable, touchable, in full flesh and senses. God sent his son because he loved the world, loving the world despite the vulnerability & sacrifice this would need. The sacred and secular was met head on, persons in relationship. It was the religious leaders that couldnt cope with the way Jesus loved the world, how now might this still be the case.
what would the ending of that famous verse be like if it started:
‘what if the church loved the world, so much that….
it gave sacrificially? It become vulnerable? It listened to ‘lost communities’? It offered space? It prioritised activities that love the world, over maintenance?
The myth of relevance is that presentation has become more important than substance. Though to be fair, its also what society often judges people on, so its an inevitability. However, the myth of relevancy means choices are made about how a service is presented in a church become more important, and argued over, than how a church community sacrificially loves it community from saturday to saturday. Churches should love its community during the week, so much that the presentation of sunday morning doesnt matter, because within sunday morning is an engagement of a loving God who inspires and shapes the loving mission of the church. Genuine love monday to saturday for people should shape the acts of worship. No-one hungry on a tuesday is going to worry about which song is played on sunday morning. It is not how church services are presented, ie relevancy, its is how the service continues in its showing and sharing of Gods love for and with people.
In a way i have strayed, to think about how knowledge of God, as trinity, love and community might also shape the practices of church – an inevitability i guess, as the evangelism and how it is linked to church growth & discipleship seem to go hand in hand. The problem with relevancy, is that so much energy is spent at tweaking the collective end of worship. How often do people suggest that its in the nature of the music group that will attract people. Yeah, as if on sunday morning theres people who walk past a church service and hear a deep bass note and a drum beat in a church and think ‘ill just go in there’ – no, they’re more likely to if they know it is a place of genuine welcome, and they have been fortunate enough that week to have connected with someone who has acted in the same genuine love to them. But even then that might be a long shot.
if the church loved people so much that they wanted to opt in to the believing of the source of that love.
Maybe the only evangelism i can believe in is in the way Jesus loved and acted in the world. The crowds need access, stories and opportunities for questions, time and respect. Disciples need access, privacy and teaching on guidance and no small amount of patience. And the religious leaders…. they got back what they threw at him.
What might loving the world look like in your local area? with young people in a school? with groups of people ‘forgotten’ by the church for a while – and i still include young people, people with mental health, physical health needs, people whos talents and gifts are wasted in the systems of education? And every sunday why not celebrate and encourage the ongoing love of the world as a priority.
Some churches are doing this already – and often its charities doing these things on behalf of churches – great – but might this be a call of the ‘whole’ church, to be active in loving the world.
Theres times when the church might love the world, a bit like the primary school ‘show and tell’ – so by showing love, gives then the opportunity to ‘tell’ however. However, the car sales persons shows me their new car, only to tell me about it. So the problem with ‘show and tell’ is that it implies permission. Show and wait, might be better. what happens if people dont ask?, then it might just be that we havent loved the world enough. Only doing so in our opinion.
As church we do need to be prophetic and practical – I see no other practice to do this that to radically love the world. Going the extra mile, not presenting a love for the world, but that deep compassion, deep love that forgoes culture and expectancy, and sits down with the person who needs it and listens and loves.
“The Church is to enact the love and justice of God at all times, in ten thousand places and to everyone” (Vanhoozer, 2014, p132,133)