We have some very good friends who have become Vegans. Nothing too extraordinary in that statement in this day and age. Surely, we all want to do our bit to save the planet. However, these friends are almost evangelistically Vegan. They are eager to tell us why they have become vegans which is as much to do with animal husbandry as to do with the planet. They take every opportunity to introduce us to new vegan recipes, which are delicious, and invite us to try new ways of the vegan lifestyle. To be honest we are very impressed with their dedication and we would admit that we think a bit more now about how much meat we actually eat. We respect their ideals and their determination to live in this way. We also go out of our way to make sure any gifts we give them are fitting with their vegan lifestyle. Aren’t Christians who evangelise just like that? People with a determined conviction that they must get others to believe?
As a Christian, my life is not based on strong convictions or considered arguments or a lifestyle choice. My life is based on a relationship with Jesus Christ who, after many encounters with him, in prayer, in reading the Bible and in the actions and words of other people, has led me to have a loving, trusting relationship with him.
This relationship was built on an encounter with divine love that has proved itself trustworthy even in the darkest nights and the longest days. This living relationship is also a partnership between Jesus and me where I’m invited to model his life in my own from day to day, and in the ordinary relationships that I find myself in. Some call this Evangelism. That is the sharing of the ‘Evangel’ the good news; that Jesus came among humanity to open up for each one of us a pathway back to God and the wiping away of things we’ve done wrong. This good news brings an equipping and releasing of spiritual gifts fuelled by God’s own power into our lives.
This relationship was built on an encounter with divine love that has proved itself trustworthy even in the darkest nights and the longest days.
This partnership is also about the great commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus said to his first followers “Go make disciples starting nearby and reaching further out”. So the living out of this Jesus-shaped life is as much about the feeding of the hungry, acceptance of the outcasts, the standing for justice, especially for the fragile of society as it is about bringing peace in conflict and hope where there is despair. This, in addition to be willing to tell the of the story of Jesus, his birth, death and resurrection. While actions have a huge impact, our partnership with Jesus is also simply about inviting others to consider these things for themselves and decide to also be a follower of Jesus. After all, why wouldn’t you want to offer good things to those in need?
For all Christians the desire to be in partnership with Jesus starts with prayer, praying for those in need, for those situations and people that come across our lives. This might sometimes be their family members or neighbours, work colleagues or friends. God seems to just draw your attention to such people and so you pray to God for the person or situation and ask to be shown what you should do or say to help those you pray for to come to know the love of God for themselves. It is like looking for God’s coincidences when it might just seem right to send a card, to offer to pray, to engage in a conversation or simply to be with someone in their need. So, this evangelism isn't about a formula, but it requires us to patiently wait to hear when it is God’s timing to act or to say something and to wait and know in which way we should act. While all evangelism will at some stage require words, all evangelism is also about a great desire to be as Christ for people. As Christians we long for people to know God’s love for themselves, to have hope beyond this world to receive from God all they need to be the best they were made to be and to be free from behaviours and addictions that hold them captive.
To not engage in this partnership of giving away God’s love, is like being someone who holds a huge store of food while all around are dying of hunger and malnutrition and not even seeing them, let alone consider giving a little of what they have to others.
The gifts of joy, love and hope I have found in Christ are to be offered to anyone who would desire to have them. As such Evangelism always starts in prayer. That is why there is so much rejoicing over Thy Kingdom Come, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York’s ecumenical prayer movement, occurring from Ascension to Pentecost, uniting Christians in nearly 90% countries worldwide, all desiring to see their friends and family come to know the love of God for themselves.
Each Christian commits to pray for five friends, family members, neighbours or work colleagues to come to know the love of God for themselves. So it starts with Christians acknowledging their relationship with Jesus and agreeing to be in partnership with the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit in people’s lives and by praying and serving others.
To understand why Christians evangelise it is best perhaps to meet some evangelists and to see what different styles and lives that they live. So, let me introduce you to a few that I have anonymised here:
D is ex-army who gives help sacrificially, loves beyond his ability and invites other people to church just to see if they also need spiritual feeding. He is not bossy or loudmouthed. He is quiet and gentle and even if people don’t wish to come to see if they want to know about God, he continues to sacrificially give, help and love them.
What about C? She always had a heart for the poor and is active in the local food bank and leading the anti-slavery movement in her area. Her evangelism takes place in one-to-one gentle conversations where she’s always looking for God’s opening to offer the invitation or to ask people to consider some story in the Bible that mirrors the life of those she engages with.
There are many evangelists who work in chaplaincy, like Air Cadets where they’re simply alongside young people waiting and watching to help and to guide and to offer that relationship with Jesus, when the time is right.
Consider J, who for the last 19 years has held the Christ light to a young disabled man by fostering him. Part of her evangelism is simply to have him live with her gently being as Christ to him.
Or there is S, who was called many times to serve abroad in practical ways but when he is there he is always asked “Tell us about Jesus” and he does - always having within him a biblical story of hope and encouragement and a prayer for healing. Is that what evangelism looks like to you?
For me, I grew up in a church-going family but my mum rarely attended. Once I left home I realised what a hard childhood my mum had had. Being one of 13 children growing up in poverty in the East End of London with an alcoholic father couldn’t have been much fun, to put it mildly. Mum became very ill in later years and I longed for her to know how much she was loved by God. Any conversations were halted immediately by her. So, I took to praying. I prayed all through her dementia, a very simple prayer “Lord reveal yourself to her so that there is no doubt in her about who you are. Then dear Lord take her home.” And that is exactly what happened years later. Mum was in a care home when we had a call to come as she had died suddenly. The care assistant told us “We only went into her room because we heard singing, it was like angels singing but there was no one there.” I was at complete peace for I knew that God had indeed revealed himself to her and carried her home.
Perhaps Richard Rohr puts it well: “Until and unless Christ is someone happening between people, the gospel remains largely an abstraction. Until Jesus Christ is passed on personally through faithfulness and forgiveness, through bonds of union, I doubt whether he is passed on at all.”
And that is what Evangelism is, the relationship with Jesus being passed on. And why are Christians so involved in it? Because the love of God simply compels us and what a joy it is to serve in this way.
Canon Jean Kerr is the National Diocesan Co-ordinator for Thy Kingdom Come: www.thykingdomcome.global