Ten Simple Ways to Live Evangelistically
That, for many of us, is a huge challenge. It certainly is for me. I’m a full time church leader, writer and travelling teacher, which means I work with Christians, spend most of my weekends with Christians, have Christians round to my house in the evenings, and am away a lot teaching, you’ve guessed it, Christians. So if I’m not careful - and this has happened to me regularly - I can look at my life and realise that (outside of church meetings) I haven’t had a non-trivial conversation with someone who doesn’t follow Jesus for a month, let alone talked about the gospel with them. The temptation to rationalise this, particularly when your public ministry involves preaching the gospel frequently to lots of people, is acute. But the Holy Spirit continually pokes me on it, through a combination of fellow leaders, encouraging examples, challenging resources and confrontational friends.
The most recent was Tim Chester’s very simple list of six things to make life more missional. Here they are, followed by a few comments.
1. Eat with other people. We all eat three meals a day. That’s 21 opportunities for church and mission each week without adding anything new to your schedule. And meals are a powerful expression of welcome and community.
Simple, isn’t it? I’m not sure breakfast is that good a time for many, and I’m at work during lunch, but having people round for dinner is a great way of building relationships. Rachel and I have set the (almost comically low) target of having one couple round per month who don’t know Jesus yet, to get to know them better. In a sense, it is comically low - but it’s more than we were doing before, and that’s something.
2. Work in public places. Hold meetings, prepare talks, and read in public spaces like cafés, pubs, and parks. It will naturally help you engage with the culture. For example, whose questions do you want to address in your Bible studies, those of professional exegetes or those of the culture?
Well, both, to be honest, but I take his point. He’s undoubtedly right about the importance of context, and particularly place; reading and writing in coffee shops, in my experience, makes a huge difference to the way you apply what you’re doing. Preparing a sermon in Starbucks is still beyond me, but if it’s not beyond you, it’s a good idea.
3. Be a regular. Adopt a local café, pub, park, and shop so you regularly visit and become known as a local. Imagine if everyone in your gospel community did this!
Again, an easy win. Two days ago, I got into my first deep and meaningful conversation with the Muslim guy who works at our local curry house, but it had taken a year of regular custom to get to that point. Frequently doing normal things with people seems, in British culture, to engender trust.
4. Leave the house in the evenings. It’s so easy after a long day on a dark evening to slump in front of the television or surf the Internet. Get out! Visit a friend. Take a cake to a neighbour. Attend a local group. Go to the cinema. Hang out in a café. Go for a walk with a friend. It doesn’t matter where as long as you go with gospel intentionality.
Yes, Matt Hosier will probably poke fun at this one, what with all that stuff about walking your dog missionally, but again, I think it’s just common sense. Of the six, it’s probably the one I find the most difficult, owing partly to a busy work life (as we all have) and partly to exhausting young children, but I take the point.
5. Serve your neighbours. Weed a neighbour’s garden. Help someone move. Put up a shelf. Volunteer with a local group. It could be one evening a week or one day a month. Try to do it with other members of your gospel community so it becomes a common project. Then people will see your love for one another and it will be easier to talk about Jesus.
Another no-brainer. The language of “serving the city” is in vogue at the moment, but for very good reasons: it puts the language of service to others, which for so long has been at the heart of Catholic conceptions of the Christian life, front and centre in our minds. Serving the town wins opportunities to talk about Jesus, even if they don’t come immediately. And that can happen in very small ways.
6. Share your passion. What do you enjoy? Find a local group that shares your passion. Be missional and have fun at the same time!
This last one is frequently talked about when leaders get together, and has often made me feel a bit awkward, because I’ve never been a go to the gym sort of person. I love playing football, and I do every week, but in six years of doing that with the same people, I have never had a deep conversation with anyone; running hard after a ball doesn’t lend itself to that, in my experience. I enjoy playing golf, which is more conducive to talking, but I have young children so I only play a couple of times a year. I like time with my wife, but not so much if there are other people there. I enjoy reading theology, but almost all the people who also do are already Christians. So the “be missional and have fun” thing, as much as I know it works well if you’re into book groups or playing squash or cookery, doesn’t really work for me. Still, five out of six ain’t bad.
A few other suggestions, from other leaders I know. (The fact that these all come from church leaders, by the way, merely indicates that we generally find the everyday interaction side of things the hardest, as a result of the way we spend our 9-5s and our evenings). #7, from Phil Moore: asking questions about what people in your community believe, whether in the form of a questionnaire, a quick survey, a poll on your next preaching series or a brief conversation, can open all sorts of doors, as well as informing you what sort of beliefs you ought to be engaging with. #8, from Steve Tibbert: even if you can’t do “friendship evangelism”, you can do “friendly evangelism”, which is basically being nice to people in ordinary contexts - shops, streets, commercial interactions, and so on - and seeing where it goes. #9, from a whole bunch of leaders: go and talk to people in your welcome area/visitor cafe on a Sunday morning, and ask them how they found things. And #10, from me: if you use social media, use it deliberately (or, as Tim Chester would put it, “with gospel intentionality”) - use your tweets, Facebook friendships, status updates and links to things wisely, humorously and thoughtfully. As Colossians 4:5-6 puts it in the ISV, “Use the internet with wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your tweets and updates always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
That’s an even ten. If those of us who are in church leadership were to live consistently like this, we’d probably end up with churches that did, too. And that would be a good thing.